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How-to Strategies/Tracking Legislation

Tracking legislation: Tips and Strategies

In general, legislative areas that should be followed target community health, career and technical education, school safety, child and youth development, juvenile justice, housing and community development, and social and behavioral health services. Any of these areas may focus on initiatives such as school climate, school mental health, trauma senstitivity, or positive youth development. These opportunities can be in the state legislature, local legislature, local school board, or a local organization, such as a hospital. There may also be more encompassing proposals within which questions of school-connected child development or universal prevention initiatives can be embedded, such as violence prevention or the school-to-prison pipeline, which tend to take place on a state level. Or there may be the big pieces of legislation on health care reform, for example, in which language that pertains, or could pertain, to school-based prevention is included. At a local level, look for activities that can connect to what you want to do, such as prevention education or data collection by a local hospital, or a business’ support for “soft-skills” training. Your team should be tied into numerous networks so that you are informed about any major activity being considered or undertaken that could affect your initiative.

  • Know what general topics may be brought up during a legislative session so that you can help inform policymakers and their staff on relevant child development and prevention issues and interventions as they are drafting pertinent bills.
  • Develop relationships with key legislators and their staff. These allies can keep you informed about what bills are filed or being developed; they are also likely to be aware of overall strategic considerations.
    • Monitor what is happening to a bill once you learn about it.
  • Focus on opportunities to act while an initiative is making its way through the legislative process. These may differ depending on whether you are looking at a state, local, or school board proposal. At the state level, monitor both the program-oriented legislative committee that is responsible for an initiative in which you are interested and the fiscal committee, usually called the Ways and Means Committee, Appropriations Committee, or Finance Committee. Often, positive action is required in both program and fiscal committees for a bill to become law. Local and school district governing structures are usually smaller, but the strategy remains the same: focus on where and when you can have an impact.
  • Work closely with a bill’s sponsors because that legislator will have developed her/his own strategy, possibly with co-sponsors, and certainly with her/his leadership team.
  • Celebrate small victories, such as small-scale legislation, regulations, or budget appropriations. They help to maintain momentum as you pursue the bigger goals and can advance the cause of building infrastructure for child development or prevention initiatives.
  • Identify constituent backing; it will demonstrate local support for your initiative. Without it, you are unlikely to gain traction no matter how excellent your proposal. At a state level, it is advantageous to be in alliance or collaboration with a school-connected initiative or a local partnership or coalition in a sponsoring legislator’s district. You should also have support from major school leaders and community organizations in the legislator’s district. At a local level, or even within an organization, a demonstration of support from those who will be affected by the legislation is a strong statement for those on the governing body to hear.
    • Is it moving forward in a way that your Action Team and collaborators support?
    • Is it stuck somewhere and what needs to happen to get it unstuck?
    • Is it being changed in ways that are detrimental to your goal?
    • Is it being opposed? By whom and for what reasons?
    • Where and how can you intervene?

Use the Connecting to the Policy Environment worksheet to track the policies, procedures and regulations that could impact your initiative. Use the Policy Tracking worksheet  to track an individual idea or bill through the process.

 

How to Strategies:

Tracking the Budget: tips and strategies

A core activity will be engaging with the budget process. In many states, there are non-profit budget analysis and advocacy organizations that can be helpful in familiarizing you with the budget process in your state. The budget experts in these organizations may have previously worked for legislative fiscal committees or in the state budget division, so they follow budget cycles and processes closely and know how things are done – they can be great allies.

At the local level, budgets are generally less complex. Finding an official responsible for the budget at your local school board or municipal/county council can help you access this information. Pay attention to how school districts formulate their budgets and how they share funding with the local government. In some areas the percent of local taxes that pays for schools is determined annually, in others schools may be able to set their own taxes. It is important that you understand how your local governing bodies operate. For a company or organization, the budget process is even less complicated since fewer people are involved, but it is similar: typically, departments will create a draft budget which is given to the top administration and chief financial officer who make adjustments. Once that budget is agreed to, a board will approve it or make additional changes.

