On May 12, I joined several women from BCWAC for their annual Advocacy Day visit to Harrisburg. We were armed with packets of information about our specific issues, schedules, names of legislators, and maps. I was amazed by the amount of planning and preparation which represented hours of work by our legislative chairs, Carolyn Cowgill and Laurie Kaczanowska . I must say too that I was awestruck when I crossed the threshold of the Capitol. I had seen the façade with the famed naked sculptures on either side of the carved bronze doors at a previous visit; however, I had never entered the halls where the fates of so many in Pennsylvania are decided by the largest number of legislators of any state in the USA. I could only hope that the legislation issuing from the building would reflect the grandeur of the physical structure.
The rotunda grand staircase was filled with men and women in white coats: nurse practitioners lobbying for the right to practice independently in PA. Coincidentally, their cause is one of BCWAC’s issues: Easing of licensing restrictions will provide more health care to thousands of Pennsylvania families who now have limited access to medical care. The staircase, straight out of Gone with the Wind was lit by sparkling chandeliers reflecting in the Mercer tiles on the floor. Looking up, I marveled at the blue gilded and carved ceiling and galleries hovering over the din below, and there was a din. It seemed that May 12 had been chosen by many lobby groups to present their cases and by many schools for class trips.
After getting acclimated, our group divided to conquer, and we made our way through the labyrinthine hallways to present our concerns, provide information, and ask for support for our issues: pre-K for PA, Modernization of the Professional Nursing Law, Raising the Minimum Wage, Healthy Workplaces Act HB624, The Housing Trust Fund, Paid Sick Leave, PA Agenda for Women’s Health, Equal Pay, a responsible budget that closes loopholes for the privileged, Gun Safety, Making Work Pay, and the KEYS Program.
As I listened to my knowledgeable colleagues discuss the issues with the various legislators, I was struck by the seemingly sincere desire of the lawmakers to know more about the issues we were supporting and to be given data to support our various causes. The tone of the meetings was polite and serious. One legislator actually claimed to be overwhelmed with numbers of proposed legislation and issues and pointed to stacks of folders on the desk as proof.
Our day ended with a visit to the senate chamber. Representative Steve Santarsiero directed us to the visitors’ gallery, where we were able to look down on the senators who were discussing tax reform. Again I was distracted by the building: carved, gilded ceilings, stained glass windows, sparkling chandeliers and once again the din of noise on the floor. As several senators gave impassioned or plodding speeches supporting the bill under discussion, the rest of the chamber was an ocean of movement and side conversations. How, I wondered, does anything actually get done here?
We made our way down to the rotunda where groups were being photographed on the grand staircase in the rotunda before making their way to various parts of Pennsylvania. One of Senator Tomlinson’s aides actually approached me to ask about two of the bills we had discussed at our meeting. I was able to give him the packet of information that had been so carefully prepared and researched by our BCWAC leaders.
In spite of the seeming chaos, I came away with a determination to be one of the voices heard by our state legislators. With all of its flaws, state government is accessible to us and we can make our voices heard. As we made our way to the various offices, we passed groups of NRA lobbyists wearing vests proclaiming “Don’t Tread on Me!” and hats avowing “I have a gun and I vote.”
Our group did have green back packs that proclaimed, “We are those women from Bucks County.” Next year, we should get hats that shout, “We are women and we vote. Don’t tread on us.”
by Peggy Walsh, BCWAC Partner