Demystifying POLICY: Not a Scary 6-Letter Word

by Nicole Riehl, Chief Operating Officer, Denver’s Early Childhood Council

Nicole Riehl

It’s okay, a lot of people have feelings of uneasiness or confusion when someone mentions policy in a conversation. We’re bombarded by a constant feed of news and commentary on our national politics and lawmakers everywhere we turn, and everyone seems to have a different definition of the word policy.   

In its truest form, policy just means a course of action taken by an individual, organization, or entity, with the origin coming from the Greek word for citizen. Public policy is the one we all tend to get the most nervous about. This is the process we can all take part in to determine how our cities, state and government make decisions and act on issues. Those decisions and actions impact us all in our daily lives, and although we hear about national and federal level public policy most often, the laws and rules that exist in our local state and cities affect us just as much, if not more. We’re all citizens, and involvement in policy goes back to the root of the word – you and me! We can all engage in policy in some way, but it can look different for everyone.   

Friday, January 4th marked the first day of the 72nd session for the Colorado General Assembly (House of Representatives and Senate) which will conclude in May. New and seasoned elected officials will convene at the State Capitol for 120 days to grapple with the most significant and pressing issues for Coloradoans. A few things at the top of the agenda for legislators include: 

  • Funding full day kindergarten for all children in Colorado (we currently have half day kindergarten funded for children in Colorado) 
  • Paid family leave 
  • Increased funding for low-income families to access child care 
  • Increased transparency and cost controls for health care 

These are only a few of the top issues that will be considered in the mix of hundreds of proposed laws (721 bills were introduced in the 2018 session, and 432 were approved and sent to the Governor), but you have an opportunity to take part and engage in our state’s policy process for the next four months and beyond.   

Even with the crazy busyness we all experience in our lives, here are a few simple steps you can take towards feeling more comfortable with policy: 

-Talk to your local legislator and public officials. You can find your local House Representative and Senator here, and it’s as simple as sending an email, making a phone call, or even tweeting at them! You can even go visit them at the Capitol or at their office if you want to. They are all normal people whom we’ve attended high school with or seen at the local grocery store, and they are there to represent the voices of voters in their district. No matter which political party they belong to, I’ve never met a legislator or public official who didn’t care deeply about their family, local community and the responsibilities of their role. Give them a call, say hello, and tell them what you care about. If you want to attend an event where people help you get more comfortable with public policy and face-to-face meetings with legislators, consider attending Speak up for Kids on March 19.  

Follow and comment on rules. After laws are passed (think of this as the ‘what’), there are usually rules that need to be made (think of this as the ‘how’) afterwards. If you work in a regulated industry (like health care, real estate, insurance, child care, etc.) you are probably heavily impacted by rules. Early childhood teaching professionals must comply with child care licensing rules, and those are revised and changed over the years. Every new or revised rule package must go through a transparent process where anyone from the general public can comment on proposed rules. Each government department or agency has a place where they post this information, and for the Office of Early Childhood at the Colorado Department of Human Services, you can find it here. Public comment can easily be submitted online, and you can also attend the Board, Committee or Council meetings where those rules will be voted on to voice your opinion in person.      

Vote. This is one of the easiest and most common ways people participate in public policy. Your voice is heard by filling in the little bubble that indicates your choice for a person to represent you, and which laws or changes you are or aren’t in favor of. Go here to make sure you’re registered!   

No matter what, just remember what policy comes down to – you! In the meantime, our team will be working hard to represent and advocate for the voices of the early childhood field. We encourage you to call or connect with us through email or our social media pages if you have  policy questions or would like our help with a specific issue.

Happy New Year!

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