  • Know the budget timetable: When do the operating agencies prepare their budgets to be submitted to the budget agencies or financial managers? When are preliminary and final decisions made about what will be in the budget and what will be eliminated?
  • Know who originates the budget. In some states, the legislature originates the budget (know which committee is responsible); in others, it is the Governor. The same holds true for local government and organizations.
  • Know the movement of the budget once it is first drafted:
    • From governor to legislature;
    • From legislative committee to full legislature; or
    • From legislative committees to elsewhere.
  • Be close to the discussion about what will be in the budget right from the beginning.This is more likely to produce a recommended appropriation than having to advocate after the budget comes out.
  • Understand how the budget is constructed. Different states, localities, and other organizations have varying ways of organizing appropriations into agencies or line items or other categories.
  • Crosswalk the child development and prevention policies and programs with the budget priorities of the governor, key legislators, or other influential leaders so you know what is being funded and how much funding is being appropriated to various areas.
  • Be alert to opportunities to braid and blend funding sources and collaborate with a number of agencies and departments.

 

Tracking Regulations: tips and strategies

Once legislation (including the budget) is enacted, the administration becomes responsible for figuring out how to implement it.  This part of the process can provide crucial opportunities for advancing comprehensive student supports and behavioral health promotion. At a state and local level, this means that regulations must be drafted that will govern how the statute or budget item will work. How federal grants, including block grants, are implemented may fall into the purview of a state regulatory agency. In the case of a school district, once the school board approves a policy or the budget, the school superintendent is responsible for implementing it. Similarly, in an organization, if the board approves the budget and policies, it is up to the organization to figure out how to implement it, especially if there are changes to their original submission.

  • Stay on top of state regulatory processes. This requires both the formal tracking of state registers of official government actions and legal documents and the informal pathways to information via your relationships. Get on the necessary email lists but also build relationships.
  • Try to be part of the process when regulations are being first thought out, prior to their official promulgation. It is in these regulation-drafting sessions that key ideas are formulated and decisions are made about implementation. This formulation phase is often the place where the field’s knowledge base can have the most impact. If you and your allies are able to help formulate the ideas behind what the regulations will do and how they will operate, you may be able to create an environment conducive for your initiative to flourish.
  • Send letters of support from your wider coalition or partnership once regulations are issued, or conversely, letters of opposition if the regulations do not support your work. They should be genuine letters or personal emails, not just chain emails or postcards.

 

Following commissions and task forces that make recommendations

At a state and local government level, there are other important venues where you may be able to shape thinking and thereby effectively advance school-connected child development and prevention approaches. Frequently, these task forces and commissions involve people from numerous sectors, including businesses, families, and experts.  Some to look for include:

  • A governor’s commission that is tasked with formulating reforms or that will make budget recommendations on pertinent topics
  • A legislative task force with a similar charge
  • The state board of education or state education agency commission or task force on creating a state plan under ESSA
  • Activities that are funded by diverse state or local agencies, involving perhaps blending funding streams
  • A children’s cabinet or council
  • School district committees, school governance councils, and local PTA
  • Local board of education policy committee, such as a school district wellness committee or a task force on the whole child

Keep track of both the legislative and the executive branches – and of the interaction between the two. Budgets, for example, are negotiated between these branches. Your Action Team should be aware of who is advancing what among the Executive Branch (Governor, Mayor, Executive Director, agency or department heads, etc.) and the Legislature (committee chairs, committee members, and staff to these committees).

 

Being at the “Tables” and Speaking at Public Hearings

It is desirable, and often possible, to shape the thinking of policy-makers by educating them in advance of formal legislative actions. This is when ideas and concepts that become bills or regulations are developed and where knowledge about school-connected child development and prevention initiatives can get real traction. This is where data can influence people to formulate policy, and where personal relationships with key legislators, staff, or agency leaders can earn you a place in the discussion, or aseat at the “table.” Locally, if you become known as an expert or interested in a topic, someone on your team could be asked to sit on a committee that is researching an issue for either the local government or the school board.

Be aware that trade associations and advocacy groups will frequently convene their own meetings to discuss policy and formulate their responses and recommendations, and it may be possible to participate in these sessions. Sometimes, it is difficult to know where the “tables” are and how they are constituted so use the networks and relationships that have been developed to learn about them.

Public hearings are the other end of the political spectrum. The legislature often holds public hearings as do most school boards. In addition, public hearings are sometimes held on the budget part of the legislative package and on the implementation regulations and guidelines. At all of these, think through which key Action Team members should testify for greatest impact.

Updated January 2018