Now and Later: Strategies for citizen lobbyists

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY BASED POLICY, THE HUB

Taking an active role in supporting specific bills is one of many strategies that citizen lobbyists use to influence the policymaking process. Some policy suggestions are passed into law the first time through the process, but most take several years to make it across the finish line. This is one reason why we see so many “repeat” bills pop up each year. 

This may sound disheartening, especially if you’re working on an issue that’s important to you, but just because a bill doesn’t pass during the first session it’s introduced doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea, or that it will never pass. It also doesn’t mean that the work being done now is in vain.

Citizen lobbyists can take heart because the same strategies that they’re using now to get their bills passed can be a big help later–should they need to run the bill again.

Here are two strategies that I can count on to pull double duty:

Reading the Room

  • Pay close attention to how delegates and senators react to your bill. 
  • Are a majority of representatives in favor of your efforts? Opposed? If opposed, what reasons are they giving? Are different legislators asking similar questions? These are all clues as to how you might adjust your strategy.
  • These clues can help you now:
    • Perhaps you suggest an amendment to your bill be offered by a legislative champion.
    • And they’ll help you next session if you decide to revise the language in your bill before you re-introduce it.

Educate, Educate, Educate

  • Legislators are often uncomfortable supporting bills on issues that they don’t fully understand. 
  • At this point in the session, I’m looking to stack the bench with legislators who have a solid understanding of my issue. If there are only one or two legislators I can call on who really “get it,” I know I need to get to work.
  • Educating legislators helps:
    • Now, when they are prepared to argue on behalf of your bill in a committee meeting or on the floor. 
    • And in future sessions, when you simply need to refresh their memory on your issue rather than starting from scratch.

 

And remember, running a bill is just one way that citizen lobbyists can engage in the policymaking process. For more strategies you can use to influence the laws that impact us all, check out our Citizen Lobbyist Handbook and Black By God’s Citizen’s Guide to Online Advocacy. Most of the strategies you’ll find in these tools can be useful now and in the event that more work is needed on the issue you care about.

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