For those on scooters, the toughest part of being an “MS activist” may well have been negotiating the tight turns and hallways to their legislators’ offices.
More than once, their driving skills were put to the test, inching forward and backward around desks and through doorways, trying not to bump anything, as they visited their local lawmakers or dropped off a position paper.
The approximately 50 MS Activists participating in the 2008 Advocacy Conference on Jan. 31 focused on a single issue for this short legislative session. They urged lawmakers to remove sales and use taxes from mobility equipment, including the power wheelchairs and scooters that, for some of them, made their visit to Olympia possible.
“We’re buying a new $6,500 scooter as we speak,” said Lisa Boon of Kent, who was participating in her fourth lobbying trip to the State Capitol, along with husband, Martin, and service dog, Baby.
“I’m lucky I can afford it,” she said. “But people on fixed incomes are wondering where they’re going to get their next sandwich or cup of coffee. They shouldn’t have to worry about these taxes.”
With three 47th District representatives on their list, the Boons were fortunate to catch one, Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, in his office.
MS advocates have been trying for seven years to get this issue passed, Martin told the lawmaker, who promptly went to his computer to look up the status of HS 1324.
“Hopefully we can get it out of Rules (Committee) and into the House,” said a sympathetic Simpson. The legislator, who had recently bumped into the couple at a steakhouse restaurant in South King County, then asked Lisa how she was doing health-wise.
“I have my days,” she said.
“That’s the way MS is,” Simpson replied before thanking the couple for their visit and telling Lisa to “take care”.
Those are the kinds of personal connections the Chapter hopes to develop as it works with a cadre of “MS activists,” volunteers like the Boons who stay in regular contact with their state legislators both in and out of session.
Before making their rounds at the Capitol, the activists received three hours of training and a pep talk at a local hotel, learning among other things, how to navigate their legislative visits and build effective relationships with lawmakers.
Once on the Capitol grounds, they fanned out in groups, some walking with canes, some riding on scooters, all clearly identifiable by their bright orange scarves.
A West Seattle contingent (pictured) that included neuro-ophthalmologist Dr. Eugene May, Chapter Board Chair John Bjornson and MS Activist Michele Cramer found a receptive ear during their scheduled appointment with Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle.
“I know a little about MS,” joked the lawmaker, a registered nurse who works with MS patients.
The chair of the Healthcare and Wellness Committee is solidly on board, but alluded to tough budget decisions ahead.
Cost considerations failed to dampen Susan Myers’ spirit as she parked her scooter in front of Rep. Kathy Haigh’s door. The Port Orchard resident managed to catch the 35th District Democrat just as she was leaving. Thinking fast, she asked Haigh to support durable medical equipment in the budget and handed her a position paper.
After getting a commitment from the legislator to review and “probably” support the bill, Susan set her sights on the next lawmaker and resolutely moved on.