Tips For Helping
- Do Your Homework
Understand your issue, and make sure it's a legitimate state concern. Don't contact a state legislator about federal or local issues, but instead focus on issues where a legislator actually has influence and impact. Whenever possible cite a specific bill or law as the focus of your communications.
- Use Personal Experience
To address a problem with state government or a possible solution, describe in your own words how this problem affects you and how the solution might help resolve your concerns. If there are possible negative ramifications to your approach, it's best to tell the legislator. Don't surprise your legislator by giving them only half the story.
- As Far As Possible, Be Timely
Follow the news media so you understand when the legislature is in session and when it is likely that issues will be addressed. The most effective communication is one which arrives early in the legislative process, preferably at the committee level where most of the work is done on legislation.
- Choose the Best Way to reach a Legislator
Use common sense as to which method is most appropriate.
- Write a Letter
This is the preferred means of communication. A letter provides a written document which the legislator can refer to as he or she tries to address your problem. Generally people are more complete and thorough in writing their thoughts, views, or questions. Letters reach a legislator when they have time to carefully review them and reflect on their content. A letter to your own district legislator is more effective than contacting other legislators.
- Visit Your Legislator
Most legislators are at the Capitol only a portion of the week, for example, Tuesday through Thursday. Contact a legislator's office directly to set up an appointment in the capital. Alternatively, the legislator may have office hours locally where you can meet his staff or him face-to-face, or he may be willing to meet with constituents like you locally provided you have flexibility as to time and meeting place.
- Use the Telephone
There are three ways to contact your legislator by phone: (1) using a toll-free hotline if available, (2) calling directly to the legislator's office, or (3) contacting the legislator's home or home office. Except in cases of extreme urgency, calls should be directed to the legislator's office. Direct communication with the office is probably the quickest way to get attention to an issue. Home phone calls are discouraged because of time constraints on a legislator as well as the likelihood that the legislator will not be home when you call.
For example, if a bill is coming up for a hearing, ask a legislator to try to attend the hearing and share his or her thoughts concerning the topic. If you know the bill will be voted on by the full legislature, ask the legislator to drop you a line telling you how he or she voted. If the legislator fails to respond, follow up with another communication.
There is no quicker way to ensure your opinion will not count than to threaten a legislator with reprisal if they do not vote the way you wish them to vote.
Say thank you and, if the legislator really makes a special effort on your behalf, try to recognize that by attending a campaign fund raiser, writing a letter to the local newspaper editor praising the legislator for his or her good work, sending a thank you note, or giving a legislator appropriate recognition before a group.
Every state legislator has a staff. These are full-time or part-time state employees who generally work on constituent questions with state agencies and who also work on legislation. In most cases, a contact with a staff member is as effective as a direct contact with a legislator.
The best way to get a legislator's attention is to be a friend. It's especially helpful if you contact your legislator from time to time with a good word or some update on your business or personal ventures, rather than just contacting your legislator when you have troubles.
Each legislator is one out of dozens of decision makers. You should not expect a legislator to perform miracles. Also remember that legislators have many demands on their time and attention. Be considerate of the legislator's family and personal time. Most of all, recognize that legislators are only human and treat your own legislator as you would like to be treated.