Legislative Education Day: What Comes Next?

By: Heather Thomas, MPA
Board of Directors, Washington State Public Health Association
Public & Government Affairs Manager, Snohomish Health District  

On February 7, more than 150 public health ambassadors from around the state gathered in Olympia for our annual WSPHA Legislative Education Day. The morning session kicked off with a welcome from WSPHA president David Reyes, followed by remarks from Secretary of Health John Wiesman. Secretary Wiesman shared his perspectives on a variety of public health issues at the state and federal level, in addition to taking questions from the audience.

The rest of the morning was filled with short panels on Foundational Public Health Services and the importance of storytelling. Attendees were visited by Representative Laurie Jenkins from the 22nd District, as well as Representative Vandana Slatter’s legislative assistant Taemin Um from the 48th District, to help put people at ease when meeting with legislators and their aides. 

After lunch, teams met with over 100 legislators and staffers in four short hours. Packets of information from the Public Health is Essential campaign were distributed, amazing stories were shared, and democracy was on display for first-time attendees.

But now what? WSPHA Legislative Education Day is just one day. What else can you be doing the other 364 days of the year to help make a difference for public health in Washington State? Here are some ideas on how to stay engaged, during and after session: 

  • Learn more about your legislators. Find who represents where you live and where you work by visiting http://app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/. Research what committees they sit on, what topics are important, and what they do in the off-session. Sign up for e-newsletters and follow them on social media.
  • Participate in town halls. Subscribing to those updates will let you know when your legislators are having town halls. These can be in-person, virtual or by phone. These can be great ways to share your thoughts on issues, ask questions, or hear what’s on the mind of your legislators and fellow constituents.
  • Write blog posts or letters to the editor. A series of editorials were done statewide in 2017, but your voice is needed to keep the issue at the forefront. Whether you have a platform for blogs or columns, or you write a letter to your local newspaper, share your stories. If you don’t know where to get started, email [email protected] for samples that have been created.
  • Send thank you notes when session ends. Even if you didn’t get what you asked for. Seriously. Our legislators work tirelessly for months at a time, supporting bills and negotiating into the wee hours. Thank them for their hard work. Acknowledge what was accomplished that helps to support public health (hint: there is always something).
  • Focus more energy off-session. Once session ends in March, give your legislators a little time to wrap-up and decompress. Then, reach out. Your legislators will have time for more than those 5-10 minute appointment slots or side conversations out in the hallway. Invite them to tour your offices to learn more about the important programs. Take them into the field in their District. Meet up with them over coffee. Ask how you can help them.

Past blogs

Legislative Education Day
By Anne Burkland, Government Relations Specialist, Public Health Seattle and King County

February 1, 2018

Join public health officials from across the state and have your voice heard at our annual legislative education day on February 7, 2018.Your day will begin with Secretary of Health John Wiesman. You’ll also hear from state lawmakers and your colleagues who are leading the charge for more funding dedicated to public health. You’ll be provided talking points and an opportunity to develop and practice the key messages you want your representatives to hear. Read more


The Opioid Epidemic in Washington
By Ginny Weir, Program Director, Dr. Robert Bree Collaborative

January 1, 2018

The opioid epidemic has impacted every community in Washington State. Across the country, opioid overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death. But some counties are hit harder than others and disparities exist between how racial and ethnic groups are burdened with the epidemic. Solutions must be both based in local communities and supported across the state. Our Washington state opioid response plan calls on all of us, state government agencies, local health departments, professional groups, community organizations, health care systems, and others to work together on priority areas. Read more