Our guest blogger this month is Dennis Polselli, Publicity Coordinator at Community Autism Resources. . ..
Politics is, in some people’s view, “a necessary evil.” But it is necessary in order to get funding for the great things we do as an Autism Support Center and we truly need the support from all who seek our free services. In this blog I’m going to outline some ways we can be more effective with our legislators in getting them to understand Autism and what we do as a Support Center to be truly, “a place to start, a presence on your journey.
The biggest piece of legislation that goes on each year is the State budget and it doesn’t just appear out of a hat. It is a process that goes something like this.
The fiscal year in Massachusetts goes from July 1 through June 30. The process begins with the period of September-December. This period is when the Governor’s budget is being built. Each agency prepares to submit its priorities and individual budgets to the Cabinet office. For example, Community Autism Resources submits our budget to the Department of Developmental Services, (DDS is an agency under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services…EOHHS]
Therefore, during this period, September-December, you should concentrate on explaining to the Commissioners what sorts of things CAR has done to assist your daily living with children on the Autism Spectrum. Stories described to your legislator and the Commissioner are very important and effective. Although the emphasis is on the Agency Commissioner and his/her superiors, it’s not a bad idea to start cultivating your legislators.
- According to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Governor must submit a budget to the legislature. It is very important that our priorities are in this draft of the budget as it makes advocating a bit easier if our issues and priorities are actually written in the Governor’s version of the budget submitted to the House. The first phase of the legislative process is the House Ways and Means Committee, which will put together its own version of the budget using the Governor’s version as a base but not necessarily going along with it. During this period, you should concentrate on your legislators in earnest. The campaign for what we need starts in full mode on the third Wednesday in January. You should:
- Visit or make contact with your legislators and their staff on a regular basis either directly at the State House, or in their district offices.
- Write letters with personal stories, letters are very effective in this process and
- If possible, testify in public hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee.
This period goes from January –April. Beginning in April-June, the pace picks up. The budget is released from the House Ways and Means Committee to the full House where it can be further amended. After it passes the House, it then shifts to the Senate, specifically; the Senate Ways and Means Committee where hearings are held and they too, can re-write the budget using the House and Administration versions as its base. Again your role should be to work with your individual Senators and as many members of the Ways and Means Committee as possible. After passing the Ways and Means Committee of the Senate, the budget goes to the full Senate where it can be further amended…
July-August. The Senate version of the Budget, when passed by that body, is usually different than the House so a Committee of six members, the chair and vice chairs of the house and Senate Ways and Means Committee, and the Senior Minority member of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee, form a Conference Committee to put together a compromise budget which is then enacted by the full House and Senate. The document then goes to the Governor who can veto line items, decrease dollar amounts in each line item, or change the language. The Governor’s veto must be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature and they can only be taken up at the discretion of the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate, otherwise, the vetoes will stand.
In another Blog, I hope to review how a law and policy is made, which is important to our advocacy efforts. In the meantime remember the line item for Autism Services is: 5910—3010 The Autism Services Bill is H.4047 so now you can get to work and become strong advocates for your family.