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Public Health Policy Students Visit State Legislature

September 30, 2013

Taking advantage of the chance of a lifetime last spring, fourteen CSUN Public Health Students joined 140 peers from across a dozen CSU campuses to visit Sacramento to meet with state legislators to learn how the state legislature works. Over two ordinary--extremely busy--days, students participated in discussion in town hall settings, sat in on policy hearings and networked with each other and professionals at the capitol. The inter-campus opportunity was made possible by a grant from the California Endowment awarded to the CSU through CSULA.

CSUN Public Health Policy students at the airport headed to Sacramento
CSUN Public Health Policy Students and Health Sciences faculty Bethany Rainisch at the airport headed to Sacramento.

Accompanying the CSUN student group was Bethany Rainisch, Assistant Professor of Public Health (Health Sciences).  “The schedule was rigorous,” Rainisch said, “And the students were absolutely professional and enthusiastic at every turn. Flights were coordinated so nearly all 150 students arrived at the Sacramento airport at once.  We shuttled to our hotel and went straight into two full days of activity at the capitol.”

Senator Kevin DeLeon (22nd District) spoke to the students about how he began his career as a community organizer for undocumented workers and worked his way up to the state senate.  Secretary of California Health and Human Services, Diana S. Dooley, talked about how healthcare reform and related medical coverage changes are likely to affect Californians beginning in October. “One student who made lots of contacts worked at the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] this summer and others found out future job options,” Rainisch said.

Gabriella Galdamez was one of the CSUN students on the trip. “The Q and A gave us insight into how to ask politicians questions and of course—how to get an answer,” Galdamez said, “We got great insight into the entire process. Often times, I feel there is a disconnect between us as individuals and the actual law making process.”

Sitting in on health committee hearings was another highlight. Rainisch said, “The students learned so much from seeing the legal processes that affect policy in action.  One of the cases on the docket involved a bill to require workers in the pornography industry to use condoms,” she said, “But at the last minute, the issue was postponed.  What was presented instead dealt with workers’ rights in nursing homes, so the students also got to see that sometimes you can be ready to present your case only to have to wait—and they also learned about how many avenues there are to follow when advocating for workers’ rights.”

Other bills discussed included those related to what level of medical professional should be allowed to perform certain procedures. “The students got to hear arguments,” Rainisch said, “And they saw that even when discussion becomes heated, how professionals manage to interact respectfully with each other without losing sight of their objectives.  The common objective is the wellbeing of the people they are there to protect through sound policy.”

“This was a first,” Rainisch said, “We hope to do a trip like this every year. Educational experiences like this are made possible through the generosity of people who care. An opportunity like this for our students opens the door to understanding how policies evolve,” she said.  Citing some of the greatest public health achievements in the past century, Rainisch pointed to immunization, motor vehicle safety, and workplace safety laws. "If these measures weren't required by law," Rainisch said, "our communities, families, and children would be at risk, and yet these laws have been proved again and again to save lives, prevent disease, and improve quality of life. Public Health Policy professionals are behind these improvements to our legal codes, and I’m so excited that our students had the chance to benefit from this grant.  This trip made so many connections to possible futures for our students.”

“This entire trip was incredibly rewarding,” Galdamez said, “I have a much better understanding of the importance of the legislative process and how it ties into our work as health educators.  I couldn’t have gotten this knowledge and experience anywhere else.”


Jean O'Sullivan
F2013