A Tremendously Successful Chili Cook-off & Child Advocacy Day

OKLAHOMA CITY – Monday, March 28 saw the rescheduled Child Advocacy Day and Chili Cook-off, and it was a wild success. More than a dozen youth organizations set up to share their mission with lawmakers and other advocates in the parking lot of the Oklahoma State Capitol. We also had a record number of sponsors support this event, and we want to thank each of them for supporting our mission. Overall, it was a fantastic day for advocates to have a friendly environment to learn more about how to promote their ideas to elected officials.

The Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies won first place among those who entered the competition, with Oklahoma Interviewing Services topping the People’s Choice Award. We added a separate category for lawmaker entries, and the team of Sens. Jo Anna Dossett and JJ Dossett, along with Rep. John Waldron, won this category.

Special appreciation is also expressed for our chili judges, who were willing to sacrifice their taste buds for the cause. As I say with my chili entries and many of the good children’s policies that linger each session, “There is always next year, and we just need to try harder next time!” In advocacy, we must “live” to fight another day.

For the overall reason for the event, we had many advocates who ventured into the Capitol building to share ideas with lawmakers about which legislation ranked high. While we are tracking more than 75 legislative initiatives, most of them are positive in our view; we need more people willing to speak up on these topics to let lawmakers know these issues are essential. Most policies dealing with youth are not political in nature, but sometimes politics will happen to many bills, and advocates can help ensure that the good ideas survive some of those battles.

Here are some of those we at OICA support:

The first bill of focus for us was House Bill 1616, “Hope Shaffer Act.”

The measure, by Representatives Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City and Senator Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, would prohibit student passengers in driver’s education vehicles without a parental waiver. The bill is named for Hope Shaffer, a student who tragically lost her life in a situation like what the bill would prohibit.

House Bill 3468 by Representative Mark Lawson , R-Sapulpa, and Senator Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City, would create the “Parent Representation Act.” The bill’s purpose is to “ensure that all parents, legal guardians, and custodians who are entitled to court-appointed counsel are appointed counsel who have the training, support, and access to resources to provide uniform and high-quality legal representation.”

The final bill on which OICA focused efforts for Child Advocacy Day was Senate Bill 217 by Senator Brent Howard, R-Altus, and Representative Anthony Moore, R-Clinton. The bill would implement various changes and update language in the state’s Youthful Offender Act. Already approved by senators, OICA supported the measure as it went before the House of Representatives last week.

We also support state funding for the Double Up Oklahoma program, which would enhance an incentive to help SNAP recipients afford fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting local growers and participating grocery stores.

While there are many other bills on which we exert effort — and I will write about some of those in the coming weeks — we hope you will also reach out to your lawmakers and share your thoughts. Together, we can make Oklahoma a better state for our youngest residents.

About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action, and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.” Pat McGuigan, founder and publisher of CapitolBeatOK.com, contributed to this report.