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Re: Massachusetts plant legislation

> Unfortunately, the only way to get your legislator's attention these days is
> to outbid the special interests that currently own him/her.
> Steve Gates
> swgates at worldnet_att.net

Ok, I have little wisdom to impart on the topics of ion exchange and Ca
absorption, but here's an area where my political science background may
actually be useful to hobbyists.  (Yes, I work 'inside the Beltway'.  In
fact, I work for the National Conference of State Legislatures, but any
opinions expressed herein are entirely my own, and do not reflect the
position of my employer.)  If I can persuade a few people to get
involved in politics, instead of turning up their noses at it, all the
Have you ever tried to get a state legislator's attention?  In most
cases, state legislators are thrilled to actually hear from a
constituent who isn't waving a checkbook.  In fact, a quick search on
yahoo will show you that most state legislators - including a
substantial percentage of Massachusetts state legislators - actually
give out their home telephone number on their website.  That's how few
calls they receive.

The brilliance of federalism is that it's easy to get involved in state
and local politics.  (Although nothing's as easy as cynicism.)  If you
live in Massachusetts, and are truly concerned about this legislation,
think about these suggestions.

1.  Pick up the phone.  It's that easy.  Call your state representative
(you can find out their name and telephone number with a quick call to
the state board of elections), and tell him how you feel about the
subject.  Chances are, he's never even seen a planted aquarium, and it
never occurred to him that 'aquatic gardening' was a popular hobby.  

2.  Find out if any state legislators have already spoken up against
banned plants lists, or for boater's fees, or whatever your specific
interest is, and contact them.  (If you can't find it on the web,
someone in the Senate or House Clerk's Office should be able to assist
you.)  Ask them how you can help.  They may suggest that you testify at
a committee hearing on the subject (easier than it sounds), or meet with
specific committee members, or simply write a letter.  They may also
suggest that you contact a particular organization, like the Nursery
Association, which already has a guaranteed seat on the nine-member
panel, and make certain that they are fully aware of the perspective of
aquarium hobbyists.

3.  Talk to someone at your LFS.  They may be interested in getting
involved.  They may also be a member of the Chamber of Commerce, which
may have suggestions on who to contact, or may be persuaded to take a
position on the issue (if they haven't already).

4.  Find out how the committee process works.  Generally, one or more
legislators take a stand on an issue, and then craft legislation which
is referred by a committee vote to the legislature.  The committee meets
regularly to hear public input, and it's usually easy for any interested
person to sign up, and testify in front of a committee.
5.  Whether you actually testify in front of a committee, or talk to the
Nursery Association or the EPA, or just write a letter, you will
probably be more effective if you:

a) Show that you're not alone.  Can someone from your LFS estimate how
many customers they have, and how many of them keep planted tanks?  How
popular certain plants are, such as cabomba caroliniana?  Can you
estimate how many Massachusetts residents have received, or signed on
to, various e-petitions?

b)  Research the issue.  You may be able to find research that supports
your position, that bans on plants aren't effective, or that hobbyists
are a very rare cause of the problem.  How effective has the current ban
in Massachusetts on water chestnut been?  (Chapter 128, Section 20A, I
found it on the web.)  Have there been any studies on whether hobbyists
tend to dump plants, and if that's been a significant cause of the

c)  Avoid threats, smears, exaggerations, or outright lies.  Treat
anyone with a modicum of respect, and they will tend to do the same.

Even if cabomba does end up on a 'banned plants' list, at least you'll
be able to say that you tried to make a difference, and failed.  Then
you'll be entitled to your cynicism.  You'll also be a 'special
interest'.  Congratulations.  Wasn't that easy?  :)

Alysoun McLaughlin
alysoun at planetall_com
alysoun.mclaughlin at ncsl_org
in Wheaton, Maryland