In The Den with Mama Dragons

Part 1: Legislation Basics

March 13, 2023 Episode 11
Part 1: Legislation Basics
In The Den with Mama Dragons
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In The Den with Mama Dragons
Part 1: Legislation Basics
Mar 13, 2023 Episode 11

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The 2023 legislative season is here, and there are currently a record-breaking 300+ anti-LGBTQ bills being proposed across the nation, most attacking transgender young people. The complex nature of the legislative process, along with the overwhelming number of bills being presented, has the potential to lead parents of LGBTQ children to feel discouraged and overwhelmed, but we’re here to help. In this first episode of a two part series on legislation, Jen and Shauna Jones break things down to the bare basics. They offer a primer on governmental structure, how legislation is created and passed, and what parents can do to make a difference in the legislative process. 


Links from the show: 

Info about the branches of state government: https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/our-government/state-local-government/

More info about state government: https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_criminal-law/s06-02-the-branches-of-government.html 

ACLU Legislation Tracking: https://www.aclu.org/legislative-attacks-on-lgbtq-rights

Trans Equality 2023 Legislation Tracking by State: https://transequality.org/state-action-center 

Track Trans Legislation: https://www.tracktranslegislation.com/  

Join MamaDragons today at www.mamadragons.org 


In the Den is made possible by generous donors like you.

Help us continue to deliver quality content by becoming a donor today at mamadragons.org. 


Connect with Mama Dragons:
Website
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Facebook

Donate to this podcast



Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

The 2023 legislative season is here, and there are currently a record-breaking 300+ anti-LGBTQ bills being proposed across the nation, most attacking transgender young people. The complex nature of the legislative process, along with the overwhelming number of bills being presented, has the potential to lead parents of LGBTQ children to feel discouraged and overwhelmed, but we’re here to help. In this first episode of a two part series on legislation, Jen and Shauna Jones break things down to the bare basics. They offer a primer on governmental structure, how legislation is created and passed, and what parents can do to make a difference in the legislative process. 


Links from the show: 

Info about the branches of state government: https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/our-government/state-local-government/

More info about state government: https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_criminal-law/s06-02-the-branches-of-government.html 

ACLU Legislation Tracking: https://www.aclu.org/legislative-attacks-on-lgbtq-rights

Trans Equality 2023 Legislation Tracking by State: https://transequality.org/state-action-center 

Track Trans Legislation: https://www.tracktranslegislation.com/  

Join MamaDragons today at www.mamadragons.org 


In the Den is made possible by generous donors like you.

Help us continue to deliver quality content by becoming a donor today at mamadragons.org. 


Connect with Mama Dragons:
Website
Instagram
Facebook

Donate to this podcast



JEN:   Hello and welcome. You are listening to In the Den with Mama Dragons. I’m your host, Jen. This podcast was created out of our desire to walk and talk with you through this journey of raising happy, healthy, and productive LGBTQ humans. We are so happy that you’re here with us.

 

Each year we hear about legislation that is created to limit the choices of authentic living for the LGBTQ people we love. Some of us are quite involved in the process of politics. And some of us don’t remember a single thing from school about the topic. So we have a two part episode this week about politics. Today, Shauna Jones and I are going to be speaking about politics on an elementary school level. And later in the week we’ll have a conversation with Sue Robbins about politics on a little deeper level. Hopefully, by the end of this portion with Shauna and I, everybody will be prepared to learn even more from Sue. And if you’ve been involved in politics for a while, you might even want to skip this one and wait for the more advanced dive.

 

Today we have four basic sections to cover and we wish desperately that we had video graphics we could share with the words. We will include some links to graphic descriptions in the show notes for anyone who wants to take the time to understand better.

 

So, section one, we’re going to start by asking who are the participants when we are talking about laws. This pattern is repeated on the state and federal level but it can be a little bit different in some states. So, Shauna, can you break this down for us?

 

SHAUNA: Sure. I think the best way to start is to understand that there are three branches of the United States Government. So think of the US as a big tree with three big main branches coming off the trunk. And these branches balance each other and each one has different jobs and responsibilities for making the government run. So, first, let’s talk about the legislative branch which makes the laws. There are two chambers to the legislative branch. There’s the House and the Senate. And laws can begin as bills in either the House or the Senate.

