When people are released from incarceration, referred to as ”returning citizens,” one of the barriers they often encounter is gaining access to a state-issued ID card, which then would make it easier for them to get jobs, state benefits, housing, or other services.
This year, a group of Ford School students joined peers from the Health Policy Student Association (HPSA) at the School of Public Health (SPH) to participate in a (virtual) lobbying day in Lansing, to push for legislation that automatically would grant IDs or drivers’ licenses to those returning citizens.
HPSA has been sponsoring Lansing Day activities for years, and this is the first time that non-SPH students have joined them.
The cohort had training over five weeks, in basic advocacy skills, writing a policy one-pager, how to contact legislators, creating effective talking points and final preparation.
Jamison Koeman, HPSA Advocacy Chair, and his committee came up with the advocacy issue after a meeting with Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-55), who wants to propose this type of legislation in a bipartisan manner. A pilot program on delivering IDs began in Michigan in the summer of 2020.
"Involving members outside of SPH in Lansing Day allowed us to draw on the diversity of expertise and experiences of students across multiple disciplines, which enhanced our advocacy," Koeman said.
Ford School students included Judy Lansky (MPA '21), Stephanie Iovan (MPA '21), Rachel Schaefer (MPP '22), Tanya Omolo (MPP/MSW '21), and Jasmine Kaltenbach (BA '22), working through the Program in Practical Policy Engagement.
The students reached out to 22 representatives and made some 20 presentations in all.
Schaefer said that the need for an ID is especially relevant as vaccines become available. “You can’t get a vaccine without an ID. So it really gave us an insight into the urgency of the issue.”
While most of the meetings were with Democrats the cohort did meet with potential co-sponsors who were Republicans. Omolo said it was important for her to learn to speak to people from different standpoints. “This is a bipartisan issue, so how are we connecting with people on the other side of the aisle?”
After meeting a Republican legislator, she observed, “He seemed more interested in learning about our policy solutions and how the proposed bill might streamline government services. His focus was in reducing the bureaucratic red tape for Michiganders and making it easy for everyone to have access to state identification. He mentioned working on legislation that would ensure all Michiganders can apply for state identification free of charge. What made this meeting different was his focus on government efficacy over returning citizens’ reentry.”
Said Brabec, "The important advocacy work performed by U-M students was essential for helping us find a Republican sponsor for our bill. The students came well-prepared to help educate legislators on the necessity of identification cards for parolees. I am so grateful for their hard work and very optimistic about this bill moving forward in the legislative process."
Kaltenbach noted that in one of her meetings, the representative seemed more receptive to the cause because it was being advocated for by students. “It somehow resonated with her more because of who we were,” she said. “This should be a required activity. It really demystified the process of research and writing for a specific policy goal. It helped show me how you can get things done.”