Determining Your Legislative Agenda

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How To Adopt a Legislative Agenda

Chapter Consensus

Whatever issue your chapter decides to work on, it is important that your entire group is on board with the issue.  This is the first step of the process and it can be a divisive one.  There may be people within your group who want to only focus on one issue and one issue only.  If your larger group is interested in addressing this issue, great – but most groups will need to come to a consensus on what they are going to work on.  Don’t let the single issue member shoehorn your group into a particular issue.  Some people may drop out of the group after your issue is chosen.  You can mitigate this by adopting a practice of consensus.

What is good legislation to choose?

Make sure you can address your issue on the state level.

There are a number of hot button issues that are at the forefront of many of our minds today.  This could be immigration, defense spending, our country’s relationship to another country — all of these are noble issues to tackle, but some are better addressed on the federal level.  Your group wants to tackle an issue that is important to Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, the legislation pertinent to this issue needs to come from Harrisburg, not Washington.  Choosing an attainable goal now will save you lots of time in the end.  Consult with your (or a) PASLAN adviser if you have questions about whether your legislative goals are well suited for state level politics.

Is there legislation already pending?

Is there already a bill out there to advocate for?

With a little research, and the help of your PASLAN adviser, you can determine whether or not there is already legislation pending that addresses your concerns.  Your group may want to only focus on legislation that already exists, as this will be much easier and give you a greater chance of success.  If your legislation already exists, it’s important that your group review the wording and determine if you would like to add or remove certain aspects of the proposed legislation.  This may be a different process from drafting your own legislation, but could be equally rewarding.  It will also help you understand certain aspects of the legislative process you might not get when you choose to draft your own legislation.

Who are your stakeholders?

What community groups already exist that you can leverage to help you?

It’s important in any legislative campaign to identify who would be most effected (good and bad) by your legislation.  PASLAN hopes that the legislation you propose will net a greater number of people positively influenced by your bill than negative, but there are always going to be critics and opposition of any legislation you propose.  It’s important to know who you will be able to reach out to in your community to help you in your campaign.  If you are drafting your own legislation, these groups can be critical for helping you understand the issues and can even help you in the drafting process.

Suggested Topics

Environment

There are some environmental issues that will be hard to tackle on the state level – things that are generally regulated by the EPA – and there are a LOT of lobbyists working for energy groups in Harrisburg that will quash any anti-coal or anti-fracking legislation you may propose.  This is not to say it’s not worth the fight – but the deck is certainly stacked against you.  If you’re interested in environmental issues, tackling lead levels in urban communities could be a good place to start.  Once you’ve won that campaign, you can take on the energy industries all you want.

Student Loan Debt

This is another example of a great idea that needs to be addressed but might not work well in Harrisburg.  The national student loan debt crisis is just that, a national issue.  You may be able to find a way where you can introduce legislation at the state level that partially addresses the issue, and if you find a way, amazing!  If you want to focus on an issue that will effect your generation, think forward to where you’ll be after college.  Student loan debt is crippling, but it’s far less crippling if the state is subsidizing your child’s day care, or if the state has helped you purchase your first house.  What are the opportunities you will have within your chosen field in Pennsylvania after you graduate?  Can the government help foster a job market that will help you get a job so you don’t have to leave Pennsylvania to find one?

Public Health

This is a great one to tackle on the state level.  There are so many different options you can pursue.  Expanded community clinics, legislation that improves the state’s exchange, expanded medicaid benefits – it’s all there.  Remember that public health programs tend to be expensive, so any legislation you look at will need a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis.  This could be a great way to recruit other people at your college or university to help with the research!

Government, Corruption and Democracy Issues

Any attempt to reform state government itself is an uphill battle, but it’s a noble cause to fight for!  Harrisburg is one of the most corrupt (objectively) state capitols in the nation, with no formal cap on campaign financing, free reign of lobbyists to gift legislators whatever they want and a culture of deeply seeded corruption.  If your group wants to take on the abyss head on, go for it!  There are many legislative items that can be addressed

– gerrymandering

– gifts and campaign financing

– voter access

Prison Reform

Most inmates of the penal system reside within state facilities nationwide.  Pennsylvania is no exception.  As of July 2018 Pennsylvania housed 49,930 inmates in the prison system.  Pennsylvania still operates on a cash bail system, which many argue keep the poor in jailThere are over 20 private prisons operated within Pennsylvania as well. The private prison industry has an established lobbying arm present in Harrisburg already.  If you choose to address this issue you will undoubtedly learn a great deal about our legislative system.