As a voting constituent, you have a tremendous ability to influence the outcome of legislation. Ask any elected official which individual`s concerns are most important to him, and chances are they all will deliver the same response: his constituents`. All politicians are keenly aware of the fact that it is their constituents who hold the keys to their political futures. Therefore, constituent concerns are of the utmost concern to politicians. The best way you can affect the outcome of legislation is to directly communicate your views to your lawmakers. REMEMBER: Your lawmakers work for you! Since the primary concern of all politicians is to get re-elected, be sure you communicate your concerns with your own elected officials first! Then, if you wish to express your views to others who don`t directly represent you, you can do so. But make sure your legislators hear from you first! Also, keep in mind many times you will not be speaking directly to your elected official, but rather to a member of his staff. Contact with legislative staff is critical to the process, as staff has major input with lawmakers and has expertise in most issues on which legislators will vote.
This page contains the following information:
Current legislation that needs attention; NOTE: SESSION IS OVER, THIS WILL BE UPDATED NEXT YEAR
Tips for writing, call, emailing, and visiting your officials; and
Session is over! There are a few bills that passed and on their way to the Governor (a/o 6/6/12). If you want to know more about these bills and would like to help oppose them, email me through the "Contact Us" page. This section of the website will be updated when session resumes.
Making Phone Calls to Legislators
Writing Letters to Legislators
Office Visits with Legislators
Testifying at a Committee Hearing
A Glossary of the Legislative Cycle in Illinois
Why make a call? Making a phone call is a quick and effective way of informing legislators about your position on an issue. It is often an easier and faster form of communication than other options such as writing a letter. When a legislative office receives numerous phone calls about an issue, they know it is an issue important to their constituency.
Know WHAT to say:
Identify yourself by name, organization (if any), city and congressional or legislative district you are calling from.
Explain the purpose of the call. Give your position on particular issue or piece of legislation.
Refer to it by the bill number if the call is pertaining to a pending bill.
Be prepared to educate using local examples. Provide follow-up information if needed.
Ask the person his/her position on the issue. In addition, request a written response to your call if unable to reach the legislator. Remember to leave your address and phone number for response.
Be polite and concise. Thank the person for their time and consideration.
Know WHO to speak to. Phone calls are often taken by staff members. Ask to speak to the aide who handles the particular issue of your concern. Know when your officials are home in their district or away in session and be sure to contact the proper office accordingly. Elected officials have different contact information for in-district and Springfield or DC offices.
Know WHEN to call. Contact your legislator as early as possible on specific legislation as they are more likely to be open-minded and still have time form or change their position. Legislators must focus on specific legislation when in session. Generally the best time to suggest new legislation is during the summer and fall when the state legislature is not in session.
Why write a letter? Personal letters can be powerful as they show you care enough about an issue to take the time to write it. Individual letters oftentimes make a greater impression on a legislator than a mass generated form letter. Some find it easier to fully express themselves using the written word. If a legislator receives numerous letters on a single issue, they are more likely to consider the issue important to their constituency.
What is the proper format? Always use the correct address and appropriate salutation:
The Honorable Mary Q. Smith Illinois House of Representatives 123 Address Springfield, IL 60000
Dear Representative Smith:
Immediately identify yourself as a constituent and as member of an organization, briefly describing your organization, your perspective, and who you represent.
When writing about a particular bill, state your position on the issue, refer to the specific bill number, and the specific purpose of your letter in the first paragraph.
When writing about issues that have been decided, take the time to let your legislator know how you feel about their decision on the bill.
Try to address one issue per letter. Be courteous, concise and to the point.
Try and use local examples illustrating the impact of the legislation.
Ask for a response to your letter. Be clear about the action you would like your legislator to take and would appreciate his/her position on the issue.
Include your address and sign your name legibly.
How should you send it? Unless otherwise specified, we always recommend that you fax the letter to your legislator.
You may also follow it up by posting a hard copy in the mail.
Emails can often get lost in the shuffle and may not get read. However, it's better to send an email than nothing at all!
WHY should you schedule an office visit? Face to face meetings demonstrate to a legislator how committed a constituent or group of constituents are to a particular issue. Meeting may allow you to establish an immediate rapport with the legislator. You can immediately respond to counter-arguments and concerns and better adapt your argument to immediate circumstances. A conversation may help your legislator make broader connections between your issue and other issues.
WHEN should you schedule an office visit? HOW to prepare for the meeting: Office visits can be scheduled any time throughout the year: in-district offices when the General Assembly or Congress are in recess; or in Springfield or Washington DC when in session. Contact your legislator early in session if you expect them to have time to form or change an opinion on specific legislation. Though often hard to schedule, a visit to a legislator during debate towards voting time on an issue may make the difference on the outcome of the bill. Generally the best time to suggest new legislation is during the summer and fall when the state legislature is not in session.
HOW to prepare for the meeting:
Try to pull together a diverse group of people with common purpose to attend.
Review the talking points and all the issues involved.
Be prepared for counter-arguments.
Bring relative data such as fact sheets, articles, studies, etc.
Assemble the group before the meeting to discuss a plan of action and establish a group leader.
Bring business cards and drop off materials so you can be contacted.
STEPS to an effective meeting:
Be punctual but prepared to wait.
Begin by introducing everyone from your group. Allow some time for social conversation in attempts to build rapport.
Present the topic assuming the legislator knows nothing or little about it. Give real examples of how lives will and are being affected by the issue.
Be forceful, but not argumentative. Ask questions that require answers.
Allow the legislator to elaborate on his or her answers and to ask questions of you. Identify sources of opposition to your issue and ask what it would take to alleviate those concerns.
End the meeting positively. Follow up with a group thank you letter and deliver on everything promised during the visit.
Why testify at a committee hearing? Legislators often get information that forms their opinion based on testimony whether data and statistics from experts or personal stories about how an issue is affecting real lives. Hearings may generate media coverage. They are a good place to network with other advocates. Perhaps most important, if no one testifies, the opposition may use that as an excuse to kill the bill.
Suggestions and procedures to follow at a hearing:
In order to put yourself in line to speak at a hearing, you must fill out a "witness slip" and give it to the Clerk of the Committee. If you are unable to speak, it is still possible to submit your written testimony to the Clerk.
Even if you do not want to speak, you can still show your support for the bill by submitting a witness slip.
Be prepared to wait and listen carefully to other speakers. Listen to questions asked by members of the committee. They hold clues to potential sources of support or opposition.
Identify yourself and organization you represent. Make your comments concise and within time limits (usually about 5 min.) Rehearse your testimony beforehand and anticipate questions.
If someone has already presented your case, do not repeat it verbatim. Try and find another way to illustrate the legislation's importance.
Provide handouts to supplement your testimony and provide statistical support.
Don't expect members of the legislature to be specialists. Give general and informative data that anyone could relate to.
Answer questions with brief and succinct responses. If you cannot answer, say that you don't have the answer but will follow up with the committee member.
Maximizing the impact of your testimony:
Try and learn committee member's names, assignments and specialties.
Try to arrange your testimony around the schedules of the key legislators that you are trying to lobby.
Try and use stories about constituents in the committee members? district
Follow up with members of the committee that could not attend by providing copies of your testimony/handouts.
Use your testimony as an op-ed or letter to the editor in local newspapers.