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SOAR - Information Literacy for Change in Public Health: Government Actors & Information

Lasting Social Change Often Requires Government Action

You need to know:

  • Which level (or levels) of government is responsible for the issue?  (Is it city or county?  State or federal?)
  • Which branch of government is involved?   Is it executive or legislative or judicial? 
  • Which agency, department, committee, or official is involved?
  • How do they make laws or policies or decisions? 
  • Key terminology:  laws, legislation, statutes, policies, rules, regulations, code, ordinances
  • How to find the government documents you need to understand the current state of affairs

Fuzzy on how government works?  Check out Government 101 by

U.S. Federal Government

Legislative Branch: Congress

Congress writes legislation (bills) and votes on whether those bills become law. Bills often go through many revisions in both the House of Representatives and the Senate before reaching the form that is passed and becomes legally binding. Congress may solicit testimony from experts and members of groups who might be impacted by a law during the drafting process. The federal laws currently in force are compiled in a document known as the U.S. Code. 

Executive Branch: President + Agencies

The President and the agencies they oversee enforce the laws of the United States. Sometimes this enforcement looks like stereotypical law enforcement (for example, FBI agents investigating someone who has broken a federal law). But often it involves agencies creating regulations that provide specific detailed guidance on how individuals and entities should follow laws. 

Judicial Branch: Federal Courts

The judicial branch interprets the meaning of laws, applies laws to individual cases, and decides if laws violate the Constitution. 

State Government in Ohio

The Ohio state government is closely modeled on the U.S. federal government. One key difference from the federal government is that is relatively easy to pass Ohio constitutional amendments via ballot measure, so in many cases very specific policies that in federal law would be described in the code are described in the Ohio constitution. 

Legislative Branch: Ohio General Assembly

Executive Branch: Governor & state agencies

Judicial Branch

Local Governments

Most governmental websites are easily discovered through web searches for the place name and type of government entity or information needed, for example: 

  • New York city council
  • Oberlin regulations