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Legislative Advocacy 101



Your advocacy efforts are an important factor in helping to shape public policy. You might, however, be reluctant to advocate on pending legislation for fear of doing something wrong - or because you get nervous around public officials. It is completely normal to feel uneasy around elected officials, as they can often appear to be larger than life. Just remember, though, that legislators are people just like you - people who want to improve life in their communities.

Meeting with your legislators face-to-face is the most effective way to get your message across - and the best time to meet with them is when the legislature is not in session and they are in their home district offices. The legislative session is a busy time for them, so it is probable they will not be able to take your call or meet with you in person. If a legislator is unavailable to meet with you, feel free to meet with their staff. Having staff members on your side can be important, as they are required to be knowledgeable about many different issues and legislators rely on the opinions of their professional staff. 

 Tips for Contacting Your Legislator: 

Letters, phone calls, and emails are all good ways to contact your legislators - especially if they are made at the right time with a sincere and heartfelt message.

  • Contact your legislative office when an issue is being heard in committee, chiefly if your legislator serves on the committee discussing the issue. 
  • If the legislator is unavailable, ask if there is a staff person who handles your issue. 
  • When you want a legislator to take a position on an issue, contact them before there is a vote. 
  • Be brief and get to the point quickly. Be specific about why you are contacting them. 
  • If asked, be prepared to give your name, address and the organization you represent (if any). 
  • If you live in the representative's district, tell them. 
  • Be polite, professional, positive, and respectful.
  • If you are concerned about a specific bill, give the bill number and subject. State your position on the bill and a brief reason for that position. 
  • Tell your legislator what you want them to do. 
  • Thank them if they agree with you.
  • If they disagree with you or aren't sure, tell them how a bill will affect your family, friends, community, business or job. Include one or two specific examples. 
  • Offer to be a resource for issues related to developmental disabilities. 
  • Thank them for their time.

A personal visit is the most effective means of communicating with a legislator as it provides you with the opportunity to build a relationship with your elected official. 

  • Make an appointment. This is necessary. 
  • When you call to make an appointment, ask to speak with the scheduler and let them know you would like 15 to 30 minutes to discuss an issue. Tell the scheduler what issue you want to discuss so the right staff person is made aware of your visit. 
  • Accept an appointment with the appropriate staff if the legislator is unavailable. 
  • If you do not have an appointment, you may not be able to speak with anyone or you may only have a few minutes.
  • Make the most of your time you have with your legislator. Practice beforehand what you want to say. Allow time for questions.
  • If you don't know the answer to a question, say so and follow up later.
  • If possible, leave a one-page fact sheet with the most important information about your issue. Include your contact information.
  • Take your camera to take photos with your representative. 
  • Follow up with a thank-you note or letter, reminding your legislator (or staff) what you talked about and the actions you asked them to take. Include the answers to any questions that you were unable to answer during your visit. Send them your pictures. 
  • Include the bill number and what the bill is about at the beginning of your letter or email. 
  • Include your address and telephone number. 
  • If you want to comment on more than one issue, send a separate message for each one. 
  • Invite the legislator to contact you to talk about your position on the bill or issue. 
  • Ask your legislator for their position on the issue and request a reply.
  • Before you place a call, write down notes about the points you want to make. That way, you won't forget anything. 
  • Legislators are often too busy to take phone calls and reply on their staff to keep them informed. Ask for the staff person who covers your issue area (i.e. education, human services, etc.).
  • If you request a return call, you will usually get one from the staff if you are a constituent. People who don't live in the legislator's community may not, however, get a return call. There simply aren't enough hours in the day to return all phone calls, especially if there is an organized campaign of calls. 

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