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Like to start a Healthy School Lunch Initiative In Your State?
Take a few moments to read the simple guides below. If you're ready to start, contact CHOICE for materials, support and guides.

A Beginners Guide to Passing Legislation on School Lunches
By Barbara Gates, Project Healthy Beginnings

A grassroots effort is doable, powerful, and can set a tide of change in motion that will give ALL kids and their planet a brighter future.

I am writing this guide in an attempt to help other parents and child advocates understand the political process of passing legislation. If the project seems like it will be difficult or overwhelming, let me relieve your anxieties right now by saying that it's really not complicated. The process is straightforward and relatively easy to master, no more difficult than learning to use your computer (it's automatic now, isn't it…but it seemed complicated when you first started.). If I can be successful, you can too!

Bear in mind, I began the California Healthy School Lunch Initiative alone, with no experience, probably just like you. And I had no funding or financial support to assist me. As I got going, I found many people along the way who were more than willing to help. In the end, I was surprised how easily everything fell in to place.

This is a hot topic and the climate is right now to promote a better way of eating in our schools. I hope the following information helps you in formulating a plan. One thing I can guarantee: the experience of influencing policy makers in your state will be will be one of the most fulfilling of your lifetime- it certainly was for me.

Phase One - Begin and Believe!

1. Read this guide and ACR 16, then begin talking to others to glean support and understanding of the process. The actual resolution makes crystal clear the basis and arguments for why this is such an important and absolutely winnable effort. Keep in mind that we received numerous prestigious endorsements for ACR 16 and NO opposition… so you're on the winning team in this endeavor (FAQ #1 in the following document defines ACR).

The critical component is a leader/coordinator for the effort. Know that if you commit to heading it up, you will have support, not only from CHOICE and Project Healthy Beginnings, but also from individuals in your state. I found an unending source of support and information just by getting the word out on the internet and networking. Trust that support will come.

2. Learn about how the USDA National School Lunch Program works. It's pretty basic stuff, and there is information about it on the CHOICE website and on the Project Healthy Beginnings website. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine also has a comprehensive and reader friendly guide available called: The School Lunch Handbook. It's important that you have knowledge about these basics.

3. Start talking. Go to meetings with like-minded groups and let people know that you are heading up (or thinking to head up) this effort. I went to a fundraiser for the Humane USA Political Action Committee (PAC) where I knew there was going to be leaders from Animal Rights groups, and a lot of support for the idea. I made several connections that night that proved to be very significant later on; specifically Virginia Handley of Fund for Animals who was able to provide me with a list of legislators who might consider authoring the resolution or bill. People will help you in whatever way they can, so long as they are aware there is an effort underway.

Carry a contact book, get contact information and distribute business cards. Keep an updated database of those interested in what you're doing. This list will prove invaluable as each individual contributes their specific resources: in time you will find that each has something important to offer, one will know a senator, another a dietician of school board member. Others will provide testimony or help with outreach.

Consider joining the PTA and volunteering as their health or legislative representative if you have children in school. These are legitimate offices that are difficult to fill, but can provide fantastic connections; not to mention the fact that the PTA needs good people! It was at the annual PTA legislative conference where I made the connection with the State PTA health person who gave ACR 16 the official State PTA endorsement. I also stole a moment with the CA State Superintendent of Public Instruction who was our keynote speaker at the conference - making a quick introduction and handing him an info packet. He also personally endorsed ACR 16! Our health committee endorsed ACR 16 and this was a great lobbying tool.

Phase Two - Laying the Groundwork

1. Give your effort a title. It's interesting how much more seriously people will take you when you have a title. I suggest you consider aligning yourself with the California Healthy School Lunch Initiative, simply replacing California with the name of your State. The advantage is that the California resolution has already been accepted and a coalition that has provided letters, lobbying and endorsements is already in place. By aligning yourself with this effort, you can build on their success.

