Updated: Jun 8
As a Floridian, one of your greatest responsibilities is to help elect the legislators who represent you and the state’s more than 14 million other residents. But your role in the democratic process of government does not end at the polls. By sharing your opinions and ideas with your representatives and senators in Tallahassee, you help them decide what to do about the issues and pending legislation that affect us all. They value your suggestions and encourage you to express them. Your legislators receive a huge amount of phone calls and mail from their constituents. Unfortunately, their full agendas limit their ability to personally read and respond to it all. How then, can you be sure your voice is heard? Here are some tips to help you get the most impact out of your communications with your legislators in Tallahassee.
Know who your legislators are and how to contact them. If you don’t know who represents you, you can find out by using the online guide at www.leg.state.fl.us/ Your legislators’ Online Sunshine pages will give you their mailing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.
Get to know the Legislative Aides and Secretary. You may volunteer your older children to help out one afternoon a week or just stop by the office and introduce yourself and your family. Tell the aide that you are very interested in home education issues and that you will be contacting them when you know of any legislation that may affect home education. Give them your name and tell them you would be willing to answer any home education questions they may have.
Make sure you understand the legislative process. Even the most basic understanding of the process will help you effectively express your ideas. An explanation of the committee process and how bills become law is in the Citizen’s Guide www.leg.state.fl.us/
Contact your legislator about a particular issue before the Legislature takes action on it. Most matters coming before the Legislature are well publicized before session. The earlier you contact your legislator the more likely you are to be able to discuss the matter with the legislator. If you contact your legislator’s office after January you may have to discuss the matter with the legislative aide. If you have to discuss the issue with a LA, be sure you ask which aide will be handling the issue or bill and ask to speak to that LA. Senators have two LA’s and Representatives only have one.
Use a variety of communication methods. You might choose to telephone, write, e-mail, fax, or visit your legislator.
Tell your legislator what effect you think a particular bill, if it becomes law, will have on you, your children, business, or community.
Be concise, but specific. Be sure you provide research or documentation to support your views, if any is available.
Be polite, even if you disagree strongly with the legislator you are addressing. Lawmakers cannot please everyone. Your communication will be more effective if you are reasonable in your approach. Leave the door open to return with additional information.
Suggest a course of action and offer assistance. Don’t make promises or threats. Follow the direction given you by HEF or other organization you are working with. The bill may need to be defeated or there may be an amendment which will make the bill acceptable.
Writing Effective Letters
Address letters to Members of the House of Representatives as follows: The Honorable John Doe, Florida House of Representatives, The Capitol, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300. Address letters to senators this way: Senator Jane Doe, The Capitol, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100.
Be absolutely certain you spell your legislator’s name correctly and use the correct address. If you don’t, you could lose your audience. Type or print legibly. Sign your name neatly and give your address and zip code correctly so they can respond to your letter. Keep letters, e-mail, and faxes brief. Never write more than one page. Written correspondence that is short and to-the-point is more likely to grab and keep the reader’s attention.
Be sure to proof read and correct spelling or grammar errors. Your letter will make an impression. Make sure it is the one you want to make.
Identify your issue or opinion at the beginning of the letter, don’t bury your main point under trivial text.
Cover only one issue per letter. If you have another issue to address, write another letter.
Back up your opinions with supporting facts. Your letter should inform the reader.
Avoid abbreviations or acronyms, and don’t use technical jargon. Rather than impressing your reader, such terms will only frustrate him or her.
Don’t send the same letter to more than one legislator. Personalized letters have more impact. The content may be the same, but it should be addressed to each legislator individually.
Making Impressive Personal Contact
Plan your call or visit carefully. Keep to the point and discuss only one issue.
Organize your thoughts ahead of time and make notes to help you stay on track.
When planning to visit your legislator, make an appointment. Don’t just drop by your legislator’s office and expect him or her to drop everything to see you. Call, write or email for an appointment as soon as you know when you are going to be at the Capitol. Understand that they have no control over their schedule once session starts. You may have scheduled an appointment well in advance and the Speaker or President may change the time for Session at 5:00 the day before your scheduled meeting. Your legislator needs to be on the floor to vote on all the bills which will be presented during those times. It may be frustrating to you, but understand that his responsibility is to represent his district on all issues.
Listen to your legislator. He may give you information that you could research and bring back to him later. Someone may have given him incorrect information which is affecting his opinion and you could have the opportunity to provide the correct information. He may tell you what concerns him and you can address his concerns. Listening is as important as presenting you views. Leave the door open for a follow up visit.
Dress appropriately. Your clothing and general appearance give a first, and often, lasting impression.
Prepare a one-page fact sheet in short bullets if possible, concerning your issue to give to your legislator. This will help him or her better retain what you present.
Follow the bill by calling his legislative office to find out when the issue if scheduled for committees or on the floor. Don’t call too often, but after each step of the process. It keeps your name and issue in front of them and lets you legislator know that you are watching. Call after each vote to see how he voted or look up the floor votes at Online Sunshine.
Be sure you write a follow up letter. Tell your legislator how you feel about his or her vote. Thank him if he voted like you asked him to or tell him you are disappointed in the position he took.