 

Then, there’s the executive branch. And that branch signs the bills that pass out of the legislature into law. So at a state level, that’s essentially the governor and their office. So, when a bill comes out of the legislative branch, the executive branch signs that bill and it becomes law.

 

The final branch on the tree of the United States Government is the judicial branch which makes sure that the laws that are passed by the legislative branch and signed into law by the executive branch are actually constitutional. These are the judges. And they essentially judge the laws when someone has a valid complaint about them and decides whether they actually are constitutional.

 

JEN: It sounds so basic when we think about the branches because they do have very distinct roles. But laws kind of jump around between the branches a little bit which makes them tricky.

 

SHAUNA: Exactly.

 

JEN: So we want to talk about how a bill becomes a law from the very start. And we’re going to use an example. So here’s our pretend situation. I hate brussel sprouts. That part’s true. That’s the true part. I hate brussel sprouts. They smell gross and they look gross and it doesn’t matter how you dress them up or season them or cook them, they’re just gross. And I don’t care if people eat brussel sprouts in their own houses, but I don’t want to be exposed to them when I’m trying to eat a nice meal out at a restaurant with my family. And I don’t think children should have to be exposed to the disgustingness of brussel sprouts either.

 

SHAUNA: Okay, I actually love brussel sprouts. But, for this situation I’m going to say, “Yes. I absolutely agree with you, Jen. Brussel sprouts are disgusting and we should make a law about that.” So can you explain to me what’s next? How does that work?

 

JEN: Okay. So we start in the legislature, the branch that you already talked about that makes the laws. And we have to find a single legislator in either of the chambers, so either the House or the Senate, who is willing to sponsor the bill. Often, we can find a dozen that will co-sponsor and give our bill some power and clout. But we have to have at least one person to sign our bill. And so I don’t know how hard it would be to find a senator who would be willing to try to outlaw brussel sprouts with me, but I’m going to find them. And then, they are going to work closely with me to create a bill against brussel sprouts.

 

So we write this bill. And there’s all sorts of steps and crazy rules that have to happen in there. We have to include lawyers and there’s a rules committee and all sorts of things. But, for our simplified purposes, we find a legislator and they write a bill with us. And after that bill is written, it goes to a committee. There’s a bunch of committees in the House and the Senate and it goes to a committee and the committee votes on it. If they vote yes, then it will go to the floor of either the House or the Senate, wherever it started, and then it starts again in the other chamber. So it has to pass a committee and the floor in the House and the committee and the floor in the Senate in either order. It can go Senate first or House first. But if it passes both of those chambers, it’s going to move on in the process to the next branch of government. Sometimes, when it’s stuck in that legislative branch section of the tree, portions of it get skipped. Maybe they decide we don’t even need a committee this time. We’re just going to take it right to the floor. Some states only have one chamber. That saves a lot of time because it doesn’t have to pass both chambers.

 

And sometimes they’ll amend it. Sometimes a committee will say, “We will pass this if you change it a little bit.” But both houses, both Chambers have to pass the final draft of the bill and then it moves to the next branch, like you explained, Shauna, is the Eeecutive branch. The executive branch in a state is the governor and the governor’s office. At a federal level, the executive branch is the President and the Vice President and all of the people that work in that administration. So, on a state level, it’s passed both chambers, it's going to go to the governor. And the governor has two choices. The governor can either sign it and it becomes a law. Or the governor can veto it and it goes back to the legislators. They can either decide to try again, to change it around a little bit, and try again. Or they can try to get a super-majority and just overpower the governor. But, if the governor signs it, it becomes a law.

 

And once it becomes a law, it must be enforced. Sometimes, like here’s my brussel sprout example, maybe I have a kid who can only eat brussel sprouts. It’s the only food that they are not allergic to and the government has just made brussel sprouts illegal for my kid. My kid can no longer eat in public because their only food option is brussel sprouts and I am pretty sure that my constitutional rights have been violated because now my child can never eat in public again. So I find an attorney and they agree with me that our constitutional rights have been violated with this law and they take it to court.

