Civic Engagement Beyond Voting helps you make yourself heard in Phoenix
by Abby Brill
Despite the exhausting year finally behind us and an election season that’s left us generally done with politics, the actual work of government is just getting started again. Your voice can make a big difference, and there is help available to navigate the difficult process of being heard in the state Legislature.
Our Legislature is more polarized than ever, and much is at stake for us as Arizonans, yet we seldom have any idea what’s going on at the Capitol. Legislative committee meetings and votes are open to the public, but besides the ever-present lobbyists, who has time to go?
The system for remotely accepting public comments on proposed legislation is called Request to Speak. If you register with the Legislature, you get access to the bills on the various agendas and can make comments to House and Senate committees without leaving home. Legislators voting on bills actually do pay attention to these comments from constituents, so through this system you can make a difference.
Of course, they don’t make it easy. You have to register in person at the Capitol for an RTS account, which gives access to the state website and the comment system. This is obviously impractical for most of us, but there’s a citizens group set up to help.
Civic Engagement Beyond Voting (CEBV) is an offshoot of Indivisible, and its purpose is to help voters engage with their legislators, because citizen participation makes our democracy strong. It will take your information and send a volunteer to register you for RTS. The service costs you nothing, and when you register through CEBV you also receive the Iyer Report, a weekly update on what’s happening at the Legislature that provides a concise description of each bill along with evaluation of its likely effects for Arizonans and whether it’s designed to benefit a special-interest group.
The Iyer Report came into being when Melinda Iyer began sharing her notes to herself about bills she felt warranted public scrutiny with others who also wanted to comment on bills. She compiles her weekly report after scouring many sites and reports to gain a broad perspective on how a bill will impact communities.
You have to register in person at the Capitol for an RTS account, . . . there’s a citizens group set up to help.
Iyer helped organize CEBV five years ago. The group has so far registered over 5,000 people on the RTS system, and hopes to register another 1,000 or more this year.
“Decisions shouldn’t be made in a vacuum,” states Iyer, observing that voters have made real impact on the Legislature through the RTS system. Just in the past year 40 bills were introduced that would have limited voting rights in the state. Through RTS voters expressed enough opposition to these bills that all but five failed, and of those five, three were amended to support voting rights rather than limit them.
Another example was House Bill 2222 in 2018, introduced to provide free menstrual products to women prison inmates. When the all-male House Rules Committee members balked at having to think about such a (for them) uncomfortable subject, citizens came together in the #LetItFlow campaign, promoted by CEBV. The bill failed to pass, but public outrage ultimately changed the policy anyway.
Once you are registered to comment on RTS, you’ll find that navigating it is not exactly intuitive. It is, after all, a government website! However, CEBV offers a video tutorial on its site to walk you through the steps of commenting on a specific bill. Many other groups offer video tutorials via YouTube as well, including the ACLU. Prescott Indivisible will be offering public Zoom trainings on RTS starting in January at prescottindivisible.org.
It can be a bit tedious to go through all the bills listed in the Iyer Report, but one thing that can make it easier and a lot more fun is to form a group where everyone is registered for RTS and spends an hour or so a week with laptops discussing and commenting on bills together. I formed such a group in 2019 and we enjoyed gathering every week for coffee, baked goods and political action. It worked well until Covid forced us to stop and the Legislature shut down, so I plan to start another RTS group via Zoom in January.
Our Legislature has grown even more polarized with the November election, making voter voices more urgently needed. Among many other issues, this year will bring redistricting, something we'll all want to keep an eye on and be ready to speak to help ensure this process is accurate and just.
To find out more about Civic Engagement Beyond Voting and to receive the Iyer Report, visit CEBV.us. You can also follow the group’s activities on Facebook and Twitter.
Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.