Tips for Effective Communication with Legislators
The following provide guidelines on how you can become a successful advocate for psychology with your legislators.
How to Find Your Legislators
Keys to Establishing a Relationship with Your Legislator
- When speaking to the legislator or staff member:
- quickly identify yourself
- describe who you are representing
- raise the issue you would like to discuss, and
- be sure to mention that you are from the legislator’s district.
- Chances are that when you call the legislator’s Columbus office, you will speak to the legislator’s aide or administrative assistant. A legislator’s aide or administrative assistant is your entry point in conveying information to the legislator. Because legislators are busy attending committee meetings and voting sessions, the staff will often take care of your inquiries. Learn the staff members’ names, develop relationships with them and always be courteous. Remember, it’s always more pleasant for you to deal with clients who are friendly. Legislators and staff have that same attitude.
- Don’t be offended if you leave a message with the legislator or staff and it is not returned promptly. Like you, legislators are busy and will return constituents’ calls as soon as possible. If you do not receive a timely response, call the legislator’s office again and remind staff that you are still trying to make a contact.
- Ask when the legislator will be back in the district for the purpose of scheduling an appointment.
- Always leave a phone number where the legislator can return your call.
Rule #2: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
- Gentle repetition in contacting a legislator is key. Stick with it. The hardest part of getting to know and establish a relationship with a legislator is the initial phone call or meeting.
- Repetition. If a legislator senses that an issue is of great importance to many of his/her constituents, that issue increases in importance to the legislator.
- Don’t be offended if the legislator does not return your call promptly. With all the activities going on in Columbus, legislators often cannot get to their constituent requests until late in the day. Don’t be surprised if you receive a phone call from the legislator at home during the evening. Even if the legislator does not return your call within a few days, be patient (unless there is a required deadline such as an upcoming vote on a bill). Place another call to both the local and Columbus offices and remind staff that you recently called and would like the opportunity to discuss an important issue.
- Personalize your correspondence. Form letters are answered with form letters.
How to Make an Effective Telephone Call Requesting a Legislator to Support a Bill
- Introduce yourself and the issue. For example, “Hello, this is Dr. Sue Jones.* I’m one of your constituents, and I would like to talk to you briefly about H.B. 123, introduced by Rep. Jane Doe, that would advocate for mental health parity.”
*Don’t be hesitant to use any title(s) you have; they add credibility to your argument.
- Be cordial. This seems obvious, but some citizens call with an attitude that does not help their cause.
- Try to speak directly with the legislator. If this is not possible, talk with the Legislative Aide and request a call back from the legislator to obtain his or her position on the issue. Clearly give your phone number.
- Explain briefly, but thoroughly, what the bill aims to do.
- If relevant, state how the proposal will be funded. State who supports the bill, i.e., The Ohio Psychological Association, Coalition for Healthy Communities, etc.
- Personalize why you are supporting the bill – briefly.
- Ask if you can respond to any questions. If you receive a question that you cannot answer, tell them that you will have someone from OPA call them or you’ll find the answer. Don’t be thrown off. Tell them what you do know (e.g., mental health treatment works and saves lives and money).
- Never hang up the phone without specifically asking for their support and attempting to get a commitment. Do not pressure. Ask, “Can we count on your support?”
- Keep a tally of all of your phone calls and key points that may need to be addressed.
- Follow the phone call up with a thank you letter summarizing the conversation.
E-mail Your Legislators
Follow these tips when writing an e-mail
- Be brief and to the point. Legislators and aides are busy. A short paragraph is the maximum needed.
- Follow the instructions in CapWiz to send your email. Alternative routes are described below.
Follow these directions to send an e-mail to an Ohio Senator:
- Visit the Ohio Senate directory.
- Click on the email address of the Senator you wish to contact.
Follow these directions to send an email to an Ohio Representative:
- Visit the Ohio House of Representatives directory.
- Find your Representative in the list and click on the corresponding name.
- On their page, click the “Contact Me” option and complete the form. An e-mail will be generated to the Representative.
Legislators Online and in Social Media
How to Write an Effective Letter to a Legislator
- The letter should be typewritten or very clearly written by hand.
- Always put a return address on the letter – not just the envelope. Envelopes are immediately thrown away. Put your telephone number on the letter, if you are comfortable with that.
- Do not write letters that are more than two pages. One page is preferable.
