By Laura Burgher
Have you wondered how you can have a positive impact on the legislative issues that concern you the most? Contacting your local senators and representatives can be a great first step towards political change.
* Most of the information you need can be found on access.wa.gov
Before contacting your local legislators you’ll want to make sure you know who they are! Taking some time to research biographical information as well as information about their political affiliations can go a long way in making your letter effective. If the issue you are concerned about is not something your local representative has a stake in, you should still write to them because your vote matters (but you can also write to someone else outside of your district).
It’s much better to approach your letter with a very specific issue in mind rather than a broad notion of something you would like to see changed. The best way to address this is to find a specific bill that is working its way through the House or Senate. Then your recommendation becomes specific and actionable: support/oppose a bill.
Are you wondering, how much of an effect these emails/letters really have? Consider that one email/letter is counted as the viewpoint of about 50 constituents. If enough people write concerning a similar issue, these letters are taken into serious consideration. Legislators also pay attention to what students have to say; make good use of the power of your student voice to speak for change.
Here is handy checklist for writing to your legislature:
WHO ARE YOU WRITING TO?
- Start at access.wa.gov.
- Under the Government Agencies tab select State Legislature.
- Select Find Your Legislative District and Representatives and type in your address.
- Make note of your Legislative and Congressional Districts. You can also click on names to be directed to their website.
- Do research to find someone who has a stake in the issues you are concerned about:
- Which committees/caucuses is the person on?
- Which bills are they sponsoring/sponsored or supported in the past?
- What is their leadership status/how much authority do they hold?
- Read their bio to learn about their background and the type of work they do.
- You can find this information through both the Access Washington homepage and by visiting the homepages of the Senators/Representatives you are researching.
WHAT ARE YOU WRITING ABOUT?
- Pick a specific issue that matters to you (student loans, gun control, health insurance).
- From the Access Washington homepage select Bills and then Bill Information.
- Select Search the full text of a bill and type keywords related to your issue. Scroll down and check the box next to Bill.
- Read through the list of bills and make note of the bill numbers you would like more information on.
- Return to the previous search and enter the bill number. Read all the information about the bill, including its companion bill in either the House or Senate.
- Look to see where the bill is in the decision making process, which determines whether you should write to one of your Representatives or Senators.
HOW SHOULD YOU WRITE IT?
- From the Washington State Legislature homepage select Senate or House of Representatives and select Email under the person you are writing to.
- Fill out all the required fields including which bill number you are writing about and your position.
- Enter a short, simple, courteous message.
- Provide a concrete recommendation (see Suggested Language).
- As a student living in your district…
- As a constituent…
- I strongly support/oppose Bill #.
- Thank you for your past work on this issue.
- Thank you for your support of Bill #.
- As a teacher/farmer/etc. you understand the importance of Bill #.
- I encourage you to speak on the floor of the House for/against Bill #.
- I encourage you to vote for/against Bill #.
- I encourage you to help pass this bill for all students/citizens/etc. in Washington State.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- Sometimes it takes many years for a bill to be passed.
- The Appropriations Committee distributes funding.
- The Rules Committee decides which bills will be voted on.
- The Majority Caucus Chair holds authority to raise issues and direct discussions.
- Bills are written to modify language – either add or strike out.
- Legislators make decisions based on: Principles/Values, Serving their constituents, Re-election.
- Visit twv.org to watch live streams of complete coverage in Olympia.
- Continue to write multiple letters to the same legislators to build relationships.
- As you feel more confident writing letters, start to include a more sophisticated argument/reasons for your support/opposition of the bill.