MARYLAND FAMILY NETWORK

 

Advocacy Guide

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What is child care advocacy?

Simply put, child care advocates are concerned with providing a voice for young children – ensuring that their needs are known and responded to appropriately. As someone who cares about the well being of young children and their families, you are likely already taking on the role of an advocate. The purpose of this document is to help you further those efforts – to give you information that can help you get informed about legislation, contact elected officials, and make a difference in laws and policies affecting young children.

Who can advocate?

The steps outlined below are intended for everyone – if you can pick up the phone or write a letter, you can become an effective advocate. You don’t need special training, experience, or money; all you need is passion and determination.

How a Bill Becomes a Law

The process that a piece of legislation must go through from the time it is introduced to the time it is signed and adopted into law is often long and tedious. It is not necessary for you to have a complete and thorough understanding of all the steps, but a basic knowledge will help you to be more informed and thus a better advocate for children. Outlined below is the basic process necessary to adopt new laws.

  • A bill is introduced and presented by a legislator. The bill is assigned a number and then assigned to a committee in the House or Senate.
  • The bill is examined and heard by the committee members. Testimony, often representing the views of experts, public officials, and advocates, is presented to the committee at a bill hearing. The committee then makes a favorable report, an unfavorable report, or no recommendation. If the committee does not support the bill, it dies.
  • If the committee supports the bill, it goes to the floor of the chamber of origin for a vote.
  • After debate, a vote is taken and the bill is either passed or defeated. If it is passed, the bill gets referred to the other chamber (House or Senate) and generally follows the same sequence of events. If it is defeated, the bill dies.
  • The other chamber may choose to approve, reject, ignore, or change the bill through amendments. If it is approved or changed, it is sent back to the original house for concurrence. If it is rejected or ignored, the bill typically dies.
  • If the original house does not accept the amendments, a conference committee comprised of members of both houses is appointed to work through the differences. Both houses must pass the bill in identical form; if they are unable to reach an agreement, the bill dies.
  • In Maryland, shortly after the General Assembly Session ends, bills that have been passed are presented to the Governor. The Governor then has 30 days to either veto or sign the bills. A bill is adopted as law if either: the Governor signs the bill within the allotted time, or the bill is not vetoed within the 30-day period.

Budget Information

As an informed advocate, it is important for you to have a basic understanding of the budget process in the State of Maryland. These key facts will be helpful in your advocacy efforts:

  • Maryland operates under an executive budget system. This means that the Governor sets most of the fiscal priorities, and the executive branch prepares the budget.
  • The Governor submits the budget to the General Assembly. The budget is balanced and complete with intended revenues and spending.
  • The General Assembly has limited budget making powers. It can cut funds but it cannot transfer funds from one category to another. In addition, it can make increases only if it provides a new source of revenue to cover the cost.
  • Once passed through both houses, the budget is enacted as law. It does not require the Governor’s signature, and it is not subject to veto.

Legislative Sessions

Every year the Maryland General Assembly meets in Annapolis for 90 days to discuss and act on more than 2,000 bills, some of which are related to child care, early education, and other issues related to children and families. The specific dates of the session vary by year, but they always fall between the months of January and April. These three months are incredibly busy for legislators and advocates alike, and serve as the most critical times for bills under consideration. More detailed information regarding the session dates, schedule of hearings, subcommittee members, and specific bills can be obtained by contacting the Maryland General Assembly.

Internet: http://mlis.state.md.us/

Phone: 410-946-5400 (Baltimore region)
301-970-5400 (Washington region)
800-492-7122 (other areas)

How to Obtain Copies of Bills and Committee Reports

Federal Level

  • The Library of Congress provides a service called “Thomas” which contains up-to-date information regarding bills and committee reports. This information can be found at: http://thomas.loc.gov
  • Information can also be obtained by calling the Legislative Resource Center at 202-226-5200.

