Getting stakeholders involved can be key to passing legislation

Getting legislation passed Women Who Lead

From left, Executive Alliance Executive Director Luwanda Jenkins presents Del. Shelly Hettleman an award for sponsoring HB 1116-Gender Diversity in the Boardroom at the Executive Alliance’s annual Women of Excellence Luncheon in November 2019. (Submitted photo)

Luwanda Jenkins seized the opportunity when then-Del. Shelly Hettleman (now a senator) turned to her and asked if the Executive Alliance would be interested in sponsoring a bill to help more women serve on corporate and nonprofit boards.

“Organizations like Executive Alliance play a key role as advocates who bring issues to light by mobilizing stakeholders and subject matter experts to tell their stories and make the case for legislative action,” said Jenkins, the executive director for the alliance, which expands the impact and influence of accomplished women.

Jenkins organized a focused effort where members such as bank executives and community college presidents visited Annapolis and contacted their delegates and senators, especially those serving on the committees considering the bill, known as Gender Diversity in the Boardroom.

“Elected officials are there to represent their constituents, and they care what their constituents have to say about issues that come before the General Assembly,” she said.

On April 6, the General Assembly approved the bill, which would require Maryland businesses and large nonprofits to report the number of women on their boards, and it was signed by Gov. Larry Hogan in May. Now, she’s working on educating businesses about the new law and forming partnerships to promote gender diversity on boards.

Across Annapolis, influential women work late into the night advocating for measures that will change the state. Some of those bills will be introduced year after year, finally passing after nearly a decade.

“(Public policy advocacy is) always a long game, especially when advocating for the rights of the vulnerable,” said Caryn York, chief executive officer of the Job Opportunities Task Force, which develops and advocates for policies and programs to increase the skills, job opportunities and incomes of low-wage workers and job seekers in Maryland.

The long game is something Michelle Daugherty Siri knows all too well, but she’s willing to stick with it and give people time to warm up to new ideas.

One bill she worked on recently, the Healthy Working Families Act, took five years to pass. Then, it was vetoed by the governor and finally became law after the General Assembly overrode the veto in 2018.

Siri, the executive director of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland Inc., provided expertise on a provision of the bill that allows survivors of domestic abuse to take paid time off from work to obtain a protective order.

Siri gave survivors of domestic violence a voice in Annapolis. By talking with clients that the law center represents, they found out that it wasn’t just time spent in court they needed, but also time to bring children to counseling or to meet with their attorneys to prepare for court.

“If you don’t have the input of people that are actually impacted by whatever issue you’re trying to address, you’re just looking at things from that ivory tower, that really clinical perspective, and you’re not going to know how things actually work,” Siri said. “So it’s really critical.”

The act, which gives paid sick leave to workers, was supported by a coalition of more than 160 organizations.

One key to legislative success is forming large coalitions with many different perspectives.

Robyn Elliott, a partner at Public Policy Partners, used a broad coalition to pass a bill on behalf of the Maryland Dental Action Coalition that established Medicaid dental coverage for over 30,000 people. It was a bipartisan effort that drew support from every corner of the state.

“A lot of it is really listening,” Elliott said. “It’s not about imposing your own ideas. It’s listening to other people’s ideas and trying to think of ways to bring everyone together.”

Elliott, who specializes in health care law, has been part of many efforts where Maryland was the first in the nation.

For instance, as a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, she helped pass bills that provided the most comprehensive insurance coverage for contraceptives in the country. Maryland was the first state to provide insurance coverage to over-the-counter contraceptives such as emergency contraception, or oral contraception if it becomes available without a prescription.

When lobbying on issues where Maryland is a trailblazer, Elliott does lots of research. For instance, Elliott was able to use the experience of a public health-oriented insurer who had already voluntarily given coverage to over-the-counter contraception. That experience allowed her to talk about the technical details of what happens in the pharmacy.

She’s found that Maryland is at the cutting edge in health care leadership.

“There is a sense of collaboration, even if everyone’s not in agreement, because we recognize Maryland is this innovative state and having different perspectives helps us move forward,” Elliott said. “We don’t always have to agree, but I think there is agreement that we can’t just try the same thing over and over again. We have to think of new ways to deliver healthcare. “

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.

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