 

If you can find somebody who is a victim of a law and one of their rights have been violated, they can take it to court and see if the justice system either upholds the law and says, “Sorry this stinks for you, but it is legal.” Or, “You’re right, this isn’t legal.” And the court can overturn the law. So it’s this big, long messy process that sometimes happens, the whole thing will happen in just a week. People who oppose the law start looking to see if there’s legal ways to contest it. And this is tricky because you have to have a plaintiff. So, like in my case with my child who only eats brussel sprouts, I have to be willing to expose them to the court system and the vengeance and anger of all the people who are super excited that brussel sprouts are now illegal.

 

So this is happening all the time, except not all the time. So talk to us, Shauna, about when does this happen? How do we know when it is happening and when it is not happening?

 

SHAUNA: Thankfully, it is not happening all the time, every day, every year because that would be a lot for everyone to keep track of. Each state legislature meets for different lengths of time ranging from 30 days every other year to year-round. Only nine states have full time legislatures. Those states are California, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Wisconsin. So the rest of the states meet part time with some states like Montana, Nevada, Texas, North Dakota, only meeting in odd-numbered years. So, for most states though, January to March are the most active months of the year for legislation to be introduced, discussed and passed or not passed. Those first few months of the year are the months that most people are aware and actively working on legislation.

 

JEN: OK. So in section one, we talked about who’s involved. And in second two we talked about how it happens. And in section three, I want to talk about how we can participate. So we maybe have an opinion about the brussel sprout bill that has been introduced. And we want to get involved either to support legislation that we find to be positive or to oppose negative legislation. So, let’s kind of go back and forth for a minute and talk about some ideas of what we can do.

 

SHAUNA: Perfect. I think probably one of the most important things that you can do is to vote. So that way,  you make sure that you’re voting for people who have clearly aligned themselves with your values. And by putting them, making your vote known that you want them to be in charge, you don’t always get who you vote for. But by voting for people who have your same values, they are the ones that are going to be making and voting on laws. So making sure that you have representatives that you feel strongly about in office is an important way to participate in the whole legislative process.

 

JEN: Another thing we can do is make phone calls. Not all of us like to make phone calls, but it’s actually a really effective way. Most elected officials only care about the views of their constituents. So I can call every senator in my state and that’s not a bad idea. But really, only the ones I’m eligible to vote for probably care what I have to say about it. During a legislative session, it’s really difficult to get a legislator to answer the phone. They’re very busy. We might get a machine and we can leave detailed messages. And some of them have staff that are responsible for taking detailed notes on the views of the voters. And so a phone call is a good way to show that this matters to us and it’s important to us.

 

SHAUNA: That’s good. And if you’re uncomfortable with phone calls, which I personally am. I hate making phone calls. Writing an email or a letter is another great way to contact your legislators or your governor to make sure that they understand your position and why you oppose or support a bill. And it is their job to represent their voters. But they can’t do that if we don't tell them how we feel about certain bills or different things that are happening. So we can find that contact information online. Usually it’s your state.gov. And you can go on the website and find their email and send them an email. And sometimes they respond and sometimes they don’t. But it’s always a good idea to just let your representatives know how you feel about the issues.

 

JEN: Particularly important if you voted for them. If you can say, “I voted for you.”

 

SHAUNA: Exactly.

 

JEN: One thing we can try to do is make an in-person appointment with our legislators or the governor. This isn’t easy. They are pretty busy during session. Sometimes if we’re working with organizations, it can help. Or if we’ve done something during the off season to get to know them. So when things are a little bit slower, like maybe the election has just happened, it’s over, we have between, for example, November to January. We don’t really want to bother them during the holidays But maybe we make a quick phone call and let them know who we are, or send an email. And that makes it more likely, if you can sit face-to-face and talk to a legislator about how a bill will impact your life, it’s likely that they’ll at least try to listen to you.