State Level

  • Copies of bills and related documents can be obtained online on the Maryland General Assembly website (see address above). You can search for bills and resolutions using sponsors, subjects, or bill numbers.
  • Information can also be obtained by calling the Maryland General Assembly legislative reference office (see numbers above).

Staying Informed with the Maryland Family Network (MFN)

Internet

  • MFN’s website provides a wealth of information regarding public policies that effect children and families in Maryland. In addition, up-to -date action alerts can help inform you when issues need immediate attention. Visit www.mdchildcare.org and click on the public policy button.
  • If you have questions or would like to get more involved, send an email to the Public Policy Department at: publicpolicy@mdchildcare.org

Phone

  • If you do not have access to the Internet or cannot find what you are looking for, feel free to contact the MCC Public Policy Department by phone at: 410.659.7701 ext. 235.

Contacting Elected Officials

All necessary contact information for your federal, state, and local officials can be obtained online from the Maryland State Board of Elections:

Or from the Maryland League of Women Voters:

  • Phone: 410-269-0232
  • Fax: 410-268-7301

Contacting Elected Officials by Phone

Phone calls are a relatively quick and easy way to express your opinion regarding an impending bill. To help make your phone call most effective, bear in mind the following tips:

  • While you may certainly ask to speak directly with your elected official, be aware that phone calls are typically taken by staff members, not the officials themselves. You can ask to speak to the aide who is responsible for child and family policies. Remember to treat these aides with respect, as they advise the elected official on policies that concern you and your children.
  • Once on the phone, be sure to identify yourself. Give your name, address, town, and organization if applicable. This is important information, as input from the official’s district is weighed more heavily in decision making.
  • Briefly state your reason for calling. This can be as simple as, “I would like to let Senator/Representative/Delegate (Name) know that I support/oppose bill (Name or Number) because…” Continue by briefly outlining the reasoning behind your support or opposition.
  • Request information regarding your official’s position on the bill, as well as a written follow-up to your phone call.
  • Thank the official or staff member for his/her time.

* Note: When state legislators are in legislative session, phone calls to their Annapolis offices are free of long-distance charges.

Contacting Elected Officials by Mail

Letters are one of the most popular forms of communication with elected officials. To help make your letter most effective, bear in mind the following tips:

General Information

  • If you want to write to more than one official, be sure to address each letter separately – do not simply send photocopies.
  • Be sure to include your name, address, phone number, and position if applicable.
  • When addressing senators and representatives, it is proper to begin with: The Honorable (Name)
  • When addressing the Chair of a Committee, the Speaker of the House, or the President of the Senate, it is proper to begin with:
    Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman
    Dear Mr. Speaker
    Dear Mr. President

Writing the Letter

  • Be concise. Try to keep your letter to a maximum of one page in length.
  • Clearly identify the purpose of your letter, mentioning the bill name or number if applicable, in the beginning of your letter.
  • Identify yourself (as a parent, child care provider, etc.) and give supporting evidence to back up your position. This can come from both personal and professional experience, and can indicate how the proposed legislation will impact you and those you care about.
  • Ask the official to respond in writing regarding his/her position or final vote on the issue.
  • Thank the official for his/her time and consideration.

Email

  • Email letters can follow the same format as written letters, and may be a quicker and more efficient method of communication.
  • Direct links to official’s email addresses can be found on the Maryland State Board of Elections Website at http://mdelect.net/electedofficials

Personal Meetings with Elected Officials

Personal meetings can be an effective way to have a conversation with your elected official and express your views and concerns regarding a specific bill or issue. It is important to remember, however, that legislators have extremely busy schedules and may not be able to provide you with all the time you feel is necessary. To increase your chances of meeting with an official, try to contact them when the legislature is not in session (late April through December). If you would like to spend more time talking about an issue, consider following up with a legislative assistant – these aides are well informed and communicate frequently with your elected official, and can be a valuable resource. To help make your meeting with a legislator or aide most effective, bear in mind these tips:

Requesting your Meeting

  • Call or write to your official’s office and inform them of the issue you would like to discuss. If you are writing, you may also want to suggest specific dates and times for the proposed meeting.

