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Hints for communicating with your state legislature.

With Thanksgiving several weeks off and the Christmas season right around the corner, the time will soon arrive for convening the 1994 state legislatures. This seems to be an appropriate time for state legislative committees to regroup and review basic guidelines for communicating with state legislators, whether in person, by phone or by letter.

The importance of communicating with your state legislator can be demonstrated by taking a quick look at the number of state legislatures where accountancy bills were introduced in 1993. Accounting legislation (much of it directed to restrict the scope of practice of unlicensed accountants) was introduced in the following states: Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, Idaho, Minnesota, New York, Arizona and Puerto Rico. Legislators in each of those 18 jurisdictions were contacted by the NSPA-affiliated state organization, either in support of or in opposition to the bills that were introduced.

State legislators want to hear from their constituents and want to stay in touch with the voters in their districts. Therefore, it is important that whenever an affiliated state organization asks for assistance with a grass roots lobbying effort, the member should:

1. Volunteer enthusiastically and

2. Carry out the mission effectively.

Sometimes a simple well-written letter or a direct telephone conversation may influence how the legislator votes on a particular matter. To make that letter or telephone call more effective, some general DOs and DON'Ts are suggested.

DO

1. DO be understanding. Try to understand the problems and pressures a legislator is under.

2. DO be friendly. Stay in touch with the legislator throughout the year and contact the legislator when you need his/her vote on a critical issue.

3. DO be reasonable. Recognize that the legislator is receiving different opinions from other constituents.

4. DO be thoughtful. When your legislator votes to support you on a issue, regardless of whether you win or lose, commend and thank him/her for the effort.

5. DO be realistic. The legislative process is one of give and take, most frequently resulting in compromise.

DON'TS

1. DON'T hint that a certain bill is not worthwhile or that a bill may corrupt the people who are likely to benefit from its passage.

2. DON'T demand, be rude or threatening. If your legislator disagrees with you on one issue, he/she may support you on another. That is the way the legislative process works.

3. DON'T be deceptive. Your legislator (or the legislative staff) knows soon enough if you have your facts straight or if you are trying to make your pleas more attractive by shading the facts in your favor.

4. DON'T preach to the legislator. Marshall your facts and make a clear, succinct, factual presentation.

5. DON'T assume a rigid or uncompromising position. Your legislator represents all of his constituents, not just you or your organization, and does not deserve your condemnation because he/she is unable to support your legislative issue. Remember, one of the DOs is be realistic and recognize that the legislative process is a compromise process.

If you contact your legislator by telephone, there are a few additional basic rules that are helpful.

1. If the legislature is in session call the Capitol office. If you make your call during a recess or on a weekend (Friday or possibly Saturday), call the legislator's district office.

2. Ask to speak directly to the legislator and say who you are and that you are his/her constituent. If the legislator is not available, ask to speak to the legislative assistant or the legislative aide.

3. Identify yourself again, mention your professional status and again stress that you are the legislator's constituent.

4. With those preliminaries behind you, state the purpose of your call, citing the bill number. Explain how that proposed legislation affects you personally or affects the members of your affiliated state organization and why you support or oppose the bill.

5. Simplify your conversation by discussing only one issue on each telephone call.

6. Don't be shy about asking what the legislator's position is. In many instances the legislator will thank you for your views and say that the matter will be taken under advisement. However, if the legislator expresses a position the same as yours, indicate your agreement and your appreciation. If the legislator expresses a position different from yours or in opposition to yours, note your disappointment and offer some factual information to support your position or advise the legislator that you will send further information by mail.

7. If you have the opportunity, tell your legislator what specific action you wish taken (for example, defeat, amend or pass the bill).

8. Finally, express your thanks and appreciation to the legislator (or to the aide) for his/her time and consideration of your views.

There are several guidelines when writing to the legislator. These may be summarized as follows:

1. Use your professional stationery showing your name and address.

2. Write in a friendly fashion using your own words. State your position on the proposed legislation and why you have that position, that is, the proposed legislation's effect on you.

3. Keep your letter down to a single issue, just as you would do if it were a telephone conversation.

4. Tell the legislator what you want, that is, his/her support of the proposed legislation or assurance of opposition to it.

5. Offer to meet with the legislator (or the legislator's aides) to amplify or clarify the issues.

Finally, dispel any notion that contacting the state legislator falls into the category of a frightening experience. Remember the legislator wants to hear from you. Your vote and your support are important to him/her. It is you and your clients and neighbors whom the legislator needs to stay in office.

William H. Sager, Legal Counsel
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Society of Public Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Sager, William H.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:976
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