|Understanding the legislative process
Learn the basics of the legislative process. >>
Understanding your legislator
A good legislative strategy recognizes that while the legislator and his or her staff are the experts in the legislative process, you are the expert in your profession. Policy makers need your input. The more information you can provide a legislator about a bill and its impact on the way you conduct business, the better.
The best reason to call a public official is to provide useful information. Let an official know how a piece of legislation could affect the community. Provide a first-hand account of the legislation’s real impact.
|There are several other reasons to contact an elected official:
- You may want to let the official know what you think about an issue that concerns you or that you know is going to be coming up.
- You may want to ask what he or she is thinking about an issue, whether it is specific or broad.
- Or you may want to simply get acquainted, so you’ve established some rapport if the time comes that you want to speak to the official about a specific issue that could impact your residents, your properties or your community.
Elected officials will be most responsive if you are one of their constituents - - if you live or own property in the legislator’s district. Legislators generally try to honor meeting requests or to provide responses to constituents’ questions on issues and legislation.
When communicating with your legislator, remember that you are regarded as a person of stature in the community. Most important: You are a voter! Legislators want to hear from you and respect what you have to say. Simply indicating that you are an apartment owner living or owning property in his or her legislative district will suffice as an introduction.
Also, legislators usually do not receive thousands of telephone calls and letters regarding multi-housing issues (or any other issue, for that matter). Therefore, a well-written letter or a thoughtful discussion on housing issues will do much to advance our goals. Your message will have an impact.
Your elected officials should be willing to tell you their positions and what kinds of actions they foresee regarding specific policy issues. If officials do not serve on committees where actions relevant to your concern are handled, urge them to discuss your position with their colleagues.
At times, your legislator or his or her staff may contact you for information on housing issues. Please make every effort to respond. You are also strongly encouraged to talk with the MHA staff to help formulate a response. This will ensure that association members' messages to legislators are consistent.
Meeting with your legislator
Face-to-face meetings are one of the most effective ways to lobby. Don’t be reluctant to ask to meet with your elected officials. If you are a constituent, be sure to let the legislator know you live or work in the legislative district when scheduling the meeting. You might consider joining with other property owners as fellow constituents to meet collectively with your elected officials.
|Here are some tips to make your visit a successful one.
- Be punctual and keep your group small (three is optimum).
- Before meeting with the legislator, find out a little about him or her. School attended? How many kids? When elected? Serve on which committees? Voting record on key issues?
- Plan your meeting. Make sure all members of the “team” who will be making the visit are briefed on the goal of the meeting and the issues that will be discussed. Decide who will lead off and who is best suited to make each point.
- The length of your meeting is likely to be short, so make sure your thoughts are well organized. Being the first to conclude the visit shows the legislator that you are sensitive to his or her busy schedule.
- Talk about the housing industry in general terms. Most legislators will not be familiar with specific housing issues and terminology. Paint a picture of what you do, how you do it, and how the bill will affect your business. Most important: Relate the issues to your residents. How will this affect your ability to provide your residents with the best and most affordable housing possible? Legislators are often more likely to remember a phrase like, “This bill will mean I will be forced to raise rent and not provide affordable housing,” than any policy argument you can make.
- Unless you personally know the legislator, address him or her respectfully and by the correct title, i.e., Senator Jones or Representative Johnson.
- NEVER discuss a campaign contribution at the same meeting as discussing an issue.
- Ask your legislator what his/her position is on the issue. Be polite but direct. Do not let him/her avoid the issue.
- Thank the legislator for his or her time. Let him or her know that you’re available for additional questions and that you will be following up.
- Leave something behind – a business card, an MHA position paper, or an MHA newsletter.
- Find something that will make it easy to come back again, call about or in some way keep your name out front, such as leaving with the promise to do something.
- Follow up with a note that includes the date you met, the issue you discussed, a restatement of your position and your understanding of the legislator’s position.
