The Friday before Memorial Day annually has been designated as Don’t Fry Day (DFD) by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (NCSCP). This day was chosen because Memorial Day is the unofficial kick-off of summer. It is a program that encourages sun safety and reminds everyone to protect their skin while they enjoy the outdoors. As one of 41 member organizations of NCSCP, the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation participates annually in activities aimed at promoting sun safety awareness through the Don’t Fry Day message. We encourage school projects and embark on a social media blitz to disseminate the DFD message.
This year, as part of our advocacy efforts we decided to approach the Massachusetts State Legislature. Because it was too late in the legislative cycle to propose a bill, we chose to request an official proclamation that would be issued by the Governor.
As someone who is deeply involved with policy and government affairs I have a very good relationship with my State Senator and Representative. I called the offices of both State Senator Jamie Eldridge and State Representative Kate Hogan and spoke with their staff about my request. I want to stress here that one of the most important things to remember is that legislative staff are key players. They are knowledgeable and in some ways, it is more important to make a connection with them than the members themselves. I always advise those who are new to advocacy to form those relationships and not to be disappointed that they “only” get to meet with or speak to staff. They are the worker bees who get stuff done.
After speaking with staff, the next step was to send the request in writing. This does not have to be a formal letter; email is generally the best way to communicate with any government official.
When writing to your legislator, it is always advisable to begin by thanking them for their previous support. If you have never brought any issues before them you can look up their voting record, find an issue they voted for that is important to you, and thank them for their vote.
In this case both Senator Eldridge and Representative Hogan had supported the Massachusetts under 18 tanning ban bill , so of course I referred to that as a perfect segue. Representative Hogan is the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and we testified on behalf of the bill before her committee. She was very supportive and instrumental in moving the bill forward.
Included in my email was background information on the Don’t Fry Day initiative and documents about the importance of skin cancer prevention along with my request. The staff took it from there. They contacted the Governor’s Constituent Services Aide who requested that I draft the language for the proclamation and send it to her directly. The Governor’s website has instructions and gives examples to aid in drafting this document: http://www.mass.gov/governor/constituent-services/recognition/#proclamation
After drafting the language and submitting it I followed up with the Governor’s office to be certain that the proclamation had been accepted. I spoke with the staffer who had been my contact and she told me that the proclamation would be ready in a few days. I could choose to pick it up, have it mailed, or receive an electronic copy. Taking no chances, I chose to pick it up in person and it now hangs in the CMPF headquarters.
This year I have asked these legislators to introduce a petition making this an official event yearly. It is unlikely that any bill passes the first year it is introduced. So, while the bill is pending we will continue to seek a proclamation each year. It is our hope that Don’t Fry Day will be added to the official Massachusetts calendar in the near future