A Citizen’s Guide to Effective Legislative Participation
What You Can Do
You can actively participate in the legislative process in a variety of ways. Select the method that allows the fullest expression of your personal interest and commitment, but follow some basic steps.
Know how the process works
In order to see the way your individual participation can be most effective, a basic understanding of the whole legislative picture is essential. If there is something you do not understand about the process, ask someone who can provide an answer. Call your legislator’s office. They’ll be happy to answer your questions.
Make yourself the expert
Before you address an issue, do some homework. Know the whole issue: who it affects, what others feel about it, how it will influence future trends, and any other information you are able to gather. Thorough research allows you to present your viewpoint with confidence and credibility, and combined with your personal experience, is the most effective information you can provide.
Get to know your representative
To make a difference in the legislative process, you must develop a relationship with your representatives. Keep in mind that you can work effectively with someone, regardless of the personal views either of you may hold. While you are unlikely to agree on every issue, you can still build a positive and lasting relationship in the long run.
Personal visit … Call their office, introduce yourself, tell them what you would like to discuss and make an appointment for a visit.
Write a letter … Express your views and request their attention to a matter of concern through the mail. Make your letters brief, to the point, clear and formal. Include your mailing address and phone number so they know where to respond.
Call the toll-free hotline … During the session, you can call the toll-free legislative hotline (1-800-562-6000) to leave a message on any issue.
“There is but one element of government, and that is THE PEOPLE. From this springs all government.”
If you plan a visit, be prepared for your discussion. Know what you want to say, be factual and make your comments as brief and specific as you can. If there is something you do not know, be willing to admit it and offer to follow up with more information later (also an avenue for further discussion).
The best way to get to know your legislators on a personal basis is to spend time with them when the Legislature is not meeting. Arrange a meeting during the months between sessions when they are home.
Your legislators are also your neighbors
You share many of the same interests and concerns, so make a strong effort to build on the common ground you both hold. Take the time to find out who they are as people.
Get to know legislative staff
Legislators rely heavily on their professional staff members for information gathering and analysis. You can play an equally supportive role by making sure staff are aware of the perspective your personal knowledge and experience can provide.
Legislative staff members face an incredible amount and variety of issues which they are supposed to understand. They always appreciate new sources of clear and accurate information and they are usually willing to return the favor.
Network with other citizens
Much of the information you need to be effective in the legislative process can be obtained from other concerned and active citizens. Most interest areas are represented by informal citizen groups, if not formal membership organizations.
Find out whether there are groups that share your concerns and establish a network. A group of concerned citizens can be much more effective working together, rather than as separate individuals trying to accomplish the same goal.
Key Points to Remember
Regardless of how frequently you contact your representatives, you will be far more effective following these points:
1 Be well prepared for your discussions.
2 Provide a written statement with all verbal presentations.
3 Make letters formal, specific and concise.
4 Don’t berate or argue with your legislator if they disagree with you. Simply thank them for their time and express a desire for further discussion.
Whatever position you represent, however, remember your participation makes a difference. Our legislative process is one way each of us may contribute to the quality of life we experience in our state. Your willingness to be a responsible, involved participant is crucial to the decision-making process.
The Legislative Process
Every year, the Legislature meets to engage in the process of public decision making. The objective is to reach a consensus on a wide range of issues affecting every citizen and the future prosperity of Washington state. It is a process that involves cooperation to make critical decisions in everyone’s best interest.
We have chosen representatives to carry out the difficult task of determining what kind of laws and policies will best serve these interests. However, to effectively perform their job, legislators rely heavily on input from a wide variety of different sources.
They receive a great deal of technical information from their staff, state agency personnel and professional lobbyists. Yet, much of what they actually decide depends on the views, interests and preferences of the citizens who elect them.
This is precisely how the legislative process was designed to work best. It is based on a close, open and positive relationship between elected officials and the citizens whom they represent.
“It is not the fact of liberty, but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether liberty itself survives.”