 

SHAUNA: It’s true. I’ve done that and had really good success with legislators listening to our story. So I think that that’s an important one. Another idea is to attend committee hearings and sign up to testify. So, remember, Jen talked about how bills go through committees? They allow public testimony at those hearings a lot of the time. And so you can sign up either online or you can go to the hearing and sign up in person. And you can testify against or for a bill. Now this can be super intimidating. But the more voices they hear from, the more they have to consider the legislation carefully and not just do what they personally think. It helps for them to hear the voices of the community and how you feel.

 

JEN: And in a representative government like we have, we don’t always get what we want. But it is important that the people are represented, the views of the people, as long as their rights aren’t being violated. And, hopefully, the courts will sort those things out in a good way.

 

SHAUNA: And I think, too, that going and testifying against brussel sprouts, again let’s say, your voice – the kid who’s allergic to everything except for brussel sprouts, your voice is very important for that child to know that they are supported and that they have people who care about them. So, even if the legislators aren’t willing to listen or change their minds, just showing up and being there as a support to the community that’s impacted has value too.

 

JEN: I absolutely agree with that. I wanted to highlight something that I’m not super recommending. But what we see often now is a form letter, especially as you join different activism groups and stuff. They’ll send emails with a form letter. And it’s electronic and it’s super easy because you just put in your email address and they’ve already done all the work and you  send it off. And I’m not at all suggesting that these are bad. But, generally, these are gathered and tossed by staff members because they aren’t representing the unique views of the sender. So it’s kind of like knowing people in the opposition party disagree with you. But, they’re awesome and I use them all the time. I highly suggest that we can take advantage of these letters. Because you see them, you can copy and paste and use the talking points and create it to be your own voice with not nearly as much effort. And then send the email from your own email box. So take advantage of those. The people who create those letters are invested. They do this with passion and intelligence, so it’s smart to take advantage of the points that they bring up.

 

SHAUNA: I love that idea. OK. Let’s move on to section four. So now we know how laws are made and some steps that we can take to help influence our legislators. But I think we should talk about how we know what the bills actually are because sometimes bills are passing through the House or the Senate and we don’t even know what’s happening or what the bills are. So what advice do you have on that, Jen?

 

JEN: First, I want to validate. I hear often from people who hear about a lot after it’s been passed. It hits the news and they’re like, “Wait? What? How on Earth did that happen? I didn’t even hear about that.” And I think sometimes, if bills are going to be controversial or hotly contested, they intentionally don’t give a lot of information and they set the hearing dates at the last second to try to avoid a lot of public participation because it’s time consuming and noisy and all of those things. Especially if they already kind of know how they’re going to vote. So I want to validate that it’s not people who are behind or not paying attention. Sometimes those things move like lightning. And I think that that’s often intentional.

 

So, I want to talk about some ways we can stay up to date. One thing that we can do is connect with organizations. There are some solid organizations and I think Shauna will include these in the show notes. But some solid organizations that track the bills that affect the LGBTQ community – and obviously our organization and our podcast are about the LGBTQ community and not necessarily brussel sprouts. But, if we want to know what bills are dangerous to the LGBTQ community, we can look to the HRC (Human RIghts Campaign). We can follow Planned Parenthood. We can find our state’s equality organization. Almost all states have one. They have different names. But they all have organizations that are fighting politically for equality. The ACLU tracks and does a really good job of tracking. And there are other activist groups that you find locally that are tracking local bills. Local news organizations tend to report on the more controversial bills. They’re not going to report on 300 bills that are coming up on the house floor. But, if there’s a bill that’s going to be kind of hotly contested or have dramatic impact, they will talk about those things. And they’re usually, local news tends to be a little bit more balanced than some of the national entertainment chains that we’re familiar with.

 

A good way to keep track of what’s happening is to connect with your local lobby groups and make friends in the community or on social media. If you have someone that you’re friends with that lives in your state that’s tracking things, they’re going to be posting about them. And you can follow them and they’re going to be doing a lot of the hard work, posting and sharing what’s coming up.

 

SHAUNA: You’re that friend for me, Jen.

