We have good news to report from Springfield.
A bill to seal Class 3 non-violent felonies passed, along with a bill to remove the felony enhancement from prostitution charges. A pilot project for the use of medical marijuana was approved. The negotiated, agreed-to “fracking” regulatory bill got a substantial “yes” vote on the last day of session. And, just when we thought we had lost on anti-gun trafficking, HB 1189 suddenly appeared—and passed—enacting two of the three common-sense regulations for which we had advocated.
The legislature also approved the new, federally-funded Medicaid for low-income, un-insured adults without children (342,000 individuals). And, thanks to the good work of our advocacy colleagues, the asset limit for participants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was removed, thereby helping families save while, at the same time, saving the state a million dollars in administrative costs.
There’s more good news. The General Assembly scaled back its initial cuts to education, human services, health care, and public safety. We have a better state budget than we’ve seen in recent years.
Throughout the session, our organizing, advocacy, and coalition efforts led to positive things happening in Springfield. We realized, once again, that knowledge leads to action, and action generates change.
Educating ourselves—and others—on priority issues is the first responsibility of advocates, leaders, and lobbyists. In March delegations of pastors, FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) leaders, and staff met with House and Senate legislators to educate them on gun-safety measures and to explain the lasting impact of criminal records. A member of the FORCE Project also testified before the Senate Criminal Law Committee in May, telling his personal story of living with a felony record.
Growing out of knowledge, action proposes solutions and applies pressure. Community leaders, clergy, and staff collaborated in meeting with legislators to share information, recruit bill sponsors, and press for support of key legislation. Over 450 people made a compelling witness at the Capitol to the devastating effects of handgun violence.
Many of you responded to our action alerts as bills moved through the legislature by sending e-mails, making phone calls, and meeting with legislators. Of particular note, nearly 300 clergy signed a letter to the governor and all the legislators calling for gun safety regulations to be included in any gun legislation brought to a vote in the General Assembly.
This year’s legislative successes helped make a positive difference for children, youth, families, and adults who live in poverty and face discrimination and disadvantage at every turn. But, let’s be clear that these changes were won through the hard work, constant vigilance, and organized power of many people, both back home and in Springfield.
The sealing records bill required sustained attention and multiple conversations with legislators. The pivotal moment for the felony prostitution bill came through the compelling testimony of a key witness in the Criminal Law Committee. The “fracking” regulatory bill passed after months of negotiation and compromise involving a wide range of stakeholders.
Join us in celebrating this year’s good results. Thank you for your faithful witness!