Even as the state Legislature meets 600 miles away in Juneau, Scott Hamann of Kenai makes sure he's heard on the issues that matter to him.
Hamann is a regular at the Kenai Legislative Information Office, visiting up to a few times a week, often to give testimony.
"It would be better if they moved the Legislature out of Juneau, but short of that I've never felt like I've been ignored because of the LIO," Hamann said.
At the beginning of each week, the staff from the Kenai LIO e-mails Hamman with a schedule of goings-on in Juneau that he can participate in from Kenai via teleconference.
Hamann said he'll then organize his week so he can provide testimony on the issues that are important to him.
He's also signed up to receive e-mails on actions and changes to any bills that he's concerned about, and can get electronic copies of all the materials legislators have at their hands. Right now he said there are a few bills he's following, chiefly having to do with firearms legislation.
But Hamann's not getting any special treatment; these resources are available to anyone, according to Alyson Stogsdill, the Kenai LIO information officer.
Hamman is perhaps a rare case in this area, though. Both Stogsdill and Hamann said they think the office is often underutilized.
"I think that some people just think, well, I don't like this, and I'd like to put my voice in, but what does it matter, I'm not going to be listened to," Stogsdill said.
With 22 years of experience in the LIO, she said she felt confident saying, "I think it does matter and I think people do pay attention."
Stogsdill said she promotes the LIO through different community events.
Hamann said he'll sometimes bring a few people along to testify with him on issues that are especially important.
Despite this, getting involved can seem a little overwhelming or time consuming.
That's a myth, according to Hamann.
"I hear people say they don't have the time to be involved, but it's just so easy it's not a viable excuse," Hamann said. "Everyone has a job, but that doesn't except you from being an American and being a part of the process."
Stogdill also said that usually once people learn how easy it is to use the LIO and contribute to the political process, they'll come back.
"When we do see people come in and they do testify to committees, I think that that gives them an empowerment," Stogsdill said. "It may not always turn out the way they want it to turn out, but I think it gets them involved."
Stogsdill said the easiest way to get started is to visit the Legislature's Web site. Users can find contact information for legislators, schedules, stream audio or video from committee meeting, look up information on bills and or submit public opinion among other resources.
To make searching for bills easy, it's possible to search by hot political topics to find any piece of legislation that may have to do with something someone is concerned about.
While there, users can set up a profile and sign up for e-mail lists.
While the site is fairly easy to use, Stogsdill and Mary Bea Byrne, the LIO information assistant, provide the human equivalent of the Internet. Stogsdill said she's happy to help people navigate the site or provide the information they might be looking for.
"It's unfortunate if people don't realize that we're here to help people to get through the tons of information that's out there," Stogsdill said.
To visit the Legislature's Web site go to www.w3.legis.state.ak.us/. To contact the Kenai LIO call 283-2030, or visit them on 145 Main Street Loop in Kenai.
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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