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|PSSNY Advocacy Toolkit|
As a pharmacist you are a constituent, an expert in pharmacy matters, and an important participant in the healthcare delivery system in New York State. When you take an active role as an advocate for pharmacy, you are doing your part to make sure that issues facing your profession and your economic future are addressed at the Capitol in Albany. The Governor and the New York State Legislature, both the state Senate and Assembly, have an enormous impact on every aspect of pharmacy practice including its future in an evolving healthcare system. This toolkit is your guide to becoming an effective advocate for Pharmacy in New York.
Senators and assembly members are very responsive to their constituents. Because they are elected, they need votes to stay in office. Their natural inclination is to get to know their voters, address local problems and understand what they can do to help.
The Society’s goal is to build an effective and dynamic grassroots advocacy network that will translate into positive results for practicing pharmacists so that bills that pharmacists support receive positive votes in senate and assembly committees and are then passed by both the New York State Senate and Assembly, and bills that pharmacists oppose are defeated. This is a step-by-step guide about building an effective grassroots network throughout the state that will have an impact on policies made at the Capitol in Albany.
The legislature is in session from January through June each year. Senators and assembly members are in their local district offices from July through December during the “off-session.”
The January to June legislative session can be broken into two parts: (1) Budget; and (2) End of Session. New York’s fiscal year runs from April 1st to March 31st. The New York State Budget is due by April 1st.
Grassroots advocacy refers to efforts by individuals and organizations at the local level to influence the public policy debate at the State Capitol. Grassroots advocacy involves constituents communicating with legislators and the public through the press, by writing letters, sending emails or faxes, or circulating petitions that will be delivered to a selected legislator or legislators. These forms of advocacy focus attention on an issue that would otherwise not be visible or well understood. They serve to convey the importance of such issues to legislators, creating an impetus for action. This section presents two grassroots techniques that have proven to be particularly effective in Albany: (1) Letters to the Editor and (2) Grassroots Petitions.
In New York there are more than one hundred local newspapers. Each county in the state typically relies on a combination of a daily newspaper targeted to a general audience along with weekly publications that cater to specific audiences. In Columbia County, for example, there is the Columbia Paper which is published every Thursday, and the Register-Star which publishes from Tuesday through Saturday. A list of all the newspapers in the state has been compiled by the New York Press Association and is linked here for your convenience.
Not only do local legislators read these papers, their constituents do, too. Legislators are very sensitive to issues covered in local papers. Therefore, if the goal is to reach a certain legislator, we strategically place the issue where the elected official and their constituents will see it. When we want an issue to be in the forefront, submitting a letter to the editor is key. The editorial section of any newspaper is widely read and provides the legislator with a quick guide to issues that constituents care about.
Placing a letter to the editor is relatively straightforward. Every newspaper has an online submission page or email address. Simply look at your local newspaper’s website and follow the appropriate links for instructions for submitting letters.
To be effective, the letter must be clear and concise with an anecdote about the local impact of the issue. PSSNY will provide a sample letter for each issue. You can adapt the letter to fit your locality and circumstances.
The second advocacy technique is the development and circulation of petitions. Petitions can be done in two ways: a physical sheet of paper signed by individual constituents or an online petition.
A physical petition is what most people think of when we mention petitions. The tradition of petitioning the government dates back to the formation of the United States. One of the grievances of the original thirteen colonies was King George’s failure to redress the grievances listed in petitions from the colonies. In our context, the petition will be a piece of paper which is affixed to a clipboard. The top portion of the petition describes the issue succinctly, such as “we demand that our Legislature put an end to the practice of cow tipping in our state.” The remainder of the petition consists of lines for the names and addresses of members of the community who agree with the statement. The petition can be discussed with and
The second type of petition is an online petition. These petitions are similar to physical petitions in that they describe an issue and require signatures. The main difference, however, is that the online petition can be easily distributed via e-mail. Due to the ease in circulating online petitions, legislators tend to give these petitions less weight. However, they can be an important tool in generating community awareness and involvement on an issue. Remember, petitions are as much about community education as they are about legislative action.
This part of the toolkit is designed to help you develop a friendly, respectful working relationship with the New York State senator and assembly member who represents you at the Capitol in Albany. As a constituent and voter you are important to elected officials, and as a pharmacist you have an authoritative voice on issues with direct bearing on the profession. Effective constituent relationships can translate into success at the legislature. Here is a practical guide to help you get started.