 

JEN: I tend to do this, but I only live in one state. And then, this one’s probably the hardest, but the most effective: Learn how to manipulate and use and wield your state legislature’s website. They will list all of the upcoming bills, even the ones that don’t have titles yet that you can’t read the text of the bill. They’ll have titles. And they can put you on alert that this is one you’re going to want to look a little bit deeper into. So, for me, for example, I might be looking through and it’ll say landscape grazing rights will be the title of it. And I’ll be like, “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t have any special information. I don’t have any particular interest.” And so I kind of skip that one because there’s too many to track all of them. And then I’ll find one that, maybe, says “Sex Education” and my radar goes up. And I’m like, that’s one that I’m going to want to follow because I don’t know if it's positive or negative at this point until I dive a little deeper. And so you can track the numbers of the bills by number.

 

So get to know your state legislature’s website. It will tell you when the hearings are. It will tell you which committees are listening to which bills. And you can find contact information for all of your legislators. So, if something’s going to committee, you can get the email address for every person on that committee if you know how to look around and use this website. And it will tell us when they’re allowing public testimony and when they’re not allowing public testimony. So these are my four big suggestions. Find solid national organizations that are tracking things, look to your local news, find friends and local lobby groups, and learn how to use your state legislature’s website. They’re not always the most user-friendly websites. They’re government run. But, once you get the knack, you’ll be able to find what you need there.  So do you have any other ideas or suggestions or things we need to cover before we let people go?

 

SHAUNA: I think that that’s good. I just want to encourage people to not be intimidated by all of this. It can get overwhelming when you’re thinking about all of the bills and all of the things. But if you just, it’s three branches of government, you have a voice, and you can use it. And it’s pretty simple and straightforward to write an email or to make a phone call. These things feel really big and scary. I was very nervous the first time that I went to a committee hearing. I was shaking the whole time. But it was really important for me and for the community that I care about for me to show up. So I just want to encourage people to become familiar with your legislators and what’s happening. And don’t be afraid. Just take the step and make your voice heard. It matters. It matters to the community. It matters to our LGBTQ kids to see that their parents support and love them. And it’s important to just the community as a whole, too. That’s my plug. Get involved even if it’s scary. Do the things scared.

 

JEN: And it is super scary. I think some of us are intimidated because we come from these positions of relative privilege where kind of what happens with the laws don’t affect us much in one way or another. Life pretty much continues regardless. If we think all the way back to the civil rights era, the average white person wasn’t actually affected by the Jim Crow laws. They could go where they wanted and do what they wanted to do. So, for those of us in those positions, it can be easy to think everything will work out in the end. And I often hear people say things like, “Well, they can’t do that.” And, yes, they can. They absolutely can. And we need to learn how to think in a new way of protecting the people who actually are vulnerable in these situations because people’s lives are dramatically affected by different laws and stuff that can happen.

 

In the LGBTQ world, if you have questions about these laws and you want to find help, reach out to us. We’ll help you find your state equality groups. If you feel like you’re safe enough to get involved at the judicial level if a law has already been passed in your state that will negatively affect your family, the ACLU is beginning cases in several states already. And it is a vulnerable place to be, a vulnerable place to place your child. But that’s how we fight back. We didn’t get school integration without Ruby Bridges who was willing to do that for the rest of her community. So that’s my rant about getting involved. It matters to the people who are most vulnerable.

 

So we’ll close out our little mini-episode. And hopefully this gives everybody enough background so when they hit Sue’s episode in a couple of days, we’re all super prepared. Sue’s a professional and amazing at this. And we just want to make sure we have the background to understand everything she has to say. So thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you soon.

 

SHAUNA: Thanks.

 

JEN: Thanks so much for joining us here in the den. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. We’d also love it if you could take a minute to leave us a positive rating and review on whatever platform you’re listening to us on. Good reviews make us more visible and help us reach more folks who could benefit from listening. But, review or not, we’re glad you’re here. For more information on Mama Dragons and the podcast, you can visit our website at mamdragons.org or follow us on Instagram or Facebook. And if you’d like to help Mama Dragons in our mission to support, educate, and empower the parents of LGBTQ children, donate at mamadragons.org or click the donate link in the show notes.