At each level of government, there is a process for enacting legislation and policy. Local government enacts ordinances that govern counties, cities, and townships. The state legislature enacts statutes that impact the entire state. Congress enacts laws that apply to each state across the nation. In many cases, advocates find that they are most successful on the local and state levels.

Local Government

Local governments affect our lives in many ways. Local government officials are charged with the administration of a particular town, county or district, with representatives elected by those who live there. From providing police and fire services to operating parks and libraries, local government touches many facets of our daily lives. Local governments can also regulate businesses located within their jurisdiction, including establishing ordinances that impact people with hearing loss.

State Government

The state legislature is responsible for making and amending state laws. The “upper” body is often called the state senate or assembly and those elected to serve in it are called senators. The “lower” body is called the state house and its members are generally called representatives. (In Nebraska, all state legislators are called senators.) Residents of each district, a specific geographic area, usually elect one or more member(s) to the legislature who are expected to represent their district constituents. State government also has the potential to affect state’s budget, as well as issues around employment, education and more.

In most cases, your state elected officials are very accessible and want to hear from you. If you have a concern, you can send your legislator(s) an email, call them on the phone, or visit them in their office. Often you will meet or speak directly with the legislator, not with his or her staff.

Federal Government

Congress makes laws that impact the entire United States. The laws passed by Congress are far-reaching, impacting each state in the nation. Congress is able to regulate commerce between states and other important issues that affect every citizen of the United States.

Congress is made up of two “houses.” The U.S. Senate has 100 elected members – two from each state. Each state also sends elected representatives to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has 435 members. A state’s total population determines the number of representatives for that state. States with more residents have the most representatives.

Because the members of Congress serve more constituents than state and local legislators, it can be very difficult to meet or speak directly with one. Instead, you will often speak with a staff person who is charged with communicating your concerns to the member.

Where should you advocate?

As you can see, policy changes for people with hearing loss can happen at all levels of government. You may be wondering where your efforts are most needed or best spent to achieve your policy goals. Whether you advocate for local, state, or federal policy changes largely depends on your issue. If you want your local school system to ban the use of uncaptioned video materials in the classroom, you may want to focus your efforts on local government. You could also bring the issue to the state government so that the mandate applies to every school in the state, not just a single county/city/townships. However, if you want internet businesses to provide captioning for their online audio and video content, you should talk to your Congressmen and/or women because the issue affects interstate commerce.