Getting involved in the legislative process:
The do’s and the don’ts
By James N. Haug, Director,
Socioeconomic Affairs Department
April 1993 ACS Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 4
During the past decade, the American College of Surgeons has not only continued its traditional role as an organization that is concerned with education, standards, and ethics but has also chosen to intensify its efforts and influence with regard to socioeconomic issues at the national and state levels.
There is little question that much can be accomplished through the work of the College's officers and staff. But the effectiveness of the College's socioeconomic efforts ultimately rests with its Fellows and their commitment to attempting to influence and effect legislative change that will have a positive impact on surgical practice. Paying membership dues isn't enough.
The College hopes that many of its Fellows will take an active stance in presenting their views and concerns to their elected representatives and thereby will be participants in, and not victims of, the political process. Following are some guidelines that have been developed to help Fellows communicate effectively with their legislators.
Establish and maintain credibility
Establish regular, ongoing communications
- Know the facts-do your homework on the issue under ion.
- Know your legislator's political views-his or her voting record and legislation he or she has introduced are important indicators.
- Know the opposition; you might have more in common than you think.
- Every issue has at least two sides. Be prepared to respond to the opposing viewpoint.
- Be a credible and constructive participant in the policymaking process if you want a place at the legislative table. ,
- Respond to matters about which you have expertise.
Be proactive, not reactive
- Be brief, limit your comments to one issue. Know what is important.
- To have a more meaningful conversation, be familiar with the legislative process.
- Maintain communications on matters with which.you agree as well as disagree.
- Express your views periodically on subjects other than those of medical interest.
- Compliment or thank your legislator when he or she accomplishes something.
- Become acquainted with the legislator’s staff. They are an extremely important component in the political process.
- Remember that the essence of politics is the control of information.
The 10 "dont’s”
- Demonstrate a willingness to participate.
- Be timely. Political options become restricted as the legislative process proceeds.
- Be prepared-have a proposal or plan of action to put on the table.
- State your case as positively as possible.
- Avoid taking a self-serving position. Keep in mind the fact that legislators are looking for "political solution."
- Be reasonable-- “reasonableness” often means that you have to compromise or negotiate.
- Be persistent-There are times in the legislative process when you will have to be persitent. Remember, though, that there is a line line between persistence and being a pest.
Your most powerful allies
are a legislators constituants ...
who are your Patients and whose votes
elect him or her
- Don't talk to your legislator or his or her staff for the first time when you want something-develop a rapport beforehand.
- Don't be afraid to defend or to debate an issue.
- Don't be argumentative.
- Don't be too quick to call attention to newly introduced legislation that is bad-"Let sleeping dogs lie."
- Don't deliver ultimatums or be threatening.
- Don't limit your options.
- Don't try to amend or compromise on poor legislation. Oppose legislation with which you disagree.
- Don't compromise or “make a deal” initially on the legislation or viewpoint you are supporting-be firm about your convictions.
- Don't tell legislators something they already know. Tell them something they don't know and something that they can use to solve their problem.
- Don't feel you always "have to do something." Sometimes the best approach is to remain neutral or to do nothing.
- Make the patient and quality of care your top priorities in a medical issue.
- Educate your legislatior to the impact on his or consitiuents.
- Establish communications with local public interest and consumer groups.
- Develop a relationihip with the local media in the hope that your views wfll be presented fairly to the public.
The above article is © American College of Surgeons, and is reproduced here with permission.
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