In this three-part series, we will discuss the importance of nursing role, both individually and as a profession, in politics and policy development. This first installment will focus on a basic review of the lawmaking process. This may vary slightly at the state level due to differing procedures; however the general tenets are the same. Subsequent installments will focus on current legislation which is important to nursing, and how we as nurses can make a difference to our profession by influencing public health policy.
We should know who our elected representatives are on the state and national level. This may sound simplistic, but many people do not know this information. Names, contact information, etc. for elected officials at national and state levels is readily available on government websites.
On the national level and in most states, there are three separate branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. Each branch of the governemtn have various roles. The executive branch consists of the president or governor and those agencies under their jurisdiction. Their role is to recommend legislation, propose related policy initiatives, and implement laws that have been passed. The Legislative branch (Congress or Legislature), has the sole power to pass legislation, or laws and accompanying regulations. The Judicial branch (Supreme Court) interprets laws, and can invalidate laws passed if they are deemed unconstitutional. This branch is unable to recommend or promote legislative initiatives on its own.
We may remember from high school civics class “how a bill becomes a law”. For those of us who do not, let’s quickly review:
The President or Governor can veto (nullify) legislation that is passed with which they disagree. If this happens, the Legislative branch can override the veto with a two-thirds vote and the bill becomes a law without Executive approval.
The political process may be intimidating. We must remember, however, that politics is an essential part of health care policy development. Competition among special interest groups, corporate entities, and elected officials may complicate the picture, as each group wishes to achieve its own goal. Effective political action by nurses can help to promote policy which has a positive impact on nursing.
See below for parts 2 and 3 of this article.