Utahns living in Poverty become Citizen Advocates at Democracy Day 2012

Citizens and Lobbyists are welcome to sit in on daily floor debates during the legislative session. The entrance for the House and Senate Chambers are on the 4th floor at the Utah State Capitol.  Active, responsible citizens and residents of Salt Lake City attended a half-day legislative training January 30th. About two hundred residents were in attendance. Attendees were taken through the Capitol by veteran advocates and shown the ropes. Following the tour Utah residents were invited for lunch in the Capitol rotunda. Legislators broke bread with residents from their district and listened to their concerns and hopes for the 2012 session. Continue reading to find out how you can get involved and details about how to reach your rep, create a lobbying visit and follow up with legislators after the session.

Those there learned that lobbying is not about fancy lunches, golf games, and guys in suits. Citizen lobbyists can give representatives heartfelt reasons to support, do away with, or create  certain legislation. Lobbying is about relationships, building relationships and maintaining working relationships. Studies have shown that citizens are many times more influential than lobbyists.

If you live in the US and you vote, you have every reason to get to know your representatives and begin a working relationship with your reps. Representatives are often happy to meet with constituents just to hear their concerns about how the state is being run, regardless of there being specific legislation about an issue.

Too many times citizen lobbyists sit home believing that only big corporate interests can have a say in government. It is vital that people understand that human interests must come first.

Sharing our personal stories and telling our reps why legislation should pass or fail is our right to participate in the system. If we don’t tell those we elect to office about our communities, our families and our lives we can’t expect our reps to understand why and how laws affect us.

Visiting the Capitol

Find your representatives at http://le.utah.gov/GIS/findDistrict.jsp

You can always call your rep at home, on their cell phone, email them, or write them. Another option is speaking to your representative during the session. Please see the lower section “Tips for Communication.”

You can send a note into your representative from the 3rd floor of the Capitol. The people sitting at the tables outside the Senate and House chambers wearing either green or blue jackets will give you a piece of paper and carry the note in for you.

It is also a good idea just to go in and observe how arguments are made on the floor and basic bill processes. Go to the 4th floor of the State Capitol and enter the viewing areas. The House is located in the West end of the Capitol and the Senate is located on the North end of the Capitol.

You can also call your rep ahead of time and schedule a meeting with them.

Tips for Communication

You have every right to communicate with your representatives and some would say you have a civic responsibility.  Communicate with your rep via mail, e-mail, telephone, on Facebook, on Twitter, on blogs, but especially in person and at events.

Things to remember:

  1. It is good to have a specific bill in mind especially during the legislative session. Find one you are interested in here. http://le.utah.gov/dtforms/AllBills.html You can search for specific keywords.
  2. Use your personal stories that relate to an issue to relate to your legislator.
  3. Keep it brief. Your rep is very busy especially during the session. If you would like a longer visit or group visit make an appointment. Your legislator should be happy to meet with you.
  4. Bring something in writing with your concerns, name, address and telephone number. Give it to your rep after you speak to them. If you give them this in the beginning they may cut your visit short.
  5. Organize! If you and a group of friends are interested in a bill you may want to structure a lobbying visit. Here is a great resource about how to structure a group lobbying trip.
  6. Do your research. Try and find out how the legislator has voted before on a bill. Know what makes them tick and what might persuade them to see your side.
  7. Don’t forget an ask. It’s important to tell a rep how you feel, but don’t forget that you should ask them to do something specific. IE: vote “no” vote “yes” or fix a specific part of a bill.
  8. Be honest. You are building a relationship with your rep. Hopefully this won’t be the last time you speak to them so stay in communication.
  9. Be polite. Even if your rep doesn’t agree with you, they are more likely to work with you in the future if you keep the channels of communication open.
  10. If you are disappointed in the way they voted on something or about a bill they supported tell them politely. It is okay to say you disagree.
  11. Remember participating in government is a citizen’s right and it can be an empowering and fun experience.
  12. Remember participating in government can also be disappointing but remember you are just getting started. Don’t give up too soon.

Following up with Your Representatives

  1. When the votes are over don’t forget to say “Thank You” to your rep. Being a representative is hard work and they will appreciate that you notice their hard work.
  2. Send a follow up note or e-mail. Always keep it personal and try to never send mass e-mails.
  3. When you find a rep you like get involved. Keep in touch and help them with issues in your neighborhood. You may even want to volunteer for their campaigns.
  4. Follow up if you are disappointed in a vote as well.
  5. Follow up on social media like Facebook, blog posts, and twitter. Think about writing a blog post about your story and how you are affected by legislation. Post your blog on your rep’s Facebook page.

Following and Tracking Legislation

Go to the website http://le.utah.gov/

Read through the titles and summaries of bills. You can sign up to receive e-mail alerts whenever anything in any bill changes. If you have a hard time understanding a bill call a community group that might be working for or against it. They may have some valuable insights.

The first step for a bill is in a committee. Lots of things happen in committee meetings. People can testify for or against a bill. Bills can be put in committees early in the mornings and you should check the website often if there is  bill you care about. The agenda items for committee meetings often change.

Many of the committee meetings are held outside the Capitol in one of the three buildings in back.

Bill Process:

Rules Committee-The first place a bill goes in the process. Here the bill waits to be assigned to a committee. A bill can be killed in rules if the reps on the committee vote against it’s advancement.

Standing Committee-  A place to testify about the bill, call a bill sponsor to sign up to give your testimony or collaborate with a group opposing a bill if you so choose.

Floor Debate & Vote- The process varies but you are always welcome to sit in on a debate and some reps allow you to text them during the debate.

Second House- If the bill passes it then travels then to the opposite House and goes through the same steps-

Following the Approval in the House and Senate the bill passes to the Governors desk for his or her signature of veto. A bill automatically becomes law even if the Governor doesn’t sign it so long as it isn’t vetoed.

The Take Away

You have taken the first steps to participate in the process. Congratulations!

The real work begins after a session. Give your reps some time to recuperate but talk to them year round. You might even have a great idea for a bill that they may want to run next year, so keep in touch.

In the future you may run for office or collaborate with your representative.

99% of politics is just showing up. If you are there, you are calling reps, you are in the meetings, you have a chance to have your reps hear your voice and you give them the opportunity to work for you.

Last, don’t forget to friend your reps on Facebook and “LIKE” their pages as well as following their blogs and Twitter accounts. It’s a great space to talk about what is happening in your neighborhood.

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