By Maggie Cherney, MdEHN Intern
I started an internship with the Maryland Environmental Health Network at the beginning of the year as support to Rebecca Rehr, advocate and lobbyist. My internship covers the 90-day Maryland Legislative Session, in Annapolis. I was drawn to this opportunity because of its dual footing in public health and environmental policy.
I am a Public Health and Biology major at Franklin & Marshall College. This means I have a strong understanding of how the environment plays a large role in human health. At the start of my internship, I was naïve to the machinery of policy making and how important it is to improving human health outcomes. Through this internship, I have been able to expand my skill set by engaging in the more political parts of public health.
My experience has included; writing testimony on behalf of the Maryland Environmental Health Network, supporting joint initiatives with the Maryland Public Health Association, attending weekly strategy meetings with lobbyists, and planning events to engage Marylanders concerned with a number of public health issues.
Most recently, I was given the opportunity to provide oral testimony on an atrazine study bill.The atrazine study bill (HB1204/SB932) was an important environmental health bill because of the herbicide’s effects on our environment, aquatic life, and the human health impacts. Atrazine is the second most widely used herbicide in the United States. As such, there is a need to examine its effects and the levels at which it persists in our environment. The bill funded a literature review that would look at the abundance of atrazine as well as its effects and, if necessary, allow for policy recommendations.
I was able to testify on the bill in both the House and the Senate, which was a unique and rewarding experience in many ways. My scientific background, along with my public health knowledge, allowed me to confidently speak out in support of the bill. The experiences of my internship gave me the know-how to speak up in the hallowed halls of the Maryland legislature.
I observed two months of public bill hearings in the House and Senate. This gave me the ability to “read the room” and pick up on the subtle dos and don’ts” of giving oral testimony. For example, it is important to keep your testimony short but informative. Similarly, you should never claim anything that you cannot support with articles or relevant studies. Additionally, if your testimony simply echoes what those before you have said then just stating your name and “me too” goes a long way to make your point; this courtesy is appreciated by the committee members who may be exhausted by a long day of hearings on important matters. Keeping abreast of these subtle rules is important because, when executed, they are noticed by the committee members who will not forget your respect for the rules, and their time, when it comes to time to vote on a bill.
Prior to my internship I would not have been able to discern the atmosphere of the room or have the experience-based judgment to deliver effective oral testimony. My internship ends on April 10, 2017, but I suspect that my experience will follow me well into my career.