Amy Vitale of Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island became involved in Marriage Equity Rhode Island (MERI), a community organization aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. She worked with the Coordinating Committee to transport residents to a rally at the Rhode Island State House and became a registered state lobbyist in April 2006. Through conversations and research, she analyzed how voters can influence legislators’ policymaking. Her persistent presence at the Legislature helped influence some lawmakers’ ideas. Although the bill did not pass this year, Amy demonstrated that new faces and new strategies remind decision makers of the necessity to understand the underlying issues of controversial legislation. Dr. Johnelle Luciani was the faculty member supporting this student.
Forrest Robert Stepnowski, Katie Stevens, Alice Jenagin, Kallie Gatzmeier, and Karie Rice of University of Washington in Tacoma responded to an ongoing legislative battle for the past 29 years involving discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Questioning (LGBTQ) community. They lobbied for HB 2661, which adds the words “sexual orientation” to the state’s existing Anti-discrimination law and gives LGBTQs the same rights as other oppressed groups. They handed out fact sheets, set up an information table on campus, placed posters in school, initiated a phone chain, monitored legislators’ voting, and provided contact information for students to contact their legislators. The bill was passed in January, 2006, and the group learned how to fight for the disenfranchised and discriminated populations who feel powerless. Dr. Janice Laakso was the faculty member supporting these students.
Jill Carmichael and Helen O’Beirne of Virginia Commonwealth University lobbied against HB 1146, which was introduced to provide statewide title protection/licensing for social workers. However, the bill’s sponsors negated involvement by macro social work professionals and students resulting in legislation that was based solely on models for licensing clinical social workers. Jill and Helen were instrumental in raising awareness and support for counteracting this exclusion, eventually leading to the elimination of some of the bill’s initial components. The bill passed, but the title protection and licensing components were removed so that they could be reviewed at a later date with more macro social work participation. Jill and Helen learned the importance of working with a coalition, and about how to build trustworthy relationships. Dr. Robert L. Schneider was the faculty member supporting these students.
Pamela Hancock and Clare Johnston of the University of Denver applied grassroots strategies to advocate and support Colorado's HB1212, giving women the opportunity to obtain emergency contraception from pharmacists without a prescription. They believed this measure would greatly impact the lives of low-income and minority women who often have little to no access to primary care doctors. Pam and Clare formed a coalition through the local Planned Parenthood and mobilized a campaign to raise awareness among state legislators. The bill passed both houses, but was vetoed by the Governor. The students learned about the importance of coalition building and keeping long-term goals in mind. Dr. Jean East was the faculty member supporting these students.
Pua Kaninau of the University of Hawaii-Manoa transformed personal tragedy into an advocacy effort to establish a statewide program for the early intervention and prevention of suicide for persons between the ages of 10 to twenty-four. HB 3131 was introduced to establish early intervention and prevention programs. By making use of available community resources and having the tenacity to persevere, Ms. Kaninau learned how the personal can become political and helped shape the legislative process. She spoke at many hearings and helped to break the stigma and silence surrounding teen suicide. A bill passed this year opening the way for the Department of Education to implement a prevention program. She learned that it is necessary to be flexible, identify resources, and be willing to persevere. Dr. Ann R. Alvarez was the faculty member supporting these students.