Preparing for the Meeting

  • Know your audience. Are you speaking with a legislator who has a strong history of supporting child care initiatives, or someone who has been more conservative on your issue? You may want to adjust the tone and content of your remarks accordingly.
  • Decide what you want to accomplish during the meeting. Do you want to explain your point of view, or are you looking for a commitment to support a specific bill?
  • Decide who will attend the meeting. Are there other concerned parents or professionals who will help you make a stronger case? Groups of three or four people may be most effective, but be sure to decide on roles and positions beforehand, so that you present a unified front to the legislator.
  • If you feel it would be helpful, create a fact sheet or position statement regarding your issue. This can be simply a one page bulleted list of information, potential outcomes, or positions regarding the bill, and may be helpful for you during the meeting. Also, you can leave a copy with the legislator after your meeting.

During the Meeting

  • Begin by introducing yourself and thanking the official for his/her time.
  • Be clear and succinct when presenting your issue, as you will have limited time during your meeting.
  • Explain how the proposed bill or issue will directly impact you, your coworkers, or people that you love, and explain what action you would like your legislator to take regarding the issue.
  • If you are asked a question and are unsure about the answer, do not make something up. Instead, you can offer to find more information and forward it to the legislator.
  • If you have created a fact sheet or position statement, feel free to leave a copy with the official. This may be a helpful point of reference when he/she is thinking about your issue in the future.

After the Meeting

  • Send a thank-you note to the legislator.
  • Include information or resources about any topics that you have followed up on or that help to reinforce your position.

You Can Be an Advocate

Through all of your advocacy efforts, it is important to remember the reason that you are taking a stand – to improve the lives of children throughout the State of Maryland. Each phone call, letter, or visit helps to inform elected officials about what you believe is best for children, and thus is a powerful step towards positive change. If you would like support with your advocacy efforts, please contact the Maryland Family Network, and we will be happy to assist you in any way we can.

Quick Reference

The following is a quick-access listing of resources to assist you in your advocacy efforts. All information contained in this guide are the resources recommended by state and federal government.


State Legislation
Call
Legislative Reference
410-946-5400
301-970-5400
800-492-7122
  If you would like to:
  • check on the up-to-the-minute status of one bill
  • request a print copy of a bill be mailed to you
  • find the phone number or address of your legislator
Internet Access
http://mlis.state.md.us   If you would like to:
  • look up a bill by sponsor, subject, or statute
  • check the status of a bill
  • download the text of a bill
  • download a fiscal note
  • check the hearing schedule
  • link to a legislator's email
  • check on floor proceedings
  • check on floor votes
Email
Libr@mlis.state.md.us   If you would like to:
  • request a print copy of a bill to be mailed to you
  • request assistance from Library and Information Services
Federal Legislation
Call    
202-225-1772   If you would like to:
  • check on the status of a bill
  • request information about a certain piece of legislation
   
Capital Switchboard
202-224-3121
  Find the phone number of your legislator or be connected with her/his office to :
  • request a service or information and be directed to the correct number
   
202-456-1111   If you would like to:
  • register your opinion on an issue with the White House
   
202-456-2226   If you would like to:
  • find out whether a bill has been signed or vetoed
   
202-512-1800   If you would like to:
  • order documents
   
202-226-5200   If you would like to:
  • reach the Legislative Resource Center
   
Fax    
202-228-2815   If you would like to:
  • have a copy of a federal bill mailed to you (be sure to include in your fax the bill number and your complete mailing address)
   
Internet Access    
www.senate.gov or
www.house.gov
  If you would like to:
  • link to a representative or senator's email
  • search for information about a member by name, state, committee, or zip code
   
Mail   If you would like to:
  • send a letter to a member of Congress, use the following format:
  • The Honorable _______________ United States Senate (or)
    United States House of Representatives
    Washington, DC 20510 (Senate) or 20515 (House)
  • We also recommend sending correspondence to member's district offices.