Visiting your Senator and Representatives in their state/district or Capitol Hill office is the most effective way to introduce them to your work and advocate for your position on a policy issue.
Members of Congress are typically in their home state Friday through Monday and/or during one of the congressional recess periods. When Congress is in session, Members of Congress are in Washington, D.C., during the middle of the week. To make an appointment to meet with a Member of Congress, call his/her appointment secretary/scheduler and give you name, organization, city and the issue you wish to discuss. If there will be others from you community joining you for the visit, inform the scheduler — it may be easier to obtain an appointment for a group rather than an individual. You can reach the Capitol Hill office of any Member of Congress at (202) 225-3121.
Become familiar with the legislation you will discuss in your meeting. Use fact sheets or issue briefs provided by Volunteers of America to learn about the goals of the legislation. If possible, read the legislation for specific information.
If you have more than one office to visit, schedule your visit with sufficient time to allow for meeting starting late, and time to get from one office to another. Do not arrive late. If you anticipate that you will be late, call ahead.
Plan your presentation to last only 5 minutes and no longer than 10 minutes. Be sure to include information about the connection between your work and the issue. Ask others to do the same to show the many different ways the issue will impact your community.
Have more than one person in your group speak during the presentation. Prior to your meeting, outline what the group wants to cover in its presentation, and divide up roles and talking points. It is often helpful to choose who in your group will initiate and facilitate the meeting.
The Member of Congress will likely ask you questions. Answer questions about who you are and what you have presented. If you do not know the answer to question, promise to find out and get back to them.
Bring handouts. A letter from your organization on the issue is good material to have on hand. You should also provide a brochure or a one-page description of your organization. You may also wish to give them a copy of the legislation and a fact sheet.
A meeting on the Hill can, and will, take place anywhere: in a Member’s office, a committee hearing room, a cafeteria, the hall, or a reception area. So be prepared for interruptions, tardiness, sudden departures, and rescheduled or canceled visits. Anticipate bells ringing and changes in whom you will meet:
Members of Congress and their staff are seldom in a position to make firm commitment on the spot. A favorable response is a commitment to “do the best possible.” A more likely response is agreement to consider the proposal.
Begin by thanking the members of Congress or staff person for allowing you the opportunity to meet with him or her. Where applicable, also thank him/her for past support of your issues or organization.
Use your time effectively. Be clear about who you are, what you do, and what you want. The decision maker should leave the meeting with a grasp of how your agency relates to the issue at hand and its experience in the issue.
Be relaxed. Use a conversation tone in your presentation. Do not read a prepared statement.
Listen. The Member or staff person may have some important and relevant concerns about the issue. The Member or staff person may also have some suggestions that could help promote your position on the issue (i.e., they may know of other Members who might be supportive of your position, request that they play a leadership role with other members of Congress on the issue. The Member may be willing to circulate a “Dear Colleague” letter, speak with other Members, or send a letter on your issue to the chair of the relevant committee. Make a note of all comments, concerns, and suggestions.
Do not be surprised by a lack of interest, or what seems like a negative or skeptical reaction.
Do not be defensive or argumentative.
Do not answer a question if you do not know the answer. Make note about the question and tell him/her that you will call or write back with the answer.
Do not threaten a member of Congress or a staff person who does not support your position or issue with action against him/her by your organization. Such threats are always counterproductive.
Do not ignore, insult, or burn bridges with a Member of Congress or staff person, no matter how insignificant his/her role.
Do not make disrespectful remarks about the current administration (e.g., for not proposing sufficient funding for your program). Avoid criticizing any Members of Congress.
Do not talk negatively about a member of Congress or staff person to your colleague while you are in, or near, the congressional office buildings. No matter where you go — in the hallways, in the cafeterias, on the sidewalks — you never know who may be listening.
Send a note thanking the Member and/or staff person for the visit. Reiterate the major points you made during the visit and provide answers to any questions that you were unable to answer at the time or the visit.
On Tuesday, January 28, 2014, President Barack Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address. In the speech, he focused on the principles of opportunity, action and optimism.
At FSF, we know that public policies based on these values are essential for people with disabilities and their families to live, learn, work and play in their communities. The speech focused on several specific initiatives of importance to people with disabilities and FSF.
