Yesterday we advocated for students (specifically Spokane WSU healthcare students) at the Capitol in Olympia. We braved the torrential downpours, running between buildings to meet with legislators, sharing our opinions timidly at first, then more boldly as the day went on. I was surprised at how easy the whole process was, how accessible and open each legislator’s office is. It was an experience that showed me exactly how to communicate with the people who form the laws that govern our state (an invaluable lesson for someone who has been fairly ignorant of the process until now). After Coug Day 2014, I feel much more comfortable dashing off an email to a legislator or bringing up an issue with them over a phone call, heck maybe even grabbing coffee in the interim between sessions when they’re back home. I would encourage anyone to go to a legislative lobbying day, step outside your comfort zone, and arm yourself with a bit of knowledge on the state that you live in. We pay into the system, so it makes sense to ask the hard questions about how it is being run. Some acts that we talked about yesterday were the Real Hope Act (a close relative to the Dream Act), allowing discharged military personnel to pay in state tuition immediately, requiring universities to award academic credit for military training, requiring universities to publish their detailed budgets online, capping tuition at 10% of the average state income, and several other pieces of legislation that are relevant to higher education.
What bothers me about the legislature is that the people who are making the laws rely almost totally on the words of others. By this I mean that legislators have to know a little about a LOT of things – especially concerning highly technical language in bills that address issues like manufacturing or healthcare policies. Lawmakers rely on the input of lobbyists and experts to tell them the highlights, and then they go make a decision based on a limited scope of knowledge. If someone has a game-changing bit of information that would expand the lawmaker’s perspective, they may never know about it if that person chooses not to talk to their representative. As far as I know, committees are designed to create focus groups among legislators, and the entire government is supposed to work as a body of honest and frank people. All the legislators that we met with yesterday, all the aids that we spoke with, seemed to uphold the standards that they are sworn to…but it occurred to me how easy it would be to miss something essential in the whole process.
Such is the nature of making laws, I suppose; another fact to note is that I have little experience with this process, so maybe I’m missing some integral pieces of information.
In short, the ever-changing, dynamic environment of Olympia is a fantastic venue for students and citizens to express their perspectives. I shall continue to be involved in the making of the laws that govern my state!