Washington Semester Program students voiced their support for issues facing our country during the Capital Hill Constituent Legislative Lobbying Day Project. Engaging in the lobbying process, American Politics students researched legislation currently moving through Congress, and then met with Congressional representatives and staff to express their support for a specific bill. First-hand experience influencing top decision makers is part of how Washington Semester students learn about active citizenship in our nation’s capital.
Tyler Lattimore, currently in his senior year at Emory University, met with a legislative assistant for Congressman Ted Yoho (R-3), who represents Lattimore’s home district. Prior to this class, Lattimore was under the impression that lobbying was reserved for big business and large interest groups. Through the Lobbying Day Project, he accessed Congress as an invested citizen and student, learning that everyone has a right to meet and lobby with his or her elected officials.
In preparation for the meeting, Lattimore used his understanding of the legislative process and extensive research to develop an effective argument for support. He considered the history as well as the likelihood of the bill passing through Congress, based on bipartisan support. “Once I found the piece of legislation that I was both passionate about and that had a chance at becoming law, I read through it several times, as well as reviewed other related bills or current laws. From there it became about building my case of support, which included being able to refute opposition to the legislation.”
Lattimore decided to support H.R. 3713: Sentencing Reform Act of 2015, which permits a court to reduce the mandatory minimum prison term imposed on certain non-violent defendants convicted of a high-level first time or low-level repeat drug offense. Lattimore feels that the reality of mass incarceration in the United States is almost inconceivable, having the highest incarceration rate in the world. “As a nation, we imprison individuals at a rate higher than the ‘most dangerous’ countries in the world. Couple this with the fact that our sentencing laws force first-time and nonviolent offenders into excessively harsh, long sentence,” said Lattimore.
He continues, “These laws tear apart families, communities and lives. Moreover, this legislation was also important to me because our current sentencing structure disproportionately imprisons blacks. I think this is important and it is time for us to address these problems.”
Lattimore saw first-hand how willing elected officials are to hear from constituents. Although his Congressman was back in his district when he visited his office, he was able to meet with his legislative assistant. Approaching the conversation with an emphasis on community and families, Lattimore was able to make his case. Through the meeting he was able to confirm the support from the Congressman and gained a lot of perspective into the work Yoho was doing to get that bill and related legislation through Congress.
“I believe it is our duty to meet with our Congressmen and Senators every chance we get. These public servants represent us most directly in the federal government and they serve us best when we voice our concerns, desires, and expectations. Whether it’s in Washington, DC or back in any given district across the country, each of us has a right to meet and connect with our elected official. More often than not, the office will at least be opening to listening to a constituent.”