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State Advocacy Update: Strategies for Grassroots Advocacy and Coalition Building

June 07, 2016
Many advocates will take the summer to revisit their strategies and identify tactics to ramp up efforts for next session.

State legislative sessions are winding down. Many advocates will take the summer to revisit their strategies and identify tactics to ramp up efforts for next session. The next few months offer the opportunity to reset, engage in targeted grassroots efforts, and strengthen coalition strategies.

Grassroots Advocacy

State advocates have limited capacity and must target their resources in intentional ways. Policy advocates preparing to introduce legislative goals might work with local allies to host in-district events to influence legislative targets. Activities could include:

  • Take your legislative target to prison. Organizing in-prison tours can reinforce concerns about mass incarceration and raise important questions. Advocates who are not able to organize the tour can ask their legislative champion to help. The bill sponsor might get a better response as an elected official.
  • Partnering with local churches or civic organizations to host a talk on mass incarceration. Remember to invite your legislative target. If you cannot get the elected official to attend your event—bring the event to them. One option is taking photographs, like the Texas Advocates for Justice, and creating postcards to send to lawmakers. Tap into the artistic talents of some of your volunteers to create a “scrap book/photo journal” that documents in pictures support for the policy goal. Share on social media with your legislative officials via Twitter or Facebook.
  • Strategy call with legislative champion. Many grassroots activists do not have the resources to attend in-person meetings at the State House. Have your statewide coalition join you in a “community conference call” with your legislative champion. The call will demonstrate support and offers an opportunity to get feedback on legislative strategies.
  • Engaging local media outlets. During a legislative session producing commentary in a state newspaper of record can be a direct means of reaching a policymaker audience. In the building phase of an advocacy campaign working to publish articles in local newspapers can help to educate about a policy remedy.

Coalition Building

When the legislature is not in session, building momentum for a policy goal can keep an advocate’s calendar full.

  • Develop new relationships. This time of year offers the opportunity to meet with membership organizations and host presentations. Many state advocates start with local political organizations and groups like the League of Women Voters and Rotary Clubs. Sometimes, statewide groups host conferences and welcome workshop or panel discussions from criminal justice reform advocates.
  • Faith outreach. Building relationships with local churches in target legislative districts can help affirm constituent support. A coordinated faith strategy might include sample sermons and notices to be included in church bulletins.
  • Local calls and webinars. When resources are limited, organizing targeted “local strategy calls or webinars” might prove helpful. The calls can highlight new research and further political analysis.
Vermont coalition forum on the effects of mass incarceration at ArtsRiot in Burlington, VT (Source: Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform).

Other News:

Colorado – Lawmakers sent SB 102 to the governor. The measure eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for certain types of second degree assault and violating bail bond conditions.

Hawaii – Policymakers passed HB 2564 to streamline the penal code; one provision raised the felony theft threshold from $300 in stolen items or services to $750. Lawmakers also authorized HB 2391, a measure that allows the Director of Public Safety to release misdemeanants from community supervision centers.

Illinois – Legislators approved SB 2907, legislation that increased the felony threshold amount from $300 to $500 for an offense to be enhanced from a misdemeanor to a felony, or a higher class of felony for a range of property offenses, including criminal damage to property and criminal defacement of property.

Iowa – The Governor signed HF 2064, authorizing the Iowa Board of Parole to release persons sentenced for non-violent drug offenses who have served at least half of their mandatory minimum sentence. The bill also authorizes judicial discretion in determining mandatory sentence requirements before parole eligibility for defendants convicted of second-degree robbery and some nonviolent drug offenses.

Louisiana – State lawmakers advanced HB 264, legislation that would abolish juvenile life without parole. Policymakers are also considering HB 194, a bill that authorizes certain exemptions for expungement fees.

Minnesota – Lawmakers approved SF 3481, a measure that strengthened penalties for drug kingpins while expanding treatment alternatives for possession offenses. One provision reduces the recommended prison sentence for first-degree sale and possession of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine from seven years to slightly more than five years. Another provision creates a Community Justice Reinvestment Fund to pay for treatment, probation, drug courts, and other local services. The measure means that the more progressive changes recommended by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to reclassify drug felony penalties will not become law.

New Hampshire – Lawmakers passed HB 1426, legislation that authorized earned time credits for incarcerated persons who participate in educational programs.

Tennessee – Lawmakers passed SB 2576, a comprehensive criminal justice policy measure whose provisions include an increase in the felony threshold amount for several property offenses. The bill adopted provisions to reduce admissions to prison for probation and parole revocations; legislation governs a process of graduated sanctions for community supervision. The bill contains punitive provisions, too. The legislation establishes a mandatory minimum period of incarceration of 85% for third and subsequent convictions for aggravated burglary and felony drug offenses involving sale and manufacturing.

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