-- How to Lobby Your Elected Officials --
How To Write Congress
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This article includes the following:
Protocols and Tips For Writing Congress: How to communication with congressional offices. Writing letters, calling and sending e-mail.
Visiting Congress: Personal visits to your representatives and staff. The way to achieve the best results.
Congressional Staff: Tips on communicating with congressional staff members. Includes a list the titles and responsibilities of most used staff positions.
How the Legislative Process works: How a bill goes from drafting to law.
Protocols and Tips For Writing Congress
Calling Your Representatives
The easiest method to find your Representatives phone number is to call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and ask for your Senator's and/or Representative's office.
Calls to Representatives are taken primarily by staff members and not your member of Congress. Each member of Congress has aides who handle specific issues. Ask to speak to an aide that handles your issue.
Identify yourself, then let the aide know that you want to leave a brief message for your member of Congress. If you don't know the name of a specific bill being introduced, leave a short comment. A simple comment such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.8___)" is best.
Let the aide know why you support or oppose the bill. Ask the aide for the Senator's or Representative's position on the bill. You can also request a written reply.
Writing your Representative
Most people choose to write their member of Congress. If you plan to write your Congressman, try these suggestions to help improve the effectiveness of our communication:
1. Use the first paragraph of your letter to state your purpose. If you are writing about a specific bill, identify it e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
2. Be polite and to the point. Include all important information, and make use of examples to support your position.
3. For best results keep your letter to one page and address only one issue per letter.
To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Additional note: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address them as:
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman:
or Dear Mr. Speaker:
E-mailing your Representative
When E-mailing your Representative, use the same guidelines offered above for writing letters to Congress.
The most effective way to make your voice heard regarding specific legislation or important issues is to meet with a member of Congress of their congressional staff. The following are a few suggestion to make your meeting as successful as possible.
1. Have a clear agenda. Know in advance who you need to meet with on the congressional staff and determine what is it that you want to achieve.
2. Contact the member of Congress' appointment Secretary/Scheduler. Let them know what you plan to speak about and what group you belong to.
3. Be on time and be prepared to wait. Members of Congress have busy schedules and it is common for them to be late or have to leave early. If this occurs, try to arrange another meeting or meet with a member of the congressional staff dealing with your issue.
4. Bring copies of material important to your issue. Though your member of Congress may have a position on an specific matter, many times they lack important information on that issue. Provide your member of Congress with documentation clearly showing the merits and benefits of your position.
5. As member of Congress represent a district or state, point out how your issue effects his/her constituency. If you are a member of a group, explain how your group can work to assist in this matter. Be sure to ask them for a commitment, where appropriate.
6. Know your position and be prepared to answer question or provide additional information. Follow up your visit with a thank you letter outlining what was discussed and the points you made. Be sure to include any additional information requested.
Each member of Congress maintains a staff to assist them during their term. It is important when communicating with Congress, to know staff positions and their duties.
Most used titles:
Chief of Staff or Administrative Assistant:
This position reports directly to the member of Congress and is charged with evaluating legislative and constituent proposals and requests. Administrative Assistants are the legislative office managers are assign work to key staff members and supervise operations.
Legislative Director, Senior Legislative Assistant, or Legislative Coordinator:
This position is responsible for monitoring the legislative schedule and provides the member of Congress with pros and cons on issues. Many congressional offices a maintain several Legislative Coordinator or Directors each assigned to areas of expertise.
Press Secretary or Communications Director:
This position is responsible for dealing with media relations and communications between the member and his/her constituency.
Appointment Secretary, Personal Secretary, or Scheduler:
This position is responsible for maintaining the member's schedule. This is who you would contact when arranging appointments to meeting with a member of Congress. The Appointment Secretary also makes travel arrangements for the member.
This position is responsible for writing and preparing replies to constituent requests. A Caseworker is sometimes charged with helping constituents with problems dealing with Social Security, Medicare and veterans and passport issues.
How the Legislative Process works
Drafting and introducing a bill.
Bills can be drafted by anyone, include you, but members of Congress must introduce the legislation. A member or members, who introduce a bill then become the bills sponsor or sponsors. There are four types of legislation: bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions. The actual legislative process begins when a bill or resolution receives a number. All House bills begin with H.R. then a number, Senate bill begin with S. then a number. When a bill is introduced, it is send to a committee and is then printed by the Government Printing Office.
Referral to Committee:
With few exceptions, bills are sent to standing House or Senate committees set up to deal with specific legislative issues.
The committee first places the bill on the committee's calendar. The bill is then referred to a subcommittee or is considered by the whole committee. The committee examines the bill to determine the chances it has to be passed. The committee can kill the bill by not acting on it.
Review by the Subcommittee:
Many times bills are referred to a subcommittee for study and hearings. A hearing allows the views of the executive branch, experts and other public officials, supporters and opponents of the bill, to be put on the record. Testimony is given in person or through a written statement.
After hearings are complete, the subcommittee may "Mark Up" a bill, which means, make changes and amendments prior to referring the bill to the full committee. A bill does not receive enough votes to be referred to the full committee, the bill dies.
Committee Action to Report A Bill:
After the full committee receives the subcommittee report on the bill, the committee can conduct further hearings and study, or it can choose to vote on the subcommittee's recommendations and proposed amendments. The committee then votes on its recommendations and proposed amendments. This is called "ordering a bill reported."
Publishing a Written Report:
When a committee votes to have a bill reported to the House or Senate, the committee chairman has the staff prepare a written report on the bill. This report describes the intent and scope of the legislation, impact of this legislation on existing laws and programs, position of the executive branch, and additionally includes views of dissenting members of the committee.
Scheduling Floor Action:
After being reported back to the chamber where the legislation originated, the bill is placed on the calender in chronological order. There are several different calendars in the House, and Speaker of the House and majority leader determine if, when, and in what order bills are scheduled for vote. The Senate has only one legislative calendar.
In the House or Senate there are rules and procedures governing the debate on legislation. These rules determine the conditions and allocated time for general discussion.
After debate on the bill, members vote to approve or defeat the legislation.
Referral to Other Chamber:
After a bill is passed by the House or Senate, it is then referred to the other chamber and follows the procedure listed above. After debate on the bill, this chamber then votes to approve the bill as is, reject the bill completely, ignore the bill, or amend the bill.
Conference Committee Action:
If the second chamber makes only minor changes to the legislation passed by the first chamber, it is common for the bill to be referred back to the first chamber for agreement. If there are major differences between
If only minor changes are made to a bill by the other chamber, it is common for the legislation to go back to the first chamber for concurrence. However, when the actions of the other chamber significantly alter the bill, a conference committee is formed to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If agreement is reached, a conference report is prepared describing the committee members recommendations for changes. Both the House and the Senate must approve of the conference report.
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