Learning the power of lobbyists

I used to direct a program for men and women returning to society from prison. I left that job about two years ago, but I decided to spend some time visiting state legislators, telling them about some of the issues. My theme has been that most recent legislation is expensive and does not enhance public safety.

In 2009 I spent most of November and December meeting with 40 Missouri house members. I met them in their home districts and they all willingly spent an hour with me -- the chair of the Corrections Committee gave me three hours.

They really wanted to learn that Missouri’s average sentences are longer than most states, the ineffectiveness of lumping all released sex offenders into one level of scrutiny, and the burden of debt the legislature has laid on parolees.

Then this January I went to our state capitol, Jefferson City, to meet more legislators. I thought it would be more efficient when they were all in one place. Because Missouri has term limits, about 70 are new.

My goal was to meet with the new members of the Corrections Committee. Alas, they were incredibly distracted and most gave me only a few minutes -- except for the new co-chair who gave me an hour.

I did meet with the new chairs of the Corrections, Budget and Appropriations Committee. I was pushing release of inmates over 55 who had served 20 years, had a good prison record and a home plan. They agreed that prison is where the money is and they focused better on my message than the newly elected reps.

Then to my great surprise, they asked for legislative language. Would I write a bill? Well, some law students are writing it, not me. But suddenly I understood the power of lobbyists.

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