How does a bill become a law? It’s a lot more complicated than Schoolhouse Rock! might suggest, especially in New York City. Urban policy graduate student Reana Kovalcik learned about the process firsthand when she began drafting a bill that would ultimately become part of city law.
The story starts back in Kovalcik’s native Chicago, where after completing her bachelor’s degree in policy, she went to work as a legislative aide to alderman Scott Waguespack. After two years, Kovalcik wanted to take her career to the next level without sacrificing real-world experience. When she heard that the Policy Lab at the Milano School for International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy matched students with local lawmakers, her choice was made.
I was struck by Milano’s Policy Lab because of the chance it offered to do real client work,, says Kovalcik. I was nervous about the work level required for such a project, but at the same time, it was an exciting and valuable opportunity.,
Kovalcik had been interested in food policy since her Chicago days. When she arrived at Milano, one Policy Lab partnership in particular seemed tailor-made for her: an internship with Upper West Side council member Gale Brewer concentrating on food issues.
When the Policy Lab project with Council Member Brewer came along, I felt as if I’d hit the jackpot,, said Kovalcik. I had been focusing on food policy, and this was the perfect opportunity for me to get my foot in the door in local government and food policy in New York City.,
Brewer’s office was already working on a food-related problem that affected all New York City government programs: local sourcing. From the Department of Environmental Protection to the public school system, most city departments were not looking to local producers for their food, and those that were failed to reliably report it. Brewer believed that clear legislation would help promote healthful eating across the five boroughs while supporting New York State farms.
So Kovalcik got to work. Applying her analytical expertise, she researched best practices, spoke to administrators across city agencies, and organized hearings. Working from her research, she eventually helped Brewer draft a bill that mandated a system for city agencies to buy and report on purchases of local food. From start to finish, the process took two years of hard work, but in the end it paid off, when Brewer’s food bill was passed as Local Law 50 in 2011.
Using her Milano connections as a launching point, Kovalcik now serves as development coordinator at Wellness in the Schools (WITS), a group with which she worked closely while at Brewer’s office. Although Kovalcik’s duties involve mainly marketing, fundraising, and communications, she has not stopped working on policy, or food.
Even though I am now at a nonprofit organization, I am still working on food issues and keeping the focus on policy,, says Kovalcik. I’m making sure WITS has a voice in supporting progressive policies, like Council Member Brewer’s local sourcing legislation, and speaking out against those that have a negative impact on our health.,