What is Advocacy?
The act of speaking up and taking action is called advocacy. Services for individuals living with brain injury are often determined by decisions made at the legislative level of government. Every citizen in North Carolina has a right to share their voice and be heard by public officials. Even though it may feel better in the moment to argue, blame, or rant about the issues affecting your life, concise and personal testimony can be more effective. Though it may be daunting, real change can come about when people with brain injury speak up or have someone to speak on their behalf, if needed.
What is the General Assembly?
The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA), or legislature, is made of two bodies or houses who are responsible for making and passing state laws, also known as statutes. Each legislator is voted for by citizens in their respective district in North Carolina and serves for two years. The legislature convenes in even-numbered years for shorter sessions, and every odd numbered years for its long session. Legislators are also involved in various committees to address specific issues.
- 50 members
- Presided by Lieutenant Governor of the State (no vote except to break tie)
The House of Representatives
- 120 members
- Presided over by speaker elected from membership
How is a Law Made?
- Concerned citizen or issue
- Drafting of bill
- Introduction of bill
- Reference to committee
- Consideration by first house
- Consideration by second house
- Concurrence of amendments
- Enrollment, ratification, and publication
What is Your Role?
The legislation process can often be confusing and overwhelming to know how you can get involved. After a bill is drafted, it is referred to a committee for discussion. The House & Senate both get together for a session every year in the chamber to present calendared bills before deciding if those bills should be tossed, amended, and/or smoothed out into a law.
Your voice can make the difference between voting for or against a specific piece of legislation. If a legislator doesn't hear from their constituents (residents in their district) about an issue, they will have to make a guess as to what the public would want. As they are elected officials, if enough people make their thoughts known it is more likely to influence a vote. One voice in a crowd will not be as loud or have as much of an impact as a group of people saying the same thing. By advocating, you are a part of a movement and discussion larger than just one person. Individuals with brain injury, families, professionals, and their allies have a message that is impossible to ignore.
Find out who represents you.
All residents of North Carolina are represented in the United States Senate. Representation in the NC House, the NC Senate, and the US House is determined by district. Each resident of the state has one representative in each of those legislative bodies, determined by the district in which their residence falls.
What Can You Do?
Advocacy involves identifying barriers to a life that is inclusive and addressing those concerns with the right people and organizations. In many cases, a person with a brain injury will advocate for better healthcare treatment, accommodations for disability, and/or for representation in legal matters. Anyone can become an effective advocate for themselves when prepared with the right information and resources. You do not need you be in this alone. You might seek out an advocate, such as a case manager, attorney, family members and/or friends to help out.
You can search, track, and report on legislation for any state and US Congress. The NC General Assembly website includes bill look-up by keyword, number, etc.: https://www.ncga.state.nc.us/legislation/legislation.html. Apps and other websites include Govtrack or TrackBill.
Keep it short, sweet, and simple, referring to bills by their number, title, and sponsor. Use your own words to make it more personalized and have resources to back up your reasoning (rather than using opinions or ranting to persuade). Address your letter to a specific individual and include your contact information.
Legislators are divided up into committees for certain topics and have a hearing to collect testimony for bills. This is your chance to speak your mind and suggest changes before the committee takes any action. The NC Brain Injury Advisory Council may have more ideas on how you can get involved at the state level. Visit www.ncdhhs.gov/assistance/disability-services/traumatic-brain-injury for more information.
What better way to get a feel for government involvement than to check out the history? Usually tours are provided or you’re free to roam at will. You can always pop in to your legislator’s office but they typically spend very little time there. Their days are fast paced so call ahead if you really want to set up a meeting. Don’t forget they have normal offices outside of session, too, in more local locations!
Investigate other resources and ways to advocate at these links.