On February 28, 2017 my husband and I took a vacation day from work and participated in an Advocacy Day in Annapolis, MD with NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness).  The goal was to express our support for three upcoming bills, which I will get into in more depth later.

The day started early.  I normally wake up for work at 6:30am, which is already pushing it for me, but in order to make it to Annapolis in time, I had to wake up at 6:00am on advocacy day.  My husband and I got ready, and headed out at 7am.  The drive included a lot of stop and go traffic, but that was to be expected.

We parked in a parking garage and walked to the House of Delegates building where everyone was meeting for advocacy day.  After going through a metal detector, we signed in, got our packets, and had a cup of coffee.  There was a review of what we would be doing that day, and then we were free to start our meetings.

Our first meeting was across the street where the state senate is, so we wandered over there, went through the second metal detector of the day, and found where we were supposed to go.  We were early, so we waited out in the lavishly decorated hall.  My husband took a picture of me, I think it turned out well:

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When it was time for our meeting, we went in and told the secretary who we were.  We waited for a few more minutes before being brought back to talk to the senators’ chief of staff.  Once we were brought back, we introduced ourselves and I told an abbreviated version of my story (which you can hear in its entirety by clicking the audio at the top of this page).  I didn’t go into full detail because it had been aimed at the senator, and I was nervous.

She wrote down the bills we were advocating for and gave us her card.  She told us to be in touch once the bills left committee so that they would know we still supported them.  It was a fairly quick meeting, and when it was over, we wandered to the basement of the building where there was a canteen.

I sat and sipped my fountain soda (diet coke), while my husband read more about the bills on his phone.  Then we went back across the street (and through a metal detector for the third time).  We were scheduled to do a joint meeting with both of our delegates, but we did not know whose office that was supposed to take place in.  We chose one of their offices at random, and were told we were in the correct place.

The appointments ended up being individual meetings, and the first of the two did not go as well as I would have liked.  It wasn’t that this delegate didn’t support what we were advocating, it was more that he did support and seemed to feel we were wasting his time.  He was dismissive of us and made me feel foolish by telling me to “calm down” in the middle of my story.  At that point I pretty much just handed it over to my husband and tried not to cry in the middle of his office.

We left the first delegates office and headed to the next one.  I really didn’t want to do the last meeting because I was so close to tears that I worried if we were treated with such disrespect again, I would lose it.  My husband offered to do most of the talking in the last meeting, and so I reluctantly agreed to complete the day we had agreed to.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about, the last delegate we met with was very kind.  He talked about how he agrees that what the bills are trying to accomplish is very important.  He even thanked us for coming to share our opinion with him.  This is the only legislator I will call by name: Delegate Dana Stein.  You can see us meeting with Del. Stein in the photo below:

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The bills we were advocating for have not yet been voted on, some are still in the committee phase, but each one serves a very important purpose. The Keep the Door Open Act mandates that the Governors purposed budget for FY18 and each year thereafter maintains the prior year funding and adds 2% for community providers.  This bill helps hospitals and clinics keep their dedicated behavioral healthcare professionals by ensuring fair and stable provider rates.

Another of the bills is the Health Insurance – Prescription Drugs – Formulary Change, which ensures that insurance companies honor their contracts, by disallowing them from stopping covering medications in the middle of a coverage year, or to switch payment tiers in the middle of the insurance year.

The last of the bills we advocated for was the Cigarette Restitution Fund: Establishment of Behavioral Health Treatment Account and Funding for Substance Use Treatment Services.  This bill, as the name implies, would divert some of the cigarette restitution funds from smoking cessation campaigns to addition treatment.

Overall, I would say my experience with advocacy day was a success.  I will definitely participate in another advocacy day, and I would encourage everyone to do so.  It’s important to remember that your legislators are there to represent their district, so as a member of their district, they need to hear what you have to say.