Earlier this session I read one of my favorite books to the remote learning students at Clive Learning Academy. I love the story about these new children finding their way and being welcomed by others in their class. It speaks to the experience of many new Iowans (refugees or immigrants) learning a new practices, culture, and language. I think we can all relate to the experience of being new at some point, in some way. I sat in the empty Senate chamber and shared with the children that I liked this book because I was new here, too.
It’s a rough year to be new. I’m in the super minority. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and a majority of my colleagues refuse to take it seriously. Much of what’s ordinary practice for a legislative session has been upended.
Still, it’s an opportunity to be new here.
I’ve embraced my newness as an occasion to share what I’m learning with the public. The practices, culture, and language of this place may be familiar to those who’ve been around a while. But they are all new territory for me, and unfamiliar to the vast majority of Iowans. There is definitely and insider culture here. I don’t think that serves the process or the public well. Our constituents need good communication to know what is happening under this golden dome and clear guidance on how to weigh in as a bill moves through the process (or doesn’t).
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
Your legislator isn’t the only one you can contact. When a bill is filed, it is assigned to a committee. The Committee Chair decides if that bill will be scheduled for a subcommittee. Three legislators are assigned to that subcommittee and all get a vote. If it passes the subcommittee, the Committee Chair decides if it comes before the full committee. All committee members then have the opportunity to vote. The majority leadership of that chamber then decide if a bill will come to the floor for debate. When a bill comes to the floor, all legislators get a vote. The process then must repeat in the other chamber. It’s important to contact any of the legislators involved at those points in the process to encourage them to keep a bill moving forward, stop it, or make changes. Watch this video for some information about where on the legislative website to find where a bill is in the process and who you may want to contact: https://www.facebook.com/866694087004978/videos/433227667951586
Subcommittees are for public comment. While the majority of speakers at most subcommittees are lobbyists, it’s truly meant as an opportunity for the public to weigh in. When parents or students to speak at a subcommittee hearing on public education it really stands out. Anyone can attend a subcommittee and anyone can ask to speak. Currently subcommittees in the Senate are on Zoom. This COVID-19 change has made the meetings accessible to persons all over the state. I hope that we keep this innovation beyond the pandemic. Watch this video to learn where the subcommittee meeting links can be found: https://www.facebook.com/866694087004978/videos/717516718902853
Lobbyists can be a resource for you. Negative stereotypes aside, lobbyists are often subject matter experts in their area of focus. Because they spend a lot more time at the Capitol than the average citizen, they develop close relationships with the legislators. It is their job to understand the ins and outs of the legislative process. You can learn a lot about a piece of legislation from looking at the lobbyist declarations to see where different interest groups and industries stand. You can reach out to lobbyists to share your stories or request more information from them. Watch this video to learn more: https://www.facebook.com/866694087004978/videos/840345480140613
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