Seniors seek a voice in legislation Group to lobby state and federal lawmakers

July 07, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Carroll County's senior citizens are not powerless in the political decisions that affect their daily lives, said Peg Sheeler of Eldersburg, a member of the county Commission on Aging.

And to demonstrate it, Ms. Sheeler, 63, who was the first executive director of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, is starting a project to help older county residents exert more influence on those decisions.

Under the auspices of the Carroll County Bureau of Aging and the county Department of Citizen Services, Ms. Sheeler is forming a legislative committee. It will act as a network to help seniors learn about and comment on legislation that affects them. Commission member Richard Mays is the committee's assistant chairman.

The committee will research pending decisions in the state legislature and in Congress that could affect seniors. With the guidance of the county Bureau of Aging, the network may target some issues for lobbying efforts.

"I have no agenda in my head" at the moment, Ms. Sheeler said.

But an example of the sort of issue the committee might take up, she said, is "whether or not long-term care is going to be a part of health reform. . . . Long-term care is a very expensive item."

In selecting issues, she said, "The seniors are not solely interested in what affects them. . . . I have grandchildren, and I am concerned about education."

The channels of communication with lawmakers would vary, Ms. Sheeler said.

"It may be letter writing," she said. "It may be phone calls."

At some point, she said, some committee members may wish to go to Annapolis or to Washington, D.C., to talk with lawmakers. For example, they may participate in the annual Area Agencies on Aging lobby day in the Maryland legislature.

Other seniors will be most effective speaking to their own friends at senior centers or other meeting places, and educating them on the issues.

But no one would "have to do all of the above," Ms. Sheeler said.

She stressed that seniors do not have to be able to drive to take part. Not everyone will want to lobby lawmakers in person, she said, and even if committee members decide to travel to Annapolis or Washington, they would car pool or take a bus.

"Homebound people could be involved in this," she said, through letter writing or telephone calls. Ms. Sheeler said her late mother, who was homebound, was a dedicated volunteer activist.

Ms. Sheeler said that lawmakers may give more credence to ideas received directly from seniors than those from Bureau of Aging staff or other "official" channels.

One goal of the committee is to help more people become involved in the political process, she said. Seniors who don't know how to make their feelings known will be taught.

"A lot of folks don't know how to write a letter to a senator or a person in the House," she said.

Ms. Sheeler said, "We would like people that would be interested to get involved."

People interested in learning more about the network may contact Janet B. Flora, chief of the Carroll County Bureau of Aging, at 848-4049. She will put them in touch with Ms. Sheeler.

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