Editor's Column - March 2013

This legislative session has been a different experience for me. Usually, I am much more involved in tracking what is happening on many issues, following whose bills are going where, researching what committees are meeting, and scheduling my time to be at the particular floor debates I want to hear. And of course I want to attend the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities’ Tuesdays at the Capitol meetings. But this year isn’t usual. I haven’t gotten the “sense of urgency” bug about the session, and I did not even know about the lowered deficit forecast until March 3.  I’ve got to do a lot of studying and watch some “game tapes” to get caught up.

Not to get into a civics lesson, but the legislative session is in some ways like a basketball game. You can start watching in the fourth quarter and pretty much get the gist of what’s happening, but you haven’t learned a lot about the game of basketball or about the teams. By the time bills are first introduced, they’ve already been discussed among legislators, constituents, public policy wonks, commissioners, and lobbyists. After a legislator authors a newly proposed bill, it is assigned to a related committee, where in hearings it is reviewed, researched and debated among many experts and affected citizens or organizations.

Usually a bill ends up moving on to other committees that get more background information and do more review. In any of the committees, the bill could be held up and never really be seen again. But as in a basketball game, where the first three periods lay the groundwork for what will happen in the fourth quarter, the legislative session can only really be understood if you participate from the jump ball (or the opening bell). If you don’t get in on the groundwork, it’s hard to know if a bill is good for the community, especially as its language changes and a big provision gets deleted or a “little” one changes the bill entirely. If you’re not tracking the “ball” of a bill, you can’t know if it’s going to even make it to the floor for a final vote by both House and Senate and become law.

When a basketball game goes into the fourth quarter, the fan who has watched the whole game may be able to predict what the final minute will look like and which team will win based on how they played the first three quarters. The citizen who has observed the whole legislative process is in the best position to make sense of the final few minutes on a floor vote and understand what it means for the community.

Sometimes I think the disability advocates and lobbyists and others who regularly work at the capitol represent our whole community. But this last Saturday was kind of a revelation for me. I was reminded that I only know a small section of our community when I went to a banquet held by Capable Partners, a group of hunters and anglers with disabilities along with the volunteers who help them participate in outdoor activities. It’s a large organization of good people doing good work. When I went in, I was expecting to see at least a few people I knew, but I recognized only Dean Petersen, the group’s president, who had invited me. It was a packed house, a huge number of people, with every kind of disability and using every kind of mobility device. There were young and middle-aged men and women, seniors and children having fun and mingling with their friends—most of them dressed in camo, with a silent auction featuring hunting and fishing gear, and backed up by a video of successful expeditions.

I came away wondering if enough of the disability community is actually on the hill advocating for everybody’s needs. How we can get the folks I met on Saturday night into the legislature to give their expert testimony, have their voices heard and make legislators aware of their needs? We must make sure that we’re doing the best, most informed work for our entire community. We need to have everybody at and in the game.

We talk a lot about the differences in the disability community. However, do we really know what the differences are and accept them? My opinions on research had to be re-examined last month, and maybe this month my opinion needs to be re-examined on the interests of hunters and anglers. Maybe next month it will be re-examining super PACs? (Maybe not.)

Have a safe month, use our advertisers, and try to get involved in the important game we call politics.