The first major deadline for the Oklahoma legislature arrived last week with the conclusion of committee meetings for the “house of origin” of bills. This means, the bills filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives had to be heard by Thursday to move on and likewise for the bills filed in the Oklahoma Senate.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) began tracking more than 400 bills children and family issues. Now past that first deadline, our watch list is down to 250 bills. As needed, we will take action to inform advocates about the benefits or harm that could come from passage of these bills.
It is important for those who care about children’s policies to engage with their own hometown lawmakers. Another good way to connect is if you share a connection with a legislator, such as being members of a group together.
During our advocacy trainings, we discuss the need for input from both issues experts and individuals who have life experiences to share that knowledge with lawmakers. Expert testimony is compelling, but heartfelt words from an Oklahoman who know the issues from personal experience is the most impactful way to sway lawmakers for or against bills.
If you do not know your lawmaker, make it a point to introduce yourself and offer up your experiences when issues arise. Lawmakers are not experts on all the issues on which they vote each year; if you can be a resource expert, that will help them do their job more effectively, ensuring your voice is heard. I represented a rural district, so when agriculture issues came up, I had several farmers and ranchers that I could go to for advice. Likewise, when education votes came up, I would contact teachers and school administrators I trusted to give me their input.
Lawmakers can be contacted in a variety of ways. If you are a constituent and a registered voter, your likely first introduction to your legislator is when they knock on your door asking for your vote. During campaigns, candidates make themselves readily available so they can hopefully win your vote. Once the election is over, many lawmakers hold town halls to discuss issues. Some also maintain a regular schedule in their districts to continuously meet people and maintain support for the next election.
During the legislative session, each lawmaker has an office at the State Capitol for you to call or set up an appointment to visit with them about issues. During this pandemic, also be willing to do a phone call or Zoom chat. If you have not done so, take advantage of one of these opportunities to engage and become a resource expert for your legislators.
To learn more about the bills going through the process, we post the OICA Bill of the Day on our social media channels to help inform Oklahomans about bills we have identified as critical on children’s issues. You can find this on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by searching for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy or the hashtag #OICABilloftheDay.
We also offer a weekly newsletter to inform advocates about issues; sign up for this free service. In addition, we have started asking lawmakers to submit columns about their children’s policy ideas for publication in the newsletter. By staying informed and involved, we will improve opportunities for Oklahoma’s children!