Voices from the Gold Dome, 2015Tom Zimmerman | Georgia Nonprofit NOW, Spring 2015
Three GCN members report from the front lines of policy advocacy in these excerpts from our Nonprofit Voice blog series, illuminating the work that goes into making sure a policy initiative gets the support it needs to pass. Says Pat Willis, ED of Voices for Georgia’s Children, “It’s comparable to jumping rope on the playground: there are multiple roles required in order to play.”
The heart of GCN’s mission is helping you expand, deepen, and demonstrate your impact. Last year, we launched our Nonprofit Voice blog series as a platform for GCN members to share—in their own words—how their solutions are strengthening communities.
For the jam-packed (and oftentimes controversial) 2015 Georgia legislative session just completed, Nonprofit Voice featured three GCN members on the front lines of policy advocacy.
The following excerpts from the full blog posts, provide a look into the ways GCN members are helping usher in statewide changes.
Georgia Budget and Policy Institute
Taifa Butler, Executive Director
Early on, it was clear that transportation budgeting would be a defining issue for the 2015 legislative session. With $1 billion in new annual revenue needed just for repairs, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) tracked the evolving funding proposals for policymakers and the public.
GBPI doesn’t typically weigh in on transportation issues, but we had concerns about how the funds would be raised and who would be affected. GBPI’s niche and contribution is to pore over complex policy issues and legislation and clearly explain to the public what is most important. To inform the debate, GBPI:
• Helped policymakers and stakeholders understand Georgia’s complex funding structure for transportation. We developed several publications and op-eds, including a detailed bill analysis to educate people and inform them of the transportation plan.
• Launched a host of presentations and media appearances to help explain the plan as it unfolded, its effect on the state general fund, and its potential revenue sources.
• Advocated for new revenue to protect the state’s general fund so already-underfunded schools and the health care system are not cut further to fund the transportation plan.
Is the final bill perfect? Not from GBPI’s perspective, but the plan is improved after months of public debate. That public debate featured GBPI’s analysis, concerns, and suggestions. And that is how we measure success.
Voices for Georgia’s Children
Pat Willis, Executive Director
Too often, nonprofits who want to join the policy debate on behalf of those they serve stay sidelined for fear of overstepping IRS rules, or simply because they’re unsure where to start. Voices for Georgia’s Children Executive Director Pat Willis explains how nonprofits can join existing and ad hoc advocacy coalitions to create a support network and present a unified voice.
What does it take to pass legislation that ensures healthy futures for Georgia’s children? It’s comparable to jumping rope on the playground: there are multiple roles required in order to play. An advocacy organization like Voices for Georgia’s Children has to be versatile and adaptive when it comes to advocating for passing good legislation for children.
The most important thing to know is that no one person or organization can claim sole responsibility for passing legislation, which is demonstrated by two important bills (SB7/SR8—a Safe Harbor bill, and HR 640—a committee to examine school-based health centers which would increase access to quality healthcare for children) that were just approved by the 2015 Georgia General Assembly. In each of these bills, Voices played different roles at different times—sometimes leading, sometimes supporting, sometimes just showing up—but always partnering with a growing advocacy community for Georgia’s kids.
Passing legislation is about informing decision makers of the facts and the value of change for children, for Georgia, and for them, as elected officials. (I.e., how much their constituents care!) For these two important legislative decisions, Voices and many other organizations sent timely action alerts (complete with “the what, the why, the message”) and the important link to the phone numbers and email addresses of those about to make decisions.
Jennifer Swain, Interim Executive Director
This session, youthSpark continued to work directly with Georgia legislators to strengthen laws passed in recent years that help protect—not penalize—the victims of child sex trafficking. Thanks in part to youthSpark’s work convening a powerful coalition of stakeholders toward a mission-critical goal, the Safe Harbor Bill and Rachel’s Law passed overwhelmingly.
The 2015 legislative session proves our community awareness and education efforts are far-reaching, and that there is power in numbers. Led by Sen. Renee Unterman and other key legislators, Georgia senators and representatives have helped solidify our framework so that no child victimized by trafficking can be charged as a criminal, and that these victims will have access to funding for services to help them heal. Coined Rachel’s Law, SB 8 and SR 7 had a real face—a person who was brave enough to share her story with policymakers to keep others from experiencing the pain she once faced.
We support Rachel’s Law because we recognize many victims don’t self-identify as victims initially or, often, are too afraid to speak out against their trafficker. Georgia previously passed a law stating that prostitution charges against underage victims can be expunged. We believe that policy should be taken one step farther, and passing a true safe harbor measure was only right.
youthSpark also supports the fee imposed on adult entertainment venues because of the correlation between that industry and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Any lawful business that perpetuates the problem even tangentially should be willing to be a part of the solution. Period.
Working together with policymakers, we can create a world where no child becomes a victim, a pimp or a buyer.
We want to feature YOU! The NOW blog was built to be GCN’s voice on the web, but we’d like to make it yours too. That’s why we started our Nonprofit Voice series, a showcase for our members’ impact and expertise. Tell us about a pressing community challenge your nonprofit is tackling—whether it’s a hot news topic or an issue that’s been too long ignored—and help us show thousands of your sector colleagues how the GCN family is making a difference. Write to us at [email protected].
Tom Zimmerman is GCN's communications manager.