Directly Speaking - Reflecting on Under the Dome 6

by Scott A. Meyers, Executive Vice President
April 17, 2012

Wow!  From my perspective, this year’s 6th Annual Under the Dome was the biggest and best ever!  Yes there were some small glitches, and yes we had difficulty meeting with every legislator we set out to during our visits.  But this year we surpassed our previous attendance record by nearly 150 people!  We met with as many Senators and Representatives as we usually do, and we herded our participants around a severely compromised Capitol that is undergoing significant renovation without losing a single soul!  That’s a great day in Springfield in my mind.

I’ve been doing Legislative Days for more than the 6 years that ICHP and IPhA have jointly sponsored the Under the Dome events.  I can remember one year going to the Capitol with around 27 people and returning afterwards with 19 and not even noticing until we got back to the Hilton Hotel several blocks away.  The good news was the bus driver was willing to go back and sure enough the dawdlers were waiting patiently on the Capitol steps!  

Legislative Days are important because the Pharmacy profession is not inherently strong at advocating for itself.  Pharmacists, pharmacy students and pharmacy technicians don’t receive formal training on the art of lobbying unless they are active members of their professional associations and only then if they seek it out.  Yet advocacy on behalf of the profession is critical for moving the practice and profession forward to provide the best care for our patients!  

I visited all 7 Illinois pharmacy college campuses this year either in person or via the airwaves and presented a primer on how to lobby that should have prepared most students and pharmacists for what they faced in Springfield.  Every year that presentation is revised and improved to provide more details and helpful hints than the year before.  It will be improved for next year, too. I promise.

This year, we (pharmacy) shared the Capitol with the Illinois Gun Owners (estimates range from 1,500 to 7,500 of them), and it was crowded.  In the past we’ve shared the Capitol with Catholic Charities, Abate (Motorcycle Riders Association), the teachers’ unions and several other groups I’ve since forgotten.  There is never a day in Springfield where only one group is present.  It’s the State Capitol, people and groups have issues, and therefore it’s always crowded!  

This year, many of the Legislators spent the afternoon in committee hearings or just seemed to be nowhere to be found.  That happens, especially when a group as polarizing as the Illinois Gun Owners Association is in town.  Two years ago we benefited from their joint presence as the legislators would much rather speak with pharmacy students and pharmacists than they would with the gun owners.  Maybe their issue is coming to a boil and those legislators who can’t stand the heat got out of the kitchen so to speak.  Unfortunately, we can’t pick who is going to be in Springfield with us.  It just happens the way it happens.
When we plan a Legislative Day, we look at the calendar and try to find a day when we are fairly certain the Legislature is going to be in session.   The General Assembly’s normal workweek is Tuesday through Thursday.  (Not a bad gig if you have the money to get elected!)  If the bill load is light or it is earlier in the session, they will sometimes cancel session on a Tuesday.  On Thursdays when they are in Springfield, the legislators head home to their respective districts as soon as deliberations are over in the afternoon or early evening.  Because of those facts, Tuesdays and Thursday are always uncertain for planning a legislative reception.  So we pick a Wednesday, usually after the bill introduction deadline has passed and prior to the initial committee deadlines to make sure we have time to stop bad bills and push for good ones.  That leaves about 2-3 Wednesdays in late February and early March to choose from.  I’m betting most other groups that conduct Legislative Days use the same logic.  So being stuck in the Capitol with hordes of others is the way it goes!

This year we had 27 groups based on legislative districts that ranged in number of participants from 6 to 23.  One of the smaller groups lead by Mike Novario had 10 Legislative Day participants and represented 9 Senate and Representative Districts!  On the other hand, two groups visited one Senate district because 31 students lived in the same one!  The reason for the 27 groups and not more was because we only had 27 pharmacists who were willing to step up and volunteer to be group leaders.  Of the 390 pharmacists, students and techs at Legislative Day only 63 were pharmacists in the first place.  There were a couple of pharmacy technicians in attendance, and the remaining 320+ were pharmacy students, most participating for the first time.

If I felt any disappointment with this year’s Under the Dome, it would have to be that there weren’t more pharmacists participants.  We had several first-timers who I’m sure will come back again and step up to take a group, but for those thousands of others who haven’t bothered to come, get engaged and be informed, I am truly disappointed.  Yes, coming to Legislative Day probably means having to take a vacation day or it may mean trading a reasonable Wednesday shift for one that is less desirable.  But it’s once a year.  It’s for your profession.  We subsidize the cost!  We provide you with orientation materials and give you a group leader to make it easy your first year!  It can’t get any easier!

Seeing legislators, as I mentioned before, is often challenging at this event, but a couple of our participants made calls in advance to the legislators’ Capitol offices and were very successful in meeting up with their legislators.  Using your voter’s registration card and Illinois General Assembly website can make this a simple and effective step for a successful Legislative Day!  Those folks and their respective groups had great experiences in the Capitol.  A couple of other group leaders let the Legislators run the discussions, and the legislators created additional excitement and enthusiasm for the political process as a result.

This year’s food was better than ever!  Yes with 400+ people at the reception and almost 400 eating lunch, there were some challenges, but the crowd stepped up, worked together to make sure everyone had time and a place to eat and no one went hungry!  Next year we’ll speed up the lunch process by providing cans of soda instead of poured beverages, and we’ll offer one choice for sandwich and one choice for chips so that decision making is not required.  This year having a choice of which type of chips seemed to confound the highly educated and almost stopped the wheels of progress!  Next year, it will be turkey sandwiches, Baked Lays, fruit salad and a brownie with no nuts!  That’s it, unless you tell us in advance that you’re a vegetarian or have some other food allergy!  

To me, it was a great day in Springfield!  We had a record crowd, beautiful weather, saw many of the Legislators and were definitely seen!  You can’t ask for much more.  But it’s important to keep the momentum rolling with visits to your legislators’ offices during the Easter/spring breaks.  As mentioned in the GAS, there aren’t a lot of pharmacy-related bills still alive, but should they be revived, an established relationship with your Senator and Representative will be priceless!  Thank you to all who made the “6th Annual Under the Dome” a great success!

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