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Understanding the Process

The following are general pathways that bills and budgets often take as they go through the legislative process. They may not address the specific idiosyncrasies of how your state or local government operates, so make sure to learn how your state and local policy-making bodies, including your local school board, work, since each is likely to operate under a different governing structure. We will refer to all elected officials, including school board members, as legislators. Policies enacted by a company or organization may follow a similar procedure, where policies are determined by a governing board and procedures by the administration.

Policies, Procedures, and Regulations

Policies are made at a federal, state, and local level, as well within a business or organization. They are the guiding rules for the management of affairs. Procedures and regulations are then created and delinate the specific methods to be used to practice the policies. Some may need legislative, or board, approval, some may not. Examples of policies and procedures you may want to follow range from state-wide bullying policies or Medicaid policies to school district wellness policies or policies that govern youth-police interactions. On a procedural level, look at those your local government, school, or organization have in place that impact your initiative (or help you integrate your initiative on a systems level), such as the job description for a school nurse or a local mental health provider, the notification requirements for student absenteeism and truancy, or a cost-sharing arrangement between various entities to fund a position to coordinate collaborations between the schools and local agencies.

Determining the funding needed to implement the policy is also an important step in the process. While funding is often very important, it is not the only way to ensure implementation of prevention and promotion initiatives. Tracking the budget is important both for actual funding and to gauge legislative and executive branch priorities.

Policy/Budget Process

Generally, an initiative or idea that could incorporate concepts helpful to child development and prevention may be discussed and introduced by the administration or a legislator/board member. It could be a department staff member that requests a change in policy or a concept newly introduced by a policymaker. If it is simple, the request could go directly to the governing body for deliberation; however, it is more likely that the idea leads to the formation of a task force or committee, a charge to a legislative committee to craft a bill (legislation before it is enacted), or an interagency or state-local project. This is an excellent time to be involved, either by volunteering to be on the committee or task force, presenting data or testimonies, cultivating an influential champion, or finding another way to make sure your ideas and priorities are conveyed. This involvement is frequently refered to as “being at the table.” If a policy is already in existence, it may be reviewed in a similar process. Policies of all kinds – legislative, regulatory, budgetary – are generally introduced and reviewed in a specific time frame, so knowing the time-line is important, be it a government, school, or organization policy that you are tracking. Indeed, most state legislatures meet for only part of a given year and boards of organizations meet only several times a year so be sure to know the legislative calendar.

A proposed policy or policy change may then either go directly to the governing body for deliberation or to a legislative committee for additional clarification before being sent to the governing body. When a governing body is discussing an issue, there are often opportunities to present your information in a more public way, such as speaking at a school board meeting or demonstrating that constituents support the initiative. Once a bill or policy is approved by the governing body, the administration (be it state, local or school government or a business or organization) will determine regulations and procedures to apply it. This is when the practical implementation activities are decided and is a good time to provide recommendations and information that support your initiative. There are frequently times available for public comment or, in the case of a smaller organization, the ability to interact with those developing the regulations and procedures.

At the same time you are following the movement of legislation, make sure you also monitor the budgetary process. This may follow a very similar path as a bill and it is where a policy will get the funding required for full implementation or not. There will be the same points of influence as with a policy, with the added benefit of learning about potential funding sources at a very early stage.

Ways to inform and influence

The reason to understand and track the movement of the budget, legislation, regulations, and general ideas that are being considered is to find the entry points where you can provide information and try to influence the outcomes of discussions. You can do this by:

  • Being at the “table” – participating at the informal or formal meetings where ideas are discussed and take shape before a final document or decision is issued.
  • Establishing strong relationships with those of influence and/or their staff and providing them with information so they understand your approach and recognize how it can benefit the legislation.
  • Being involved in task forces, committees, or commissions – or having the ear of those who are on one.
  • Being acknowledged as an expert who can provide information to task forces, commissions, agencies, and others of influence.
  • Speaking at public forums or hearings at any point in the process.

As you read through the How-to Strategies, consider how your team can best be engaged in the process and plan activities accordingly. It is difficult to influence all the areas, but continue tracking so that you know the best times to act. Be aware of times when things are going in a direction that either advances, holds back, or sidetracks your approach so that you can react by showing support or providing information to pursue changes.

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Updated January 2018

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