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The Rev. Al Sharpton led hundreds of people on a march Monday to Florida’s Capitol, where they rallied against the state’s “stand your ground” law. This was an example of civic engagement. Another example came last summer when members of a group calling itself Dream Defenders, comprised mostly of students, held a month long sit-in at the Capitol urging lawmakers to call a special session to overhaul the law. Even though governor Rick Scott and legislative leaders declined, this group garnered national attention for getting involved in the lawmaking process.
On the eve of the opening of the 2014 Legislature, dueling rallies converged on the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to advance each side’s priorities. The mostly left-leaning groups like the NAACP had their “Moral Monday” protest against issues like the state’s voter purge, “Stand your ground” and called for the expansion of Medicaid. Meanwhile, the Florida Chapter of Americans for Prosperity held its own event opposing the Medicaid expansion and supporting the overhaul of the state’s pension system, just to name a few.
But before many of these issues reach the fever pitch of protests and rallies, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in the lawmaking process in a more direct and intimate way. It first starts with contacting your lawmakers and pitching them ideas. Then it’s getting involved in the actual sausage making of laws. Many people are surprised at how simple it is to talk directly to their lawmakers and question, support or object to their proposals. It’s as simple as tracking the issues you’re interested in and monitoring or attending its various committee meetings.
This all brings me back to the days of School House Rock, if you can remember “I’m Just a Bill,” just adjust the lyrics as best as you can to Florida, the process is similar.
The best time to get involved is way before an idea becomes law. All of these hot-button issues started from simple ideas. But by getting engaged earlier in the lawmaking process, we will see more laws with fewer unintended consequences.