Now that you’ve got the tools to stay informed, you may be wondering how much impact your staying engaged with the activities of the Legislature has on the decision-making that happens in the State Capitol.
The Legislature is not structured in a way that makes it easy for the general public to engage with what is happening in the Capitol hallways. You can come to the Capitol for a day-long lobby day event, you can follow bills on the website, and you can even watch what is happening each day on the House and Senate floor by video.
But none of those things will keep you as deeply engaged in the policy-making process as full-time lobbyists who are paid to walk the halls of the Capitol each day, or as the staff or legislators who are intimately involved in the creation and revision of the bills.
Things move too fast, changes happen on the fly based on passing conversations had in hallways, the wheels of action – especially at this point in the session – spin too quickly for information to get out to the public on a continually updated, real-time basis. The system is just not set up to make it easy to stay in the loop if you are an average citizen – especially if you don’t live in Charleston and you have a job, a family, or any other thing that takes up most of your attention each day.
But you care about what’s going on in the Capitol. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading our newsletter! So how do you do make the most of the time that you have to have an impact on the issues you care about?
First, have some focus to your concerns. Over 1,300 bills have been introduced in the House and Senate so far this session. There’s no way you can follow even a tenth of that from your home. Use resources like the Hub and other groups that are focused on the sectors that impact your community and your work to help follow bills that relate to community development, municipal issues, childrens advocacy issues, or whatever area is of most concern to you. Not sure what groups focus on the issues that matter to you? Shoot us an email and we’ll connect you!
Second, make the most of your time. Do you really care about broadband expansion (watch out for our feature on that issue next week!), Erin Merryn’s Law or some other bill that you know is moving through the Legislature? The best thing you can do to impact a bill with limited time is to make phone calls.
Not sure who to call? The best person to start with is your local representative. If you’re not sure who represents your district and you can’t figure it out from the Legislature’s website, email us and we’ll help you figure it out.
If you know that the bill you care about is in a certain committee, or you have heard from us or another group that there is a particular legislator who is the key person to contact on that issue, call that legislator. Even if you just leave a 10 second message with his or her secretary, those individual phone calls make the most difference. Ten phone calls to a single legislator from ten separate, unconnected constituents can be enough to dramatically impact a legislator and either make a bill move faster or slower, depending on what the public outcry is.
A phone call and an email are not interchangeable. You may have heard from us before that emails are not as impactful as phone calls. We know this from experience and we know it because we heard it straight from the mouths of legislators during our Regional Policy Workshops last summer. Especially those action alert emails that some groups have you click and send. Legislators tell us that they mass delete those emails.
But it is not a waste of time to send a personal email, especially if you have personal knowledge about an issue or a personal story you want to share about why a bill matters to you. Just know that legislators receive hundreds of emails a day and they have difficulty wading through them. They do not receive as many phone calls each day, so your short phone call can end up having a greater impact than a long email might.
And if you’ve found the time to come to the Capitol and to speak with legislators, schedule it for a day where that issue you care about is on the committee agenda. For a number of bills this session, the presence of a packed audience in the committee room was enough to make the committee members slow down the process and re-evaluate the bill in light of public concerns.
Third, and most importantly, be informed about the issues you’re reaching out to legislators to talk about. You don’t have to be an expert in the area, but you should understand what the issue is and why it matters to you. Each person in this state is an expert in their own lives and in the issues that affect their communities and their areas of work. Speak from your experience and from your areas of expertise. Explain to legislators why the issue matters to you – why it matters enough to you that you are taking time out of your busy day to contact them about it. The most impactful public outreach that legislators receive are the ones that are the most personal. A single memorable personal story can be enough to push through an entire policy.
What is your story? What is the issue that you have personal experience in that you could share with legislators to help them make a well-informed decision to help us build a better state?
Use your time wisely – and strategically – to have the most impact on the policies you care about. If you’re not sure what the best strategy is for the issues you care about, contact us and we’ll talk you through it or connect you to the groups that are working on that issue.