From Study to Action—What Happens After State Consensus?
After a program has been adopted at the state Annual Meeting, a chair is named by the Board of Directors and s/he recruits the study committee which will function for the next year and a half. Unlike a study committee at the local level, the state committee members do not have easy access to each other to discuss problems, review materials, etc. They may be separated by 10 or 300 miles, which translates into dollars whenever one reaches for the telephone or steering wheel.
Traditionally, state studies have taken two years, but referring to a "two-year study" is somewhat misleading for the chair and the committee. Realistically, the group has just about a year and a few months. If member agreement is to be reached and a position adopted at the next Annual Meeting, the research and publishing must be completed in this time span. During the course of the study, the study chair must bring certain items for Board approval as well as keep them informed on month-to-month progress. The items which must be approved by the Board are: the outline of study, the committee members, the agreement deadline, plans and speakers for workshops, the type of publications (quantity and cost if a book), the member agreement form, and the results of the member agreement and position statement.
The final task of the study committee is to compile the member agreement and draft a position statement based upon that agreement. Compiling this agreement usually takes a full day. Often the chair makes a preliminary breakdown of responses and judgments which are analyzed and refined by the committee. This agreement draft then goes to the Board, where substantial time is devoted to analyzing the draft. Sometimes clarification is needed on one or another local response, and if necessary, Leagues are asked to comment again.
When a position has been approved by the Board, it is sent to the local Leagues, and implementation may begin immediately. Questions sometimes arise after consensus has been reached. First, should a local League publish its local consensus on a state item in its bulletin? The answer is, not until after the state position has been published. There are some practical reasons for this: local bulletins usually go out to non-League members and organizations in the community, most of whom do not discriminate among League levels. Thus, a local consensus might be construed to be a state consensus, when in fact the agreement on the local level (or some part of it) may not have statewide support. Another reason for holding off printing the local consensus is that it is too easy for a member to become forever confused between the local and state consensus, because s/he first saw the local one which becomes indelibly impressed in her/his mind. However, it is important to remember that agreement on the local level (or some part of it) may not have statewide support. Naturally, local members are anxious to know their local agreement and it should be disseminated. A practical way to announce both and to keep confusion to a minimum is to publish them at the same time in the bulletin, clearly identifying each.
A second question is: what can local Leagues do when state consensus has been reached? Guidelines for action locally on state positions are sent to Leagues. See the last page of the current LWVWI Position Papers for list of local action options. If in doubt, consult the president or state legislative chair. If a local League, for any reason, wishes to act at the state level, it must receive permission from the state. Generally, action at the state level is done by the state League.
After the state consensus has been reached, the next step is its implementation—action! The state legislative committee is now responsible for analyzing all proposed legislation introduced that relates to the League's position. The committee's knowledge of individual representatives and senators (who support or oppose our position, who are pivotal, who will sponsor legislation, etc.) is very important. Sometimes the League is asked to co-sponsor a bill, or have its name attached as a supporter. It is well to remember that it is far more difficult to pass legislation than to defeat a bill, and the more the League can exert influence during the pre-introduction stages, the stronger its role is. Equally important is knowing and working with other organizations who support our position (we sometimes enter into coalitions for this purpose) because the broader the base of support, the more likely that legislators will pay attention.
The legislative committee, after study of a bill and an analysis of its prospects and implications, makes recommendations for action to the state Board. The committee takes no action until the state Board as a whole —or the executive committee, when time is short—decides what the League's course should be. After the Board agrees, it is the legislative committee's responsibility to carry out the action plan. This includes appearing at legislature committee hearings, sending testimony, talking to legislators and sending Action Alerts.
The Legislative Committee meets bi-weekly when the legislature is in session, and members make countless trips to the capitol or other state agencies to lobby. They must be on top of things and close enough to be in the right spot at the right time. The State Board has a Legislative Committee Liaison who reports regularly on the activities of the committee.
The committee convener/chair and state League Legislative Research Associate (LRA) keep local Leagues informed on the progress of position implementation, and it is the responsibility of local Action chairs to see that this is communicated to the members. Background information is sent to Leagues, as well as all statements and letters issued by the state president or other designated person.
The Legislative Committee assists with the planning of Legislative Day; the committee chair/convener and LRA coordinate all legislative activity. When the legislature is in session, the pace is often hectic, but their jobs are a year-round one, as they work with coalitions, plan statewide meetings or work with local Leagues to promote our positions.
What happens after state consensus? Plenty!