January 15, 2013: Latinos across the state have the opportunity to have their concerns heard directly by state lawmakers next month. The Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (OCHLA) and the Ohio Hispanic Chambers of Commerce (OHCC) have partnered to present the Ohio Hispanic Legislative Day in Columbus on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The annual event brings Latino leaders together with Ohio legislators to discuss important policy issues and to foster dialogue about the challenges and opportunities facing the state’s Latino population. The day-long event will be held at the Ohio Statehouse and at the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, 77 South High Street, Columbus. The theme of this year’s Ohio Hispanic Legislative Day is “Many Topics, One Voice.”
“It is our role to make sure legislators and our constituents have an opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts, and to give each other feedback as to the state of Latinos in the state,” said Lilleana Cavanaugh, OCHLA executive director. “This is an opportunity for us to grow civic engagement on one hand, and on the other side, we want to make sure the legislators hear directly from the community we represent.”
Last year’s event drew 250 Latino leaders from across Ohio, mainly because the guest speaker was U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who recently announced her retirement from President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. But commission staffers believe a similar number will attend this year’s event. The biggest draw for state legislators is a networking event over the lunch hour where one-on-one conversations develop.
“They’re always excited and happy to meet people from all regions of the state,” said Ms. Cavanaugh. “Many of them do know already some of the leaders from their home visits and work that they do regionally.”
Many of the issues expected to be discussed center on education, healthcare, economic and workforce development, and access to services.
“People will always mention the subject matter of immigration,” said Ms. Cavanaugh. “However, given that that is a federal issue, there is very little we can directly do and accomplish with the state. Some of the associated topics that come up in discussions between legislators and constituents are civil rights issues and normally they try to address those by working with the different state agencies.”
“Immigration is such a broad issue that sometimes it’s easier to look at it in the context of education or health,” said Nolan Stevens, OCHLA policy liaison officer. “Immigration will be brought up in legislative meetings, I’m sure all throughout the day. We’re not ignoring it.”
The series of events include an advocacy training session, reception with state legislators, two afternoon workshops (economic/workforce development and health—focusing mainly on the requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), and a lunchtime keynote address from the state’s only two Latino state legislators, Republican Rep. Rick Perales (Beavercreek) and Democratic Rep. Dan Ramos (Lorain).
“We definitely look forward to introducing them to our community, and also hearing what their perspective is and what role they see themselves playing now that they are in office,” said Ms. Cavanaugh. “We now have representation from both sides of the aisle, so I’m hoping that will be a great opportunity for us to hear two different perspectives.”
Attendees who want to meet individually with a specific legislator, committee chair, or a representative from their home district, they’re urged to call OCHLA ahead of time so that can be set up. Because of redistricting and new state lawmakers just being sworn in, OCHLA staffers also are requesting participants to list their zip code-plus-four, so they can identify what legislative districts are represented at the event.
“We’re especially hoping legislators will be particularly receptive based on the Hispanic voter turnout in November,” said Stevens.
“They’re anxious. They have a clean slate. They’re ready to tackle important projects,” said Ms. Cavanaugh. “We as a Hispanic community have an incredible opportunity now. I think we can create a very positive impression on all of them.”
If time permits, attendees also will attend a House session late in the morning to see their legislators in action. The commission also is planning a statewide education symposium on education March 1.
Not only is the legislative day an important one because of a new session of the Ohio General Assembly and a biennial budget to be introduced in the next few weeks, but the demographics of Latinos in Ohio is growing by leaps and bounds.
“I think it will be good for the legislators to see how proactive our community is,” said Ms. Cavanaugh. “We are here and want to have face-to-face time with them and we want to make sure we provide our community with whatever tools are necessary so they can have meaningful conversations with their representatives.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Ohio’s Latino population has grown by 63.4 percent since 2000, accounting for 350,000, or 3.1 percent, of Ohio’s total population. Census figures also show the number of Latino-owned businesses in the U.S. has increased by 43.7 percent since 2000.
Anyone wishing to attend is asked to register in advance at: www.hld13.eventbrite.com
or call Nolan Stevens at (614) 466-8333 or email: [email protected]