Silver Haired Legislator improves Golden Years
Margaret Williamson isn’t a lobbyist, though she represents an interest group.
Lobbyists “get paid and have an agenda. We are activists; we serve unpaid,” she said about her job as a “Silver Haired Legislator.”
Texas has 117 of these activists.Their goal is to improve the quality of life for the senior citizens of the state. The allotted number of representatives per region is based on population. Southeast Texas has four representatives. Orange County has one, Jefferson County, two, and Hardin County, one.
The representatives work independently through the authority of the Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Texas.
Williamson, who represents Orange County, regularly attends city council meetings, county commissioners court meetings, plus meetings of seniors groups at churches and health fairs. She provides informational materials about the services that the Texas Silver Haired Legislature performs. “Seniors do not realize that there is someone available to help,” Williamson said.
Another of her goals is to try to educate seniors to not give out personal information. “Our seniors are of a generation that was raised to be very trusting. They often do not realize how the information can be used to damage them,” she said.
One of the accomplishments of the Silver Haired Legislators has been the establishment of a Silver Alert program for senior citizens. It operates the same way as the Amber Alert for children. The Silver Alert program is used in case a person may wander off and become disoriented. The program has assisted in the recovery of several people since it was implemented.
Williamson was appointed to fill the remainder of term when the person had to resign because of health reasons. She decided to file for election and is serving her third two-year term.
“I did not know what I was doing when I started, but I learned. It is a job that takes time and money, but the joy has been meeting so many wonderful people,” she said.
She is currently the Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and is also a member of the Communications Committee and the Executive Committee.
The area she serves is made up of seven cities, Bridge City, Orange, West Orange, Pinehurst, Vidor, Pine Forest, and Rose City. She attends city council meetings and county commissioners court meetings quarterly, but will attend monthly if she feels a need to do so.
“I encourage people to attend these meetings to find out what is going on in their communities. It is also a good way to find out about senior citizen’s issues,” she said.
The Silver Haired Legislators work on proposals to be approved as resolutions that are presented to the Texas Legislature.
One resolution that was presented to the last legislative session was a resolution that the personal needs allowance for a nursing home resident on Medicaid be increased from $45 per month to $60 per month. The $45 amount was found to be insufficient and the resolution was approved by the legislature. The amount set cannot be decreased, but can be increased.
“We accept proposals from anyone. We are beginning to accept proposals now for our next session,” Williamson said. “Anyone’s concerns will be considered but we need as many facts and figures as are available; we need details. We need to have proposals turned in by late June.”
The approval process is that the proposals from the Silver Haired Legislators go to the appropriate committee for approval. If they pass the committee level they then go to the main body of the TSHL. If the main body approves the proposal it then becomes a resolution.
The resolutions are bound into a booklet and presented to each state representative and state senator on the first day of the legislative session. If the proposal makes it through the legislative process, it will then become a bill and be signed into action by the governor.
Williamson is working on a proposal to provide identification bracelets for nursing home residents that would be used in cases like the evacuations that occurred for Hurricane Rita. She said, “Sometimes seniors become disoriented in unfamiliar surroundings. This would help the personnel keep track of such people. Nursing home administrators are in agreement with me that this would be a good thing to do. Hopefully it will become a resolution.”
“Good ideas come from the general public and that is one reason I like to go to the city and county meetings.” Williamson also said.
Williamson may be contacted by phone at 409-786-3292 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org