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What is Public Policy?

Public policy is a broad term. It can been defined as the principles on which laws are based, or more simply put, public policies are ideas put into action through laws and regulations. Public policies can be implemented at many levels—local, state, or federal. Public policy is shaped by stakeholders like you through advocacy and education, and put into action by policy makers who design and implement laws and regulations to make those policies a reality. Public Policy impacts every single aspect of our lives, from the quality of healthcare we receive to the environment we live in.

What is Legislation?

All laws start as an idea that is outlined through a piece of legislation. Legislation has to be decided upon by a legislative body such as a state legislature or Congress. Once legislation passes and is signed into law by a Governor or President, it becomes a law.

What are Regulations?

Regulations are created to carry out the directives of a law. Once legislation is passed into law, regulations tell us exactly how the law will be implemented in the real world. Regulations are enforced by a regulatory agency. For example, regulations from State Insurance Commissions enforce insurance requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is how we, as stakeholders, can influence public policy. Advocacy is when stakeholders work to educate the general public, as well as policy makers, on issues of importance. Anyone can advocate in support of a cause and encourage progress toward solutions. Many people think that advocacy is intimidating or that it can only be done through lobbying to change policies or laws, but that is not the case. You can be an advocate in many ways.

Some examples of advocacy include:

  • Contacting legislators to voice support or opposition for the issue
  • Educating friends and family on issues
  • Voting
  • Writing a letter to the editor or op-ed

  • Participating in a health-related activity in your community
  • Sharing your story on social media
  • Attending a local town hall meeting
  • Staying informed and aware of issues that are important to you

THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

The legislative process can be a complex procedure, sometimes lasting years and requiring many failed attempts. These processes are thorough, to ensure that the laws that govern our lives are fully discussed, debated, and amended before being enacted. The infographic below explains how federal bills become law. However, keep in mind that the legislative process is complex and this is a very general overview of how a bill becomes a law, in a perfect world!

If any of these terms are confusing or unclear, visit our Glossary to read more.

Policy & Advocacy Glossary