Nonprofit Voice | Voices for Georgia's Children on Advocacy by Coalition

Our Nonprofit Voice blog series is back! These guest posts are written by GCN member leadership about a pressing community challenge they are tackling—whether it's a hot news topic or an issue that's been too long ignored.

This post is the second in a three-part series on policy and advocacy, written by our members who were on the front lines of this Georgia legislative session. Voices for Georgia's Children Executive Director Pat Willis discusses the different roles her organization played in ensuring appropriate legislation was passed for their stakeholders this winter.

Each year, Voices for Georgia’s Children organizes Children’s Day at the Capitol, an opportunity to convene dozens of nonprofits and children’s advocates to provide a unified voice on pending legislation. Pictured are representatives from the 38 partner organizations attending this year’s event in March..

OPINION | by Pat Willis, Executive Diretor of Voices for Georgia's Children | April 27, 2015

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 displayed by two important bills 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.

As a result of passing HB 640, a House legislative study committee will examine the opportunity for school-based health centers (SBHCs) to increase access to quality health services for children. In 2010, Voices recognized that lack of health insurance, living in rural areas, or even transportation can all get in children’s way of accessing basic care like physicals, hearing screenings, dental care, or support for chronic diseases like asthma. We joined forces with the Georgia School Based Health Alliance (GASBHA), provided some leadership for the Advocacy Committee, and helped develop the bill to create the Study Committee. 

Through the GASBHA we reached out to legislators serving a region with an excellent SBHC and began to educate them. We testified at a hearing on Rural Hospital Stabilization about the opportunity presented by SBHCs to address rural needs. We found a champion in the legislature to sponsor HB 640, then issued an action alert to child advocates to raise their voices in support. A study committee can be invaluable to moving an issue forward—educating legislators with experts and research, convening advocates from a variety of sectors, even taking a field trip to observe success. 

"Voices [for Georgia's Children] played different roles at different times—sometimes leading, sometimes supporting, sometimes just showing up—but always partnering wtih a growing advocacy community for Georgia's kids."

A second issue that has received significant media coverage is the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Earlier legislative sessions brought new harsher penalties on those who would sexually exploit and traffic children, championed by youthSpark and Georgia Cares. This year, the focus shifted to restoring the health and personal wellbeing of victims, with SB 7 and SR 8 proposed to increase victim support by raising funds through fees and penalties.. A “safe harbor” provision was a priority for advocates to prevent children under 18 from being prosecuted for prostitution since they are not even old enough to consent legally to sex. 

Near the session’s end, Voices responded to a legislator’s request to provide a letter to every House member requesting they support the bill and “safe harbor” provision. Other groups, like the Interfaith Children’s Movement, also provided visible support from the faith community and brought a large group of young people to the Capitol to observe the vote. With youthSpark and Georgia Cares in the lead and active support from many different advocacy groups, this coordinated effort helped pass this important legislation.

At the end of the day, passing legislation is about informing decision makers of the facts and value of change for children, for Georgia and for them as elected officials. For each of the above bills, Voices and many other organizations sent timely action alerts, breaking down the issues and including the all-important link for our networks to contact those about to make decisions. Now that these bills have passed, it’s time to say “thank you” to those who sponsored and those who voted. “Thank you” goes a long way to getting support for the next important issue!

Pat Willis is the executive director for Voices for Georgia’s Children.

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