Summer 2003

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Communicating With Your Legislators

(From Healthcare Association of NYS)

Summer 2003 issue of Trustee

Personal letters to legislators can make a differenceŠespecially if they concern an issue current to the legislator's focus or agenda. You can get some hints on what motivates your legislators from various state "intelligence reports."  Since state lawmakers receive hundreds of letters per year, you must differentiate your letter from the rest.  The following are suggestions to keep in mind when writing a legislator.

  1. The letter should be no longer than a page.  If your arguments can not be summarized in a page, attach a summary or set of talking points to the letter.
  2. Summarize your argument and identify the issue in the first sentences.
  3. State your case with a human face. When the message is personal and heartfelt, it is more likely to paint a picture that the legislator can remember and relate to.
  4. Make the letter local. No matter the legislative level, develop facts on the local impact.
  5. If possible, address the original letter to the state Capitol office.  Also send a copy to the legislator's local office.  That office is more likely to know you or your affiliation, and this may improve your ability to have an impact.
  6. Include your address, telephone number and/or cell phone number with the letter.  It not only identifies you as a constituent, but also facilitates any follow-up the staff may want to perform.

Telephone Calls May Have Impact  Too!

Many of the suggestions for drafting a letter are equally applicable to calling your legislators.  There are some pointers that can assist in getting your message beyond the receptionist.  They include:

  1. Use the direct-dial number for your legislator.   Directories containing legislator's names and their special or direct-dial phone numbers are usually available.  Special telephone numbers are often kept on file in the association office.
  2. Talk to your legislator directly.  If this is not possible, find out who in his/her office handles the issue.  Talk directly to this person and offer your expertise as a resource.
  3. Take a moment before your call to collect your thoughts and be direct.  Taking time during a call to establish an argument can lose the listener.
  4. Put a human face on the issue.  If at all possible, refer to a local or personal example.  It will carry weight.
  5. Be firm but polite.  Be firm to get past the receptionist; be polite to allow your message to be heard.

In some cases, where there is a short time period, faxes and telegrams to your elected officials may be warranted.  Many of the recommendations for letter writing and telephone calls can be tailored to these two methods of communications.  However, one note of caution: faxes and telegrams should only be used ONLY when the issue is critical and time is of the essence.

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