Ellie Bloch has always had an interest in the plight of senior citizens. Even before she was 1.
As a dispute mediator for Marin County, she often saw senior citizens get the short end of the stick. She watched as they increasingly got got priced out of rental housing. When she retired, she wanted to devote herself to helping seniors. So she joined the California Senior Legislature, a 35-year-old group that proposes laws to state legislators on senior issues.
"We are writing legislation that benefits seniors," said Bloch in her Tiburon home. "We are advocates for seniors."
The 120-member group is made up of volunteers from across the state. Each are elected from their own senior organizations. Throughout its history the group has proposed a myriad of laws dealing with topics ranging from elder abuse to senior health issues. One proposal would force public buildings to add rails to staircases. Another would help create a senior notification system in disasters like the 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire. Recently, the state legislature passed a law proposed by the group, to utilize the state’s Amber Alert system to put out the word for missing seniors suffering from dementia.
"The first year it was put into place it was activated 189 times," said Senior Legislator Lauren Rolfe, noting that all but 10 of the instances resulted in the safe recovery of the missing person.
For over three decades the group has been successful in bending the ears of state politicians — convincing legislators to carry the group’s proposals. Six times a year the group’s committee members walked the halls of the state capitol, tracking down legislators to personally pitch their ideas.
"They’re effective — forceful for their advocates," said Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine of Marin County. "It’s incredibly impressive how engaged they are — but they need to be."
Rolfe noted 198 of the group’s proposals have been signed into law.
"It just takes your passion and enflames it even more," Rolfe said. "Because there’s a possibility that you really can make a difference."
With California’s growing aged population, members of the group say the need for their advocacy is at a premium.
"Even if somebody’s bill doesn’t pass," Bloch said, "we are constantly educating local government on the needs of seniors."
Every October, the Senior Legislature gathers in the state capitol to whittle down dozens of proposals to just 10 which it will pitch to legislators. It also pushes forward four Federal proposals. But this year, for the first time, the group won’t gather in Sacramento. Because it can’t afford to.
Over the last four years, the group has seen a drop in its funding, which is supplied through a charitable contribution line on California tax forms. The group’s budget, which peaked around $250,000, covered transportation and lodging for its members to meet in Sacramento during the year.
"For the last four years it’s kind of been waning," said Rolfe. "We’ve had fewer donations and fewer people donating."
This October, rather than meet-up in person, the group will instead conduct its interactions through email and snail mail. Rolfe fears the future of the group, and its strong voice for seniors, is in jeopardy unless its fortunes can turn around.
"The Senior Legislature as we know it would probably go away," Rolfe said. "And it’s a shame because it’s at a time when it’s needed more than ever."
The group is kicking off a campaign to steer people to the group’s donation line on California State tax forms, with hopes it can reverse its fall and continue its mission. But after years of legislative battles, Bloch said she’d become used to scrapping for the cause.
"You get a lot of ‘no's’ before you get a ‘yes,’" Bloch said.
For more information on the California Senior Legislature, visit www.4csl.org.