By Kodey Toney
You’ve Got To Fight For Your Right
When I remember back to civics class in high school when we learned about the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, never did I think that I would use that information again. However, this weekend at Partners in Policymaking I received a crash course in legislation. This was way more in-depth than anything I was taught in school.
Our guest presenter Sandy Ingraham was awesome. She knows more about the Oklahoma legislature then most people I’ve met. She helped guide the class through the process of presenting a bill and helping get it passed through the powers that be in Oklahoma City, and it was not only insightful, it wasn’t boring.
This was all an effort to help us prepare for Sunday when we had to present mock bills to four State Representatives. This was nerve-racking, but awesome. It was just another great experience that I had during this program.
“So what does this have to do with being a parent? Why would this affect me? “ you might ask. As a parent, as I’ve said many times, you are your child’s best advocate. Your voice is very important to get the resources your child needs. Think about their future. What happens now can affect their future.
Most would say, “Well I can’t make a difference. I don’t like politics. They won’t listen anyway. They’re just going to do what they want to.” The four representatives that we had the privilege to present to took time out of their Sunday to assist us in the process. That means they do care about what is best for your child and others with disabilities. They are not alone. They are also human. It’s not about politics. It’s about getting what is best for you, your children, and others like you.
One of the main things each representative told us was to contact them. They don’t know what your concern is if you don’t call. If you have a problem with healthcare, services, resources, or anything that may be an issue with your child call your representative or senator. This is why they are there. This is why we elect them into office.
They all agreed that meeting with them in person is better, so make an effort to see them when they make stops or come to local events.
Know what issues could affect you and your child. Know your stance on it, and then contact your legislators to let them know why you feel that way. A great website to check in Oklahoma is http://www.oklegislature.gov/. This will give you any information you need to contact them and find out what issues are happening in the state. Each state will have a similar site.
The representatives we talked to told us that there is no way to know all that is going on in each bill. This is why you should call them and let them know there is a particular bill that you feel strongly one way or another about. They may not have been aware of it, and need some insight into the pros and cons.
According to Ingraham, if they don’t know about a bill they are most likely to vote no for it. There are several reasons for this, but one is that if they are confronted by a constituent they can just say that there was some wording that wasn’t right in it, or that it was in the wrong committee. If you have contacted them then they know the issue and can research their stance on it.
Of the five “mock” bills that we presented to the committee members, they were impressed enough with two of them to actually look further this week into introducing them in the upcoming session in some form. Even though neither was my group’s bill, it was awesome to sit back and watch my fellow classmates enlighten these members of the state congress on issues that can help people with disabilities in Oklahoma, and perhaps eventually the U.S.
One thing I would recommend is that you have your ducks in a row before you contact them. Think of questions that they will ask. If you don’t know the answer to the question tell them that you will get back to them on it, and make sure that you do.
Also, they suggested that you never make anything a partisan issue. This only complicates things.
I want to say a special thank you to Rep. Jon Echols, Rep. Jason Nelson, Rep. Ben Sherrer, and Rep. Jeannie McDaniel for their time and knowledge, and to the Partners in Policymaking staff (Ann Trudgeon, Diana McCalment, Erin Taylor, and Jen Randle) and mentor Ashlee Jayne for all their help and knowledge. They all made the experience less painful.
Again, you are an advocate for your children. However, you can also advocate for the thousands of others in the state that may have the same issues as you. Make sure that your voice is heard.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org