Summer Intern Georgia Lyon ’19 Writes to Constituents for Senator Jerry Hill in San Mateo, CA

I have only been interning at California State Senator Jerry Hill’s District Office for a week, but I have already jumped right into writing constituents, casework, and attending community events.

I have mostly been drafting responses to constituents’ letters about California State Senate Bills. While Senator Hill votes on many bills, he has not commented on most of them publicly. His office staff looks at his voting record and to create his public responses. To do this effectively, first we determine whether a constituent supports or opposes a bill and why they have the position they do. For example, I responded to a constituent who supported California Senate Bill (SB) 384, which allowed bars and restaurants in certain localities to serve alcohol until 4am. In their letter, the constituent mentioned that they thought the bill would boost the state’s economy. So in my response, I focused on how localities would be able to profit from a more active night life. Usually, for constituents who support a bill, you can simply look at the bill itself to describe why the bill benefits the public good. However, with constituents who oppose a bill, you often need to find scientific or legal reasons that justify how Senator Hill voted. For a constituent who wrote into our office complaining about a bill which would funnel California taxpayer money towards giving undocumented immigrants legal services, I am currently drafting a response that focuses on how Senator Hill felt obligated to vote for it because the due process clause of the 5th Amendment guarantees every person who enters the United States legal counsel. Each of these responses goes through multiple drafts before we send it to the constituent. Through this process I see how my Whitman education has made me a more concise writer and how a skill I could improve is my flexibility as a writer, too.

Another skill I hope to develop further by summer’s end is calling specific constituents regarding personal assistance or—as it is known around the office—casework. This week, I researched resources for a constituent who had worked hard to ensure his small business complied with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but was still being sued for failing to do so. My coworker introduced me to the idea of fraudulent ADA lawsuits and asked me to research what had been done to stop them to direct the constituent to resources that might help. I learned that policymakers both at the state and federal level had tried but failed to craft laws that would prevent fraudulent ADA lawsuits; I also found out that the fraud division of the California Department of Insurance deals with cases of disability fraud. I then called the constituent to inform them that the fraud division could be useful.

I have also attended four special events outside the office during my first week at Senator Hill’s office, including a picnic in Los Altos Hills where I met important figures in local and state politics like Los Altos Hills Mayor Gary Waldeck and California State Assemblymember Marc Berman, a panel about affordable housing in San Mateo County, a luncheon with Midpeninsula Open Space District and an educational opportunity for Disaster Preparedness at the San Mateo County Fair. At two of these events, Senator Hill was recognized and even applauded for his recent work to give more money to Midpeninsula Open Space District and obtain federal funding for Caltrain Electrification. But constituents also approached with complaints about recent legislation Senator Hill had voted for or written. Seeing both has allowed me to get a feel for how the community thinks about politics.

Though it has only been a week, I have already begun to gain a more nuanced understanding of public policy in the state of California. It has been valuable to learn more about unintended consequences for pieces of legislation like the ADA and how to interact with constituents with differing viewpoints. So far, this internship is everything I hoped it would be!

Experiences like Georgia’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Internship Coordinator Victoria Wolff.

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