How to Write an Effective Letter to Your Representative

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Over the last few weeks, I have had several conversations with businesses, individuals, and organizations that are interested in engaging in the legislative and rulemaking process in 2019. Writing a letter to your representative is an easy and effective ways to communicate your support or concerns on a specific budget item, piece of legislation, or on a proposed rule. Here are some tips that can help you write a constructive letter to your elected official.

Step One: Research the Bill or Budget Proposal

When you have identified a budget item, bill or rule that may potential impact your business, the first step before writing a letter is to conduct preliminary research. In California, information related to the state’s budget can be located on the State’s Department of Finance (DOF) website. This site contains valuable information, including the budget change proposal (BCP) from which the budget item originated, and a summary and detailed overview of the proposal.

In addition to the DOF, each house of the California State Legislature has their own budget committee that is divided into several subcommittees. These subcommittees will review each item from the Governor’s budget in depth and their analysis can serve as another source of helpful information.

Background information related to all legislation introduced in California can be found by searching the California Legislative Information website. To locate a bill, type in the bill number or the bill author’s name, if you know it, in the “Quick Bill Search” box and click search. This will bring up the bill language, current status, history, analysis, and vote records, if any.

Helpful Hint: A bill in most cases never remains the same throughout the legislative process. When researching a bill, check for amendments. You might be find that the bill you are about to write a letter on has been significantly changed or no longer active!

Step Two: Find Your Legislator

Once you have background information on the bill or budget item, the next step is to look up your legislator and their contact information. California’s Secretary of State provides information on its website on how to find your federal and state representatives. Local elected officials can be found by visiting your local county registrar’s website.

Insider Tip: Legislators and their staff receive hundreds if not thousands of requests, phone calls and emails a day. Most offices prefer to receive letters by email or fax. Before you send your letter, call ahead and ask what method the office prefers to receive position letters. Remember: be courteous to the person that answers the phone; not only is it the right thing to do, but the person on the other line is most likely an intern or legislative aide that is still learning the process too!

Step Three: Write the Letter

Now that you have researched the bill and have your legislator’s information, it is time to write the letter. Below are tips on how to write an effective letter through the various stages of the legislative process.

Newly Introduced Bill

A letter on newly introduced bills is used to share your opinion and/or concerns with your legislator regarding a bill before it has been assigned to a policy committee. As a reminder, a good understanding of what the bill does (review the bill text and any supporting documents, i.e. fact sheets, informational hearing agendas, etc.) is important at this stage. Writing a letter early in the process is important because it helps the legislator identify early support/opposition, and may identify concerns the Assembly Member or Senator may not have considered.

Important Tips When Writing Your Letter

  • Properly address the letter to your legislator.
  • Clearly state your position, and the bill number.
  • Use your own words to state your position and/or concerns.
  • Be constructive and brief.
  • Be professional and courteous. This is a formal letter to an elected official.
  • End the letter with a statement on how you would like your representative to respond, and request a follow up.

Policy and Fiscal Committee Letters

Committee letters are extremely important in the legislative process. You can find out which committee the bill will be heard in by searching for the bill on the California Legislative Information website and viewing the status of the bill. Under status, locate “Committee Location” to find which committee the bill has been assigned.

Make sure the Chair and all of the committee members receive a copy of your letter, as well as the lead committee consultant on the issue.

Important Tips

  • Properly address the letter to the Committee Chair.
  • Clearly state your position, the bill number and author of the bill.
  • Use your own words to state your opinion and/or concerns.
  • Be constructive and brief.
  • Ask the committee chair to support or oppose the bill.

 Floor Alert

Floor letters can reinforce your support or opposition on a bill when it is scheduled to be heard by the entire Assembly or Senate on Floor. By now, the bill has made its way through at least one policy committee and if the bill appropriates funds, the Appropriations Committee. At this stage, it may be helpful to review committee votes and mention whether the bill passed the committee with unanimous, bipartisan, or very little support. To review vote ballots, find the bill on California Legislative Information website and select the “Votes” link for the appropriate committee.

Important Tips

  • Address the letter to entire membership of the House.
  • Clearly state your position, the bill number and author of the bill.
  • Use your own words to state your opinion and/or concerns.
  • Be constructive and brief.
  • Highlight committee votes (bipartisan, unanimous or little support)
  • Ask the legislators to support or oppose the bill.

Letter to the Governor

If a bill you support made it all the way to the Governor’s desk: congratulations!  If you did not support it, do not fret: the process is not over, yet. Even if a bill had unanimous support through the legislative process, the Governor may have a different viewpoint. Letters urging the Governor sign  or veto legislation are as equally important as your first letter.

Important Tips

  • Address the letter to the Governor.
  • Clearly state your position, the bill number and author of the bill.
  • Use your own words to state your opinion and/or concerns.
  • Be constructive and brief.
  • Highlight committee/floor votes (bipartisan, unanimous or little support)
  • Ask the Governor to sign or veto the bill.
Ready to Write Your Letter?

If you would like more information or help writing your letter? please contact me at ashley@ampