Influencing Legislation: How to Make Your Voice Heard!
Constituents have more of a say over what bills pass than they may think they do. Knowing this, it is helpful to understand what you can do to influence legislation. Historically, the more involved people are in the legislative process of a bill, the more likely it is to pass into law. Oftentimes, Congress is slow to recognize injustices taking place in our society, and so it is up to the people to convince legislators.
From the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and national origin illegal, to the Respect for Marriage Act requiring both the federal government and state governments to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages, it took people making an effort to support these bills in order to get them pass.
Contacting your congressional leaders (2 senators, 1 representative) in support of legislation can greatly influence whether or not it passes, and is the main way of influencing legislation. There are several ways of contacting your leaders.
Calling the local office of your leader is one way of getting in touch.
While you most likely won’t be talking to your senators or representative directly, you will be in contact with a staffer. Staffers will make a note of you and the bill you are supporting on a weekly call report. Call reports get sent to your leader at the end of the week. From the report, they are able to see what bills resonate with the most people, and then from there, choose what to support based on that call report information.
Yet another way of contacting your congressional leaders is by writing a letter and mailing them directly. In the upper left hand corner of your letter, be sure to include this heading:
The Honorable (Senator/Representative ______)
United States Senate/House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510
Be as polite as you can be while making sure to get your point across in your letter.
Ask yourself some questions about why you are supporting this bill, or if you are opposed to it, what are your reasons? The more you know about this bill and your feelings on it, the more persuasive you are when asking your leader for support.
When you are done with your letter, seal it in an envelope, then stamp and mail your letter at your local post office for the most convenience. Post offices will sell you the stamps you need to send your letter out.
Emailing is an option that many senators and representatives have as a means of contacting them. Whether or not an email is available depends on their policy. Similarly to regular mail, be polite and concise, starting off the email with “Dear Senator/Representative _______ “ in the upper left hand corner.
For a more direct approach, attending committee hearings on your bill of choice is another method. Committee hearings are open to the public, and finding out when these hearings are taking place can be done by searching your state’s legislative website. (For example, www.njleg.state.nj.us for the NJ Legislature.) You have the option to testify during hearings. Testifying before a legislative committee lets you defend or oppose bills on a public platform. This can influence others to your cause as a result.
With these methods and tips in mind, you are well on your way to making change. As a democracy, we the people have the privilege of influencing what laws do and do not get passed.
About the Author: Jean Gardere is a PR and Social Media Specialist Intern of the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership. Jean is a graduate student at Kean University currently pursuing a Masters degree in Human Behavior and Organizational Psychology.
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