Each session of the Indiana General Assembly, literally hundreds of proposals are introduced that can potentially impact how your company operates and its bottom line. Not to mention what goes on in Congress! While groups like the Indiana Chamber of Commerce provide information about these bills and advocate on behalf of pro-jobs, pro-economy legislation, there is still no replacing your own personal involvement; this individual input can carry the most weight with elected officials.
Consequently, if you understand the legislative process and take an active role, you can help affect the outcome on public policy. How do you do that? First, letís look at the things that can make you an even more effective constituent, prior to reaching out to legislators.
Be informed. Do your own thinking and research, and get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your issue. Above all, be accurate in what you communicate to your legislator.
Understand the law and policy-making process. Some of this is research-driven to make sure a bill does what you think it does, but the other aspect is timing. For example, itís good to let your legislators know your stance on an issue both near the start of the session as well as before key vote times Ė both in committee and when it reaches the floor of the House or Senate.
Get to know your legislators. If you do that, then youíve established a connection and made it personal. With many legislators now taking to Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch, thatís an easy first step to take.
Now letís examine the forms of communication and tips for making your message hit home. The former is really divided into the traditional connections versus the modern ones.
Face-to-face: Relaying your stance on a particular issue to your legislator in person can make a big impression. Most legislators participate in community forums, often hosted by local chambers or civic organizations, to talk about pending and future legislation.
Letter: I heard a former Indiana congressman say a few years ago that he most appreciated receiving personal letters. He viewed them as a convenient way to keep track of constituent feedback, plus the composition time on the letters often revealed thoughtfulness behind the support or opposition.
Phone calls: Some consider a phone call to be among the best ways of influencing your legislators, because itís still personal and you can carry on a conversation. The drawback, at least initially, is you may not be able to talk directly to your representative or you may have to leave a voicemail message. Nevertheless, staff is there to keep record of constituent opinion. Whatís more, there is something to be said for actually picking up a phone and the resolve that comes with it Ė and thatís usually not lost on the recipient.
E-mails: Obviously they give you the opportunity to be more in-depth about the public policy you want to discuss. The downside to e-mails is the sheer volume legislators receive, so itís advisable to follow up e-mail communications with a phone call.
Social media: As I mentioned earlier, a number of elected officials have a presence on Facebook or Twitter, if not both. Some state legislators say they use social media daily during the session to keep their constituents up to date Ė and, in return, they look for feedback in those forums to gauge sentiment on key issues.
As for what works best, it goes back to getting to know your legislators and their communication preferences, as well as what you are comfortable with. Regardless of the method, below are a few tips to follow:
-Donít assume the legislator knows you are from that district, even if you have communicated in the past. Always state that you are a constituent or district resident, and include your mailing address or telephone number.
-Focus on only one issue per communication and, if possible, refer to the corresponding bill number.
-Make sure you definitively state whether you support or oppose the bill and why. Be clear, concise and specific in explaining how the proposed legislation affects your business; providing examples is ideal.
-Request your legislator take a specific action that mirrors your position on the bill, and ask the legislator to get back to you with his or her position on the issue.
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