Use these websites, insert your address and follow the prompts. You will find out the name of your senator and assembly member, some background about the member, the area encompassed by the state senate or assembly district and the committees or task forces to which the member has been assigned.
Read the profile on the Senate or Assembly website. How long has the legislator held office? What is the district (e.g. towns, neighborhoods, etc.)? Does the legislator represent the district where you live or where you practice? Notice the committees on which the legislator serves to understand the topics most familiar to the legislation (e.g. taxes, environment, health, education, elections, crime). Does he or she chair a committee or task force? You are looking for common ground, a way to start a conversation.
The following Standing Committees typically take up legislation that relates to pharmacies, prescription drugs, and pharmacists:
Call the office. Legislators’ offices are listed on the Senate and Assembly websites. District offices are also listed in local telephone directories. Ask to speak to the legislator’s staff person who is responsible for scheduling. State that you would like to meet directly with the legislator. Ask about the meeting request procedure. Some offices prefer to take meeting requests by phone. Others will ask you to submit the request by email. In any event, you will be asked for the topic of the meeting since legislators deal with wide ranging issues. If this is an introductory meeting, you might say, ‘I’d like to discuss the community pharmacy business environment (or pharmacy practice issues).’ Mention bill number(s) if you have them. Follow the process, being sure to take note of the scheduler’s name to smooth the way for follow-up calls or other meeting requests. Allow a few weeks for the office to schedule the meeting.
When the meeting is scheduled, ask about the time allotted for the meeting and who on staff (if anyone) will attend. You’ll want to keep these facts in mind. Since you have initiated the meeting, you are expected to present the topic and come prepared for the discussion. PSSNY will provide materials (e.g. talking points, a copy of the legislation, memos of support or opposition). It is up to you to establish rapport and to present the materials in a way that is factual and convincing.
If the scheduler offers a meeting with the chief of staff, accept the meeting. Meetings with constituents are always reported to the elected official. Your time will not be wasted.
What should I say and do in an introductory meeting with a legislator about a specific piece of legislation in the district?
As explained earlier, the New York State legislature is out of session between late June and the end of December. During these months state senators and assembly members are generally available for meetings in their district offices, with the exception of the fall in even-numbered years when they are involved in re-election campaigns. Any legislator who is facing a primary or has a strong challenger in the general elections will focus time and energy on campaigning and is less likely to be available for meetings in the district office. In other words, avoid asking for meetings in the fall of even-numbered years.
Every year, legislators are in Albany three to four days per week between January and June. They are back in their districts at the end of each week.
In-district meetings tend to be thirty-minutes in length, as compared to meetings in Albany that tend to be scheduled for ten or fifteen minutes because they are squeezed in between meetings of committees, conferences, and other obligations.
Constituents tend to prefer meetings in local district offices because they are longer and less stressful. Grassroots lobbying is also very effective. The legislator is on home turf and ready to listen to a local pharmacist who is familiar with the district and who knows voters.
How do I request a meeting with a legislator I don’t know but who is already a bill sponsor or co-sponsor?
Schedule the meeting as you would any other.
The purpose of the meeting would be similar: to introduce yourself as a pharmacist who lives or works in the district, to establish that you are an active and engaged constituent willing to be a source of factual information regarding prescription drugs and any other issues related to pharmacy practice, and to thank the legislator for supporting a particular bill.
What do I say and do in a meeting with a legislator I don’t know but who is already a bill sponsor or co-sponsor?
Follow the same outline described above to introduce yourself and establish a working relationship. Instead of presenting talking points and discussing a bill the legislator is already sponsoring or co-sponsoring, thank the legislator for the support, provide the PSSNY support memo, offer to be a resource for any additional information about the bill as it moves through the process. Consider inviting the legislator to visit the pharmacy.
Legislators discuss and vote on issues dealing with a wide range of topics -- crime, taxes, water, cemeteries, hospitals, insurance, schools, opiates, etc. Most have little working knowledge of what pharmacists know and what pharmacists do. Many rely on personal experiences to inform their votes. Just a few have been behind the counter. Those who visit a pharmacy have come away with a greater appreciation of pharmacists and a better understanding of pharmacy issues. In short, the experience pays dividends.
Such visits are not for everyone. Most often the invitation is extended by the owner of an independent pharmacy who has developed a successful working relationship over time with a state senator or assembly member.
Planning and considerations:
Thank you for your interest in advocacy. With your help, PSSNY is building a strong network of voices throughout New York with a message that will be heard loud and clear in the halls of the Capitol in Albany.