2. Put together informational packets (folders). Use nice folders with a professional label on the cover. Contents should include:
a. Cover letter, printed on Healthy School Lunch Initiative letterhead, that states your goals and reasons for this effort. Sample letters are available.
b. Mission Statement. You can use or adapt the PHB mission statement from web.
c. Fact sheet(s), and interesting quotes.
d. Support articles. Highlight the most relevant passages. Go to the CHOICE "In the News" webpage at ttp://www.choiceusa.net/news_archivecover.htmwww.choiceusa.net/ and choose four news articles that are recent, and represent a good sampling or issues / concerns which are of concern to your state legislatures. Select at least one that was published in your state.
e. Endorsements - collected from state health and educational organizations, ethnic and religious organizations, and relevant non-profits. You can also include groups of well-written letters from parents, students, medical professionals, educators and food service.
f. Optional: You may want to include the California endorsement list. This will help to reassure legislators that the support will come from your states branches of these organizations also.
I put together 50 packets for a cost of about $100.00. I gave away about 25 at the Capitol, and the rest I have used for promoting the bill to potential endorsers and supporters. I know for a fact the packet was key in securing our author and in getting the endorsement from the CA State Superintendent of Public Instruction. It makes a prepared and professional presentation (more on the packet in the following FAQ section #2).

** Consider making business cards too; you'd be surprised how much you'll use them and they're fairly inexpensive.

3. Network
Our approach is diplomatic, focusing on children's health and education issues first; issues of diversity second: various ethnic, religious and vegetarian belief systems; and then environmental, organic, animal rights, and hunger organizations. FYI: Religion is a politically safe and effective "umbrella" for putting forth the ethical concerns in eating animal foods.

You are looking to organizations to provide any number of the following: endorsements, lobbying, leads and contacts, or to become team members (advisors).

When approaching varied organizations with whom you have had no previous contact, use this effective method. Always try to approach each group through someone they know. If a direct contact is not available, your second choice is to approach through a colleague, someone they will trust and respect. If these two choices are not available, then approach by letter and follow up visits / phone / email.

The stronger and broader your network, the more effective your efforts will be.

4. Do the research to figure out who potential authors (legislators willing to introduce and promote the bill) and endorsers might be. Newspaper articles, magazines, and the web have countless articles about kid's health issues and they often mention legislators and/or health organizations & doctors who are children's health champions. These are your leads. As I mentioned above, I also networked with the lobbyist for the Fund for Animals who was extremely knowledgeable about who's who in the state legislature and about the political process. Our author, CA Assemblyman Joe Nation was one of her recommendations. He had a great track record voting for children's health, environmental and pro-animal issues. It turned out that his teenage daughter is a vegetarian.

Because this is a vegetarian issue, look at who has a good track record for animals. HSUS can also send you voting records for state legislators.

Phase Three - Take Action

1. Go to the Capitol and find an Author for the Bill or Resolution. This is really what they're talking about when they say "grassroots activism." This is the one step that exemplifies how the "system" can work for the common man (or mom). You are a citizen going to your representatives to ask for help on an issue and you have every right - in fact it's your duty - to do so. If you're already an activist, this is activism at it's best. Think about it: How many people can say they lobbied the halls of the State Capitol? Here's the best part, if you're like me, you will have fun! It was a tiring day at the Capitol, but it was exhilarating and one of the most satisfying experiences I have had. (Bill Author is defined in FAQ # 3)

As I have only lobbied once, you may want to speak with lobbyists in your State to glean advice. Here's what I recommend.

Bring together a team of interested individuals to meet you in your State Capital. You may identify specific individuals you want to have accompany you, but if you put out a call / email, others will attend, and be very helpful. Break into small teams of one or two for lobbying. If you can, place an educator or medical professional with a parent or student…this forms a very powerful team.

You may wish to call ahead to make an appointment with individual legislative candidates (phone numbers are available on the net). Calling just a week ahead can actually work to your advantage -- otherwise appointments tend to be cancelled and rescheduled as committee meetings and other priorities arise. Alternatively, it is completely acceptable to "drop in" on a legislator - it's done all the time. Their door is "always open" so to speak. But an appointment is preferable.

