In order to be an effective advocate, you have to stay well informed of legislation and how the system works.

For Unit 2, we’re going to get nostalgic and go back to our childhoods. Yes, that’s right, back to Schoolhouse Rock. Who knew there was such tremendous value in those videos that we thought were just commercials, right?

But first, I don’t want you think that I’m just being silly, insulting your intelligence or that all this attention to detail isn’t necessary. It is. To be an effective advocate for your cause, particularly when writing to the media (we’ll get to that in a few units) or communicating with your legislator, you have to know what you are talking about.

In order to be an effective advocate, you have to stay well informed of legislation and how the system works.

The importance of knowing legislation in lobbying and advocacy

First, while it doesn’t have to happen this way all the time, most of the time legislators are expecting you to talk about a specific piece of legislation. As a general rule, you don’t write to them or call them and say something broad like “I think our schools need money and I would like to see education funding increased.” You usually ask for their support for or against a specific piece of legislation. If you are just introducing yourself to a legislator and maybe there is no pending legislation, you would point to their votes on past pieces of relevant legislation.

  • You don’t want to ask a state legislator to support a piece of federal legislation, when they cannot vote on it. And vice versa.
  • You don’t want to ask {any} legislator to support a bill that has already been voted upon in their body (House or Senate).
  • You don’t want to ask a legislator to support a bill that they have either written or are co-sponsoring. In that scenario, you merely thank them for supporting it and introducing it.

Bottom line is, you have to know your legislation for your issues. In Unit 3, I will provide you with many resources on where to find that information. This is just the basics.

For whatever passion or issue that you chose, ask yourself–is this a local, state or federal issue? Or a combination? Since my issue is Special Education, it can be very local such as my School Board all the way up to the Federal Government when it comes to bills like ESEA and IDEA. For my particular issue, I choose to mostly focus on State and Federal issues.

Legislators and Committee Work

When a legislator is voted into an office and starts to work, they are appointed to various committees. This is getting a little bit more in depth, but don’t be worried. It is important when you look at your legislators’ information to also make note of what committees that they are on, and are they a ranking member. This information is readily available and will be in Unit 3. But since bills start out in committees, and it is committees who help determine is a bill goes to a vote, this is important. Your legislator can possibly have more influence over his/her committee peers. They also might pay attention to a bill in their committee that they may have previously ignored.

I just did a legislative visit on Friday, and my State Senator told me that every year in the PA Senate, more than 3000 bills are introduced. 3000! That’s 250 per month, or about 10-15 per working day. And, I have been in DC before and have had staffers tell me that sometimes bills come up for a vote, and the legislator will think “I think I like/dislike this idea, but I have not heard from any of my constituents about it.” You never know, your one voice might be the one that has them reconsider something. No legislator can read and learn 3000 bills a year, so they often rely on their staffers to tell them if they have heard from voters about it.

As an aside, one of the reasons I am sad about Tom Harkin retiring because he was the senior ranking Senator of the Senate HELP committee. That’s a huge deal when it comes to education and special education.

Here are some resources if you want some refreshers on how a bill becomes law.

Now, on to your Unit 2 assignment. I am a visual learner and I try to “work smarter, not harder” as much as I can. I have my legislators’ information all on one spreadsheet so that I can find it.

legislative contacts list

That is mine. You may find it doesn’t work for you. Maybe you want them in your email address book right away, on a pen and paper. But feel free to download it if it works for you.

You can find all of your Federal legislators right here. I cannot list all the states, so you can just do an internet search. If your issue is hyperlocal too, then you may want to add your Mayor and City Council or however your local government is set up. Pennsylvania also has townships and township supervisors, New Jersey has freeholders…so as you can see, it’s too much to list. But learn your state and keep your legislators’ information in a place where you can find it. I also list their committees on there, which is some of the phrases and abbreviations you may not understand.