- Do not write long paragraphs. Try to keep your paragraphs to no more than eight lines.
- State why you are writing in the very first paragraph. For example, “This letter is regarding H.B. 526, introduced by Rep. Wayne Jones, which would establish utilization review practice guidelines in Ohio.”
- If relevant, state where the money will come from to fund the proposal.
- Briefly state who you are.
- State your relationship to the legislator, i.e., constituent, registered voter, representative of an association or group of people, provider or consumer of service, etc. For example, “As a practicing psychologist, I want you to know ….”
- Elaborate on why you are writing. Make this part of the letter personal. Describe the macro issue, if possible, and then describe your experience. This should be two or three paragraphs.
- Convey a sense of urgency about the legislation. People are suffering today. Services are needed today. For some, tomorrow may be too late.
- Always ask a question of the legislator. For example, “Tell me how you would feel if your spouse was attempting to obtain an important medical procedure and insurance coverage was denied by someone with no expertise in the field?”
- Specifically ask the legislator to support the bill.
- Respectfully ask to hear from the legislator regarding their position on the bill.
How to Organize and Conduct Effective Area Meetings with Local Legislators
- Educating the legislators about the issues.
- Developing advocates from among the legislators.
- Strengthening the voice of psychology in your area.
- Gaining commitments from the legislators that they will support our legislative agenda.
Tips for a Successful Meeting
- The best days to hold meetings with area legislators when the legislature is in session are Monday and Friday, when they are not in legislative meetings. When the legislature is not in session, the best days to hold local meetings are Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
- The best time for meetings with legislators is 8a.m. – 9a.m or 9a.m.-10a.m. Remind your group members to arrive promptly so as not to keep the legislator waiting.
- Select a place that can comfortably accommodate your group.
- Try to select a meeting place that adds value to the purpose of the meeting: to educate, inform and expose a legislator to psychological services (e.g., psychologist’s office, mental health clinic, hospital or rehab center).
- The meetings must be carefully thought out – beginning to end.
- Extend an invitation to legislator(s) at least three weeks in advance of the meeting.
- Extend a written invitation to all prospective attendees at least three weeks in advance. Ask for confirmation of their availability to attend. Make sure the letters of invitation contain the date, time and place (with specific directions to the location, including parking instructions).
- Always invite someone from the Ohio Psychological Association.
- Invite the press.
- Make arrangements for a photographer to be there.
- Call the legislator(s) and prospective attendees (from whom you have had no response) to encourage them to attend.
- The presenters at the meetings should meet at least one time in advance of the meetings to thoroughly discuss (a) who will say what and (b) desired outcomes.
- Prepare a sign-in sheet (name, address, phone and e-mail).
- Prepare large-print nametags.
- Give a packet of information (agenda, relevant issue fact sheet) to all attendees.
- Have appropriate refreshments (i.e., coffee and doughnuts).
- Send thank you letters to all attendees if possible. At a minimum, thank legislators in writing for attending and again ask for their support of the bill.
Please let OPA know the results of your meeting and if you need us to do any follow-up. Call or e-mail Michael Ranney at 800-783-1983/614-224-0034.
About Fundraisers and Social Events
Invite the legislator to lunch. If this is a large gathering, offer to arrange transportation to and from the luncheon. Be prepared to discuss the legislator’s activities, the political scene or particular legislation of mutual concern.
Invite the legislator and his/her spouse to small social gatherings with other psychologists, friends and/or neighbors.
Contact the legislator’s district office and find out if there are any public appearances planned for the legislator. You can attend, introduce yourself and mention your areas of interest, suggesting the possibility of a meeting in the future.
Sample Thank You Letter to a Legislator
Ohio Senate Building
1 Capitol Square, Ground Floor
Columbus, OH 43215
May XX, 20XX
Dear Senator Smith:
Thank you for taking time to meet with me and my colleague yesterday. I am happy to have met you and very pleased that you are already well informed about some of the public policy issues which arise around psychological services for Ohioans.
I appreciate your invitation to stay in touch with you as the budget process proceeds, especially around the question of funding for psychological services for Medicaid recipients. As we discussed, those services not only help alleviate human suffering, they also are a cost effective response to problems which, if unaddressed, cost more down the road. I appreciate your willingness to listen to my perspective as a psychologist.
Again, thank you for taking time to meet with me and I look forward to talking again.
John Doe, Ph.D.
1234 Main Street
Anytown, OH 12345