Expect to meet with their staff person in charge of children's health and/or education issues. Look professional. Be comfortable, confident and yourself. Speak conversationally, always listening completely to every point made by the staffer. Show that you understand their points or concerns by repeating back what you have heard and succinctly providing your own thoughts when appropriate.

When you first sit down, provide them with a packet of materials. Key points to make while speaking are: Your aim (the proposal). Why you think this is important. (health facts and numbers of children who need veg alternatives). Why this is passable (endorsers, and resolution rather than a bill). Let them ask questions. If the staffer introduces issues of hunger, poverty, animals, religion or the environment, you should let them know how a change in the school lunch effort impacts those concerns. Make sure you get their name and contact info. Follow up with a thank you and steady communications as your work goes forward. (Before you go to your State Capitols, we will provide you with a clear list of talking points)

When you're at the State Capitol, it's recommended that you "drop-in" to the Education Committee Office. This is the committee that will be responsible for following through on the legislation. If you have not already sent them a packet of information, now is the time to do so. The closer your relations are with committee members and/or their staffers, the better positioned your legislation will be.

2. Assigning the bill. Once a legislator has decided to author a bill he / she will review it, finalize wording, then get it an official number.

3. Committee review. From here, it will go to committee, a phase that will probably last about 6 weeks. Because the State Board of Education oversees the School Lunch program; it will almost certainly be assigned to the Education Committee as ACR 16 was.

The assigned committee will determine if the bill has enough merit to warrant a vote on the floor of the assembly or senate. I was told that this is an extremely important step in the process because for many legislators the committee hearing is the only time they actually learn about and consider the issue. [This is where you hear the term "it died in committee." If it dies in committee, that's the end of the road (for that year).] Because this is such a critical phase, committee members must hear often from the supporters / endorsers of the proposal.

I would say this was the most intense phase for me. It lasted about 6 weeks. If you don't have your endorsements secured by the conclusion of this phase, chances are slim that your resolution will pass.

One important note: All endorsements must specify the bill number, and are to be emailed, faxed or posted to a legislator. Otherwise they will not be considered endorsements. I had several contacts from organizations requesting to "Add us to your endorsement list…" but I couldn't do this unless they were willing to put it in writing and send it to legislators, which most graciously did.

This is also the first phase of testimony. Secure testimony from key organizations. And make sure all key points are presented by the appropriate individuals / organizations Fortunately, for ACR 16 there was no solid opposition to the proposal, and it received a 'consent' status…meaning testimony wasn't necessary. This will not be the case in most states. Thus testimony will be required. Depending on the level of opposition, if there is any, your proposal's fate will be dependent on the ability of those testifying to state their case.

It's probably crucial to mention here that the most difficult adversary you would face if they were to oppose you would be the American School Food Service Association. In California they adopted a wait and see status. It is crucial, and cannot be overstated…all relations with the ASFSA must remain positive. This effort WILL die if the ASFSA of the State Board of Education decides to oppose it. Therefore, it is crucial that all work and contact done with these organizations remains positive - never antagonistic; not only for your efforts in your state…but for remaining states as well.

The bill will also be reviewed by the Appropriations Committee. As the proposal is a resolution and not a bill, there is no real financial backing that is required. As long is this point is understood clearly and agreed upon, the proposal should sail through the Appropriations Committee.

5. Assembly or Senate vote: The proposal will be brought to the State floor by the Legislative author. The proposal can be introduced on either the Senate or Assembly floor, depending upon who the author of the bill is. Keep contact with the authoring office throughout the process, providing support and communication as requested. Naturally, you will want to attend with supporters and endorsers for the presentation and vote.

6. Concurrent Resolutions. A concurrent resolution is one that is signed on to by both bodies of the State Legislature (Assembly / House and the State Senate). That means both bodies will have to vote on the measure. In California, we did not need a Senate author, but we did need a Senate "jockey" to call for the vote on the Senate Floor. Assembly member Joe Nation's staff assistant, Jackie Bowland made the calls to potential Senators. The Senator who agreed to "jockey" the proposal was of Latino origin and understood the connection between diet related diseases and its impact on racial minorities.