The first was a commitment to expanding early education opportunities for young children that will help kids with disabilities get the great start in life they deserve. The second was a call to action to assist our veterans and military families with reintegrating into their communities. From providing mental health supports and individualized employment services to training caregivers of wounded warriors and hosting summer camps for military children.
Finally, the speech called for more people to have equal access to a good job. FSF is dedicated to working with both people with disabilities and employers so that employers can hire the right people, with the right skills at the right time.
Congress has passed, and President Obama has signed, a $1.1 trillion bill that funds all federal programs for the rest of the fiscal year that ends September 30, 2014.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (H.R. 3547) – negotiated by the House and Senate Conferees – represents a small step in the right direction towards much needed investment in addressing the unmet needs of people with disabilities.
Many of the programs that people with disabilities rely on to live, learn, work and play in their communities will receive some relief from deep cuts to sequestration and other factors in the last few years.
FSF is particularly pleased that the bill includes investments in key areas such as:
Attention now turns to the next fiscal year and the President’s proposed budget that will be released in the near future
Each day, decisions are being made in Washington, D.C., that will affect people with disabilities, and FSF’s ability to provide services to them, as well as to meet our mission today and for years to come. Please get involved and contact your local and State representative. The unmet needs of people with disabilities will continue to go unaddressed if FSF is not engaged in educating public policy makers about people with disabilities’ disproportionate reliance on government for health, education, employment, transportation and other needed services.
HB653 – Education -Deaf Cultural Digital Library
HB653 would require the Division of Library Development and Services in the State Department of Education to establish and coordinate the Maryland Deaf Culture Digital Library. The hearing for the Deaf Cultural Digital Library (DCDL) legislation was held Friday (2/21) in the Ways and Means Committee Room in the House Office Building at 1pm.Delegate Eric Luedtke, who is the sponsor of this bill, extended an invitation to the deaf community to go to Annapolis and testify
SB20 – Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing – Name Change
SB20 proposes changing our office’s name to the “Governor’s Office of the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and DeafBlind.” ODHH did not submit this bill; Senator Forehand drafted and submitted this bill on behalf of a constituent request. ODHH remains neutral on this issue and is working with the community to reach a resolution.
Proponents of this bill say that it is a step towards being inclusive of a sub-group with unique needs. Opponents of this bill say that it is instead exclusive of other specialized groups and that the current name is inclusive as is.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate Finance Committee and in the full Senate. However, following a request from the same constituent, Senator Forehand submitted a letter to the Health and Government Operations committee on Friday, February 14th. This letter requested that the bill be withdrawn.
SB103 – Public Health Programs for Children – Renaming and Modernization
SB103 was submitted by the Governor’s Office on behalf of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
On January 15, ODHH submitted written and oral testimony in support of SB103. This bill would change the statewide newborn screening program’s name to “Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program” and take out outdated terms from the statute like “hearing impaired,” changing it instead to “hearing loss.”
The bill also adds ODHH to their Council. This bill passed unanimously in front of the Senate Finance Committee as well as in the full Senate.
A date has not been set for the hearing in the Health and Government Operations committee.
SB446 and HB396 – Commission on Accessibility Concepts in Computer Science, Information Systems, and Information Technology Programs in Higher Education
Senator Conway submitted SB446 and HB396 was submitted by Delegate Turner.
SB46 and HB396 both propose to establish the Commission on Accessibility Concepts in Computer Science, Information Systems, and Information Technology Programs in Higher Education.
The House Appropriations Committee met February 4th to discuss this Bill and the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee met February 5th.
ODHH submitted written testimony to each of these Committees requesting an amendment. The amendment requested that ODHH be added to the Commission. ODHH wanted to ensure that the Commission received input from the hearing loss community when it examined web accessibility.
The House Appropriations Committee did not accept this amendment. We are watching carefully to see what happens in the Senate.
HB51 – Public Schools – Boards of Education – Bullying Hotlines and Tip Boxes
Delegate Cardin submitted HB51. This bill proposes that all county boards be required to establish a toll-free bullying hotline and to publicize that hotline.
On January 29, ODHH requested an amendment for HB51. This amendment requested that the hotlines make themselves accessible to deaf and hard of hearing Marylanders. ODHH requested that the MD Relay number be included in literature for the bullying hotline and that hotline staff be trained on how to accept relay call and other communication access issues for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf blind constituents.
The Ways and Means committee has not reported a result yet.