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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Getting Animals on the State Slate
Written by Robert Fisk, Jr.   
Wednesday, 06 April 2005

Published in Animals Agenda, May/June 2001

The guidelines for writing a letter , sending e-mail, or calling state legislators are similar, but often a letter and supporting material can be most effective in raising awareness and garnering support for an issues. Here's some tips to maximize your effectiveness for favorably influencing your state representative and senator.

When writing to an elected official as a constituent, mail your letter to your legislator's home address (available from town or city hall directories); send any followup messages or information to the State House and Senate address when the legislature is in session. Address letters to "The Honorable (full name) on the envelope, and "Dear Representative/Senator (last name)" as the salutation on the letter itself. Initial letters sent to the legislator's home address, particularly if from a constituent, have a better chance of being read more carefully. Legislators are often inundated with paperwork when at the legislature.

State the intent of your letter immediately.

Try to give your legislator as much information about the bill and your opinion of it in the first paragraph. If possible, state the name and number of the bill, the committee to which it has been referred, and the bill's status. Remember to state your opinion in a professional, factual, and respectful manner. Refrain from any presumptuous, inflammatory, or disrespectful language.

Give a brief background about yourself, and define the issue succinctly.

Legislators cannot know everything about all the issues they must vote on, and appreciate factual information. Explain in your own words why the bill is important to you. If possible, give a brief account from personal experience that conveys this. For example: "My neighbor's dog was injured in a leghold trap last winter, so I have seen the damage and suffering it can inflict." Tell why you are concerned about the issue and how it affects you and your community

Be short, direct, and to the point.

A single page letter is most effective. Legislators get many letters, so they will appreciate and remember those that get to the point quickly (three to four concise paragraphs are best). Neatly handwritten letters are just as effective as those written on a computer.

If possible, send a fact sheet and/or newspaper article(s) that support your position.

Call state and national animal protection organizations if you need support material; you do not need to be an expert, but the more facts you have on your side, the better.

Know the opponents of your bill and their positions.

Find arguments to refute them.

Know your legislators.

Don't be intimidated by the thought of approaching elected officials; they are especially receptive to their constituents' comments. Ask around, talk to others, and determine each legislator's public record on animal issues. If you have a chance to meet your legislator at a social or community event, be sure to take the opportunity to speak with him. Use the same guidelines in handling in-person meetings. Also, working for your legislator on her campaign will obviously give you greater access to that legislator when she is elected. Avoid party politics; animals have friends on both sides of the aisle. Keep things friendly. Maintain a positive relationship with all legislators, and don;t burn bridges or create enemies with threats and hostile or sarcastic remarks; you will want their support on future bills. Even a generally anti-animal protection person may vote favorably on a few issues.

You may follow up your letter with a phone call, but realize that legislators are very busy when the legislature is in session.

Don't pester them. If you call your legislator, give the bill number and title and state your position quickly, factually, and respectfully. It is often more effective to give a quick call to the legislative offices to leave a message. For example, "I'm calling Rep. Jones to make sure that he received my letter concerning L.D. 1234, An Act to Promote Animal Protection, and I do hope he/she will vote for the bill." That's all. Most legislatures have toll-free numbers.

You can also send a "quick hit" postcard as a final reminder.

If you know when a bill is scheduled for a vote, send a postcard reiterating your support or opposition to the bill.

Encourage like-minded friends and associates to contact their legislators

(and give them these guidelines!) Be flexible. Sometimes compromise is a must. Support legislative strategies that may save an otherwise doomed bill. Amending bills is part of the process; you seldom get everything that you want.

Need information on where a bill is in the process?

Call the state legislative information office, visit your state legislative web site, or call the clerk of a specific legislative committee where the bill is being presented.

Write a brief "thank you" to legislators who vote the way you requested.

This will be appreciated, and helps establish a relationship with those legislators on future issues and bills.

Robert Fisk, Jr., is President and Director of Maine Friends of Animals. He served in the Maine State Legislature in 1998 and 1999.

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