By Susan Smith
Member, BCWAC Board of Directors
Armed with my green “I’m One of Those Women From Bucks” bag and about 50 tons of cynicism about the legislative process, I spent last Tuesday in Harrisburg with 10 other BCWAC partners visiting our state legislators to press for women’s health, support and freedom.
It was my first visit and I’d seen too much “House of Cards” and read too many newspapers to believe we could make any difference. BUT, as I entered the magnificent rotunda of the capital, crammed with groups of school kids, Salvation Army workers in uniform, a huge crowd of construction orange T-shirts, lobbyists, legislators, aides, five people in matching tie-dyed T-shirts, a group of beautiful African-American women all in bright red suits, all moving fast, talking a mile a minute and ON A MISSION, I felt hope, promise, then understanding of what this space means. The sheer expanse and beauty of the rotunda, not to mention the miles of Mercer tiles on the floors, say, “Here is a special place where your voice can be heard.”
A FULL SCHEDULE
Thanks to Nancy Morrill, Tam St. Claire and Carolyn Cowgill, we were given fantastic materials providing a full schedule of meetings with all our 14 Bucks legislators and a good script for the points we needed to make and the questions we needed to ask.
We newbies were each assigned a seasoned mentor and over the course of the day, each team met four legislators. Medicaid expansion was the highest priority, but also pressing for the go-ahead to conduct the Cliff Effect Study, which had been languishing in committee.
We also asked for attention to bills pending on the Women’s Health Agenda (workplace accommodations for pregnant and nursing mothers, a 15’ buffer around family planning clinics, more availability of breast and cervical cancer screenings, protecting victims of abuse from eviction and stopping intimate partner harassment via internet revenge), Human Trafficking, Nurse Practitioners, and universal background checks for gun purchases.
Nancy Morrill and I met with Reps. DiGirolamo, Farry and Davis, and we all ended the day with Sen. McIlhinney, and were thrilled to learn there from him that an earlier meeting by one of our teams with Sen. Mench produced the impetus to go ahead with the Cliff Effect study (SR-62).
We also educated McIlhinney on Medicaid Expansion: he did not know Pennsylvania could opt out of the Federal Program at any time, and was basing his reluctance to support it on that misunderstanding. He also was unaware of pending legislation on Human Trafficking and as we spoke, I watched his aide carefully review the information sheet we had provided on that issue as well as the Nurse Practitioner pending bill. It became so clear that when 11 people show up and meet with every one of our legislators, they pay attention to our issues, they learn important facts about them that make a difference in whether they will support our causes, and they actually DO ACT on these issues.
I also learned about important legislation I was unaware of that improves the lives of women in Pennsylvania: Rep. Farry sponsored a bill regulating tanning salons signed into law yesterday that prohibits 16-year-olds and younger from using them, 17-year-olds to have parental consent and an informed consent to be signed by all adults. He also worked on legislation now in effect allowing victims of assault, including date rape, to obtain protection from abuse orders against those who assault them even if they do not live together, as was previously the case. While we don’t agree with Farry’s position on a number of things (gun control and pay day lending to name a few), our dialogue was productive: he clearly knows we are watching and tries to emphasize his achievements on women’s issues.
Rep. Tina Davis was a big treat – she signs on to virtually everything we want and is fighting the good fight for women every day. We were sorry to hear her version of the Intimate Partner Harassment Bill (to prevent internet postings of intimate photos after a break-up) was relinquished but it still is going forward in a separate form sponsored by Rep. Farry. She did not know about the Human Trafficking Bill and is very interested in it. She hadn’t seen the Poverty Report that just came out, so we made sure to get her a copy from Rep. Reed’s office immediately so she could follow up with it while fresh in her mind by walking one down to her office.
I felt Rep. DiGirolamo was one of our biggest supporters. He gave us his newly minted proposed budget which included a large line item for Pre-K and of course Medicaid Expansion.
WELL WORTH THE EFFORT
It just takes a bit of energy and effort to drive to Harrisburg for the day (and the HARD work by Tam, Nancy and Carolyn to set this all up) but it is well worth the effort – probably the best follow-up we can do on all the information we gather and disseminate all year to press forward with our causes. I HIGHLY recommend it and urge you to put it on your calendar for next May. It will not only energize you, it will lift that heavy burden of cynicism about the mechanisms and yes, the people, in the process of good governance.