While there was no testimony required before the State Assembly Education Committee, it was required before the Senate Education Committee (there was no Appropriations Committee hearing on the Senate side). Testifying was a fulfilling experience I will always remember. And by the way, the vote was unanimous in favor of ACR 16! ACR was chaptered soon after by the Secretary of State.

Frequently Asked Questions

About Resolutions…
Q: What is an Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR)? It is a resolution that is voted on and adopted by both houses of the legislature - Assembly and Senate. But it only requires that one house introduce it. In other words, I didn't have to find an author in the Senate and in the House, which many bills require. Resolutions are most often times simply referred to as bills, which I have done in this document.

Q: What is the difference between a bill and a resolution? A bill makes the terms of the legislation mandatory. In our case, schools would have to provide daily plant based vegetarian lunches. A resolution is different in that it acts as a guiding principal. A resolution establishes a strong foundation for future legislation and bills. It also serves as a powerful tool for advocates, especially when coupled with all of the institutional endorsements.
ACR 16 not only urges schools to offer daily plant based vegetarian lunches, it validates a child's right to these choices and to balanced nutrition education. I think this is so important because when I first approached my school district asking for change, district officials wrote to me that what I was asking for (plant based options) was "inappropriate." They can't say that anymore! In fact, now it is clear that it is inappropriate to not offer these choices.

Q: Should I push for a Bill? You will make that determination with your author. This can be a nerve-wracking decision because of course we want the terms to be mandatory, but we also want it to pass. There is a theory that if a bill fails the first time, it is even more difficult to pass the next go around. But that theory is many times proved wrong - example: The soda ban in California. In 2002 it didn't pass. In 2003 it did!

Bottom Line: Resolutions are easier to pass. A bill requires a lot of money for schools to spend in fulfilling the goals of the bill.

Q: What is an "author" for a bill? What does he/she do to "introduce" a bill?

A: An author "introduces" the bill to the legislature. Introducing the bill is simply a term that means they are basically making it official. First, the author submits a draft of the bill to "legislative counsel," a group of legal experts who review the bill to make sure the language doesn't present any legal concerns. Next, the bill receives an official number and is assigned to a committee for review. The Author is the first and most important component of the process. Nothing happens until a state assemblyman or senator agrees to become the author.

Q: What is the relationship between myself and the authors office? What should I expect from their staffer assigned to this bill?

A: This is a most interesting question. It will probably vary from office to office. I asked the staff person directly if they partnered with me in the effort to secure endorsements, etc. The answer was a very clear NO. Her job was to collect, file, and document the support. She also kept me notified of where the bill was in the process and when I would be needed at the Capitol. She ended up being a wonderful support, partner, and guide in the effort. I only briefly met Assemblyman Joe Nation on two occasions: once at the office and sitting next to him when I testified for a committee.

Q: Who should people send endorsements to?

A: First and foremost letters should be sent to the author because their office will be compiling a master list of endorsers and using it as a powerful tool for persuasion. Second, and equally important is an effort to send a copy of the support letter to the members of the specific committee hearing the bill (who decide if it will move to a vote or "die"). And of course, a letter and follow up phone call to one's own representative can be very helpful come vote time. My Republican representative would probably not have voted for this issue, but I believe my persistence payed off in securing his vote.

Q: How do I find out who is on a particular committee and their contact information?

A: On the internet. Legislatures now have very sophisticated web pages that provide all the information you could need. You can call the main switchboard and they should be able to provide you with the web address. The California web site was very easy to navigate.

Q: What does it mean when a bill goes to "consent" in a committee?

A: Neither party has any opposition. It is a way of expediting the process because the committees have so many bills to consider, if there's no opposition they forego a hearing. The committees then vote on all the bills that are on consent status in one session - and almost inevitably they vote all of them through.

Q: What does the appropriations committee do?

A: They decide the fiscal merit of a bill. They must determine if the money necessary to fulfill the goals of the bill are available and if the bill validates the expenditure of these funds. Being a resolution, ACR 16 did not create a concern about funding and we were able to sail through appropriations. This is where it could get very tricky if you were attempting to pass a bill - especially with so many state budgets in crisis.