- Let MHA know about your meeting and what was said.
Writing to your legislator
Writing a letter can be the best way to convey exactly what you’re thinking and what you’d like to see from your elected official. Be sure to include your name and address with an indication of what type of response you are interested in receiving, such as a letter or a call back. In most cases, a constituent’s request for a letter or return call will be honored. The downside to letter writing is that you don’t have the same opportunity for give and take that you would during a phone call or meeting.
|The following tips will assist in getting your written message across effectively:
- Use the correct saluation.
- Type the letter.
- Make sure to include your home address or office address so they know you are a constituent. Also note that you are a member of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association.
- If you know your legislator, even vaguely, note that in the first paragraph. For example, “I really enjoyed your speech at Kiwanis last week.” This will help personalize your letter and separate it from the other letters received that week.
- You are the expert. Legislators can not be versed in every issue that comes before them. They rely on experts like you to help educate them on issues.
- Use your own words and write an original letter. Explain how the issue affects your residents, your properties and the industry.
- Briefly state your position and what you would like the legislator to do. Limit the letter to one page. Be specific.
- Send a copy of your letter to MHA along with any reply you receive. This will help MHA track the success of our efforts as well as the positions of our legislators.
Address your letter(s) as follows:
Representative (First name, Last name) OR Senator (First name, Last name)
Minnesota House of Representatives OR Minnesota State Senate
St. Paul, MN 55155
Dear Representative (Last Name): OR Dear Senator (Last Name):
Begin text of letter...
Emailing your legislator
Although e-mails are convenient and fast, they are the least effective way to communicate with legislators. E-mail campaigns—sending numerous e-mails to legislators—are becoming more and more common. Legislators can’t always tell from the address who the e-mail is coming from or whether it is important.
There may be times when speed counts and e-mail becomes the best way to communicate an urgent and timely message. Save your e-mails until urgency counts.
When you communicate by e-mail, avoid sending off a message without putting adequate time into considering what you’re writing. Make sure you include your full name, address and phone number in the text of the e-mail. Keep the e-mail brief and to the point, but don’t forget to make the case on behalf of your residents.
Calling your legislator
A telephone call is another effective way to communicate with your legislator. When calling an elected official, be prepared to get through right away. What do you want to say or ask? You may not always be able to speak directly with your legislators because they are often tied up in committee hearings or floor sessions. Leave a message indicating what concerns you would like to address. Again, be specific about what kind of response you would appreciate.
Some tips to make the most of your call:
- Identify yourself by name, profession and whether you live or own properties in the legislative district.
- Identify the issue you are calling about. Briefly state your position and explain what you want the legislator to do.
- If your legislator requires further information, get it to them as quickly as possible. Faxing or e-mailing the necessary information is best.
- Be sure to thank the legislator for his or her time.
- Only call during business hours and to the office telephone number.
- If you speak with a staff person, specifically request that your message be relayed to the legislator.
- Do respect your legislator’s privacy. Only lobby at appropriate times.
- Do send thank you letters for meetings and telephone calls.
- Do call or write and thank elected officials when they have voted in favor of positions you have advocated. They like to know that their support is important, noticed and appreciated.
- Do stay informed on multi-housing issues.
- Do keep up with what your legislator is doing and the votes he or she casts on issues of concern to the multi-housing industry.
- Do contact MHA if you have questions or need additional information.
- Do let MHA know about your communications with legislators, including sending copies of any correspondence you send.
- Don’t lobby your legislators at church or during their private family time.
- Don’t discuss political contributions in the same meeting while discussing an issue.
- Don’t criticize, condemn, complain, threaten, demand or remind the legislator that you are a taxpayer.
- Don’t use industry jargon or technical language. This will make your communications difficult to understand.
- Don’t use statistics unless you can document them.
- Don’t threaten to withhold your vote in the future based on the outcome of this issue. Remember that we will live to fight another battle on another day.