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Tips for Communicating with Legislators and Their Staffs
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Tips for Communicating with Legislators and Their Staffs


  • Building Professional Relationships with Staff & Representatives
  • Communicating With Legislators
  • Meeting With Your Legislator
  • Coalitions
  • Sample Letter to Your Legislator


    (The information below was taken from the Governmental Relations site of the National Athletic Trainers' Association.)

    Congressional representatives have personal staffs that are larger than those at the state level. Their staffs often include someone who is responsible for supervising other staff members and functioning as a political advisor, a legislative director who manages the legislative assistants and correspondents, legislative assistants responsible for monitoring and drafting legislation and writing speeches, legislative correspondents to respond to constituents' letters, case workers to investigate constituents' complaints and concerns in the home district, a press secretary and other administrators.

    Congressional committees have dual staffs -- professional and clerical. The clerical staff manages the administrative matters of the committee. The professional staff members are concerned with the legislation before the committee and are generally political appointees.

    Most state legislators do not have large staffs and are often limited to a very few individuals, each fulfilling a number of roles. A member of a state representative's staff typically deals with legislative matters in the state capitol and casework in the home district.


    Building Professional Relationships with Staff & Representatives

    Cultivating professional relationships with legislators and their staffs will help you succeed in your legislative efforts. Whether involved with a state or federal legislative issue, it is important to build relationships with both the member's personal staff and the staff of the committee reviewing your bill. Develop a group of professional friends -- champions -- who know you and your organization's goals. These champions are the legislators and their staffs you will eventually ask to sponsor your legislation.

    The best ways to ensure a good relationship with staff members is to make their jobs easier and make them look good to the boss. If you want the representative to prepare legislation or amend existing legislation, provide the representative and the staff with draft language. Always provide accurate information about your issue, both the pros and cons. Provide information supporting your issue and arguments mitigating the negatives.

    Do not try to circumvent the staff for any reason. Apprise staff of developments concerning your issue, about every three to four weeks, through regular mailings, faxes and/or telephone calls.


    Communicating With Legislators

    No matter how you choose to communicate with your legislator, make sure your message is clearly and concisely presented. Three types of information are most useful to legislators: accurate information about current conditions, the operation of proposed legislation, and the impact of proposed legislation.

    Legislators pay the most attention to personal letters from constituents. Use letterhead when writing and include your return address. Always communicate in your own words; form letters are easily spotted and normally do not get as much consideration as a personal letter (there are legislative offices that are the exception).

    State legislators tend to give more consideration to telephone calls from constituents. If you call, be sure you can express your verbal points concisely. If it makes you more comfortable, write out your talking points beforehand, and keep them close by during your conversation. Speak clearly and in your own words. Faxes and e-mails are now acceptable forms of communicating with your legislators. They should be as well written and neat as your traditional letter.

    The best time to communicate your position is while the legislation is in committee or after it is reported out of committee and is on the floor prior to a vote.


    Meeting With Your Legislator

    PREPARATION: Meetings with legislators are scheduled through their staffs. To schedule a meeting, call the representative's office and ask with whom you should speak to arrange a meeting. After reaching the appropriate individual, explain your purpose for calling. Follow up on this conversation with a letter to the staff member thanking him/her for his/her assistance and reiterating your purpose. If a meeting was scheduled during the telephone conversation, confirm the meeting date and time in this letter.

    It is imperative to be familiar with your legislator's position on your issue. Be sure you have done exhaustive research on your subject matter. Prepare 10 tough questions relating to your issue and know their answers. Be prepared to answer the question your least want to be asked.

    IN THE LEGISLATOR'S OFFICE: Make your presentation interesting. For example, consider beginning "I'd like to talk to you about cost-effective, quality health care..." rather than "I'm here to discuss licensure issues with you." Begin promptly. Be prepared for your meeting to be interrupted. Be aware of staff activities and keep your presentation brief and concise; 10-15 minutes at the most unless your representative extends the meeting by asking questions or continuing discussion. Do not omit negative but vital information from your presentation. Do not discuss issues that were not previously agreed upon when the meeting was set. Ask what you can do or how you can best assist the legislator in complying with your request.

    If you are asked a question to which you do not have the answer, offer to provide it via a telephone call or letter. Research and respond promptly if asked to provide additional information. Do so quickly and send enough copies for distribution to all legislators and staff who were present.

    Leave a full text copy and a summary of your presentation with your legislator. Provide enough copies for staff, too. The summary should include what action you are requesting, how your issue impacts the legislator's constituents, and draft language for proposed legislation. Leave business cards in case the legislator or staff member needs to contact you.

    FOLLOW-UP: Keep in touch with the staff through mailings, faxes and telephone calls updating them on your progress. Remember, to reach the legislator you must first go through the staff. It pays to keep them on your side. Send thank-you letters immediately.


    Coalitions

    A coalition is a group created through the organization of like-minded individuals or entities for the purpose of gathering and disseminating information and for the purpose of exerting influence. Another benefit of coalition membership is the division of costs and workload. They can be permanent or ad hoc -- any size -- formed to support or oppose ideas, concerned with only one aspect of an issue or concerned with many issues.

    To form a coalition, develop lists of potential members. Coalitions are often made of groups that would not necessarily be aligned. They join forces because they share an interest and stand to benefit from the adoption or defeat of legislation. Although all coalition members must agree on the coalition's position, members need not share identical reasons for holding their positions. Consider inviting groups who share your interests. Involving disparate groups provides credibility to the coalition.

    A coalition must have clearly defined goals and a clearly stated plan on how it will work toward the goals. Develop deadlines for accomplishing needed tasks and be prepared to act quickly. When necessary, get the coalition's position out to the public and the legislature via the media. Prepare press releases announcing the formation of the coalition, its purpose, its members, its opposition, and who to contact for further information. Invite the press to coalition meetings and keep them informed with strategic press releases.


    Sample Letter to Legislator

    Date

    The Honorable (Name)
    The (State Name) Senate
    (Senate Address)
    (Senate Address)

    or

    The Honorable (Name)
    The (State Name)House of Representatives
    (House Address)
    (House Address)

    Dear Senator* Representative* Assemblyman/Assemblywoman (Name):

    First Paragraph: 1) reason for writing; 2) your position; 3) the issue and, if appropriate, the bill number and where the bill is in the legislative process. (These three facts should be in one sentence.) I am writing requesting your support for S.B. ___ or H.B. ___, (describe the bill's purpose), currently before the House (or Senate) _____________ Committee.

    Second Paragraph: Briefly, concisely, explain your position -- why this is important to you and how you are affected by the proposed legislation. Offer your alternatives to the proposed legislation, if applicable. Adoption (passage) of such regulation would (fill in the blank). State regulation would require (fill in the blank). State regulation would (fill in the blank). OR Adoption (passage) will (fill in the blank).

    Third Paragraph: briefly provide salient facts about the issue in your state and about yourself. More than X human resources professionals work in (State name). I have been a member of the Society for Human Resource Management for X years. I have been employed as a human resources professional in (town, State) for X years.

    Fourth Paragraph: Thank the legislator for considering your position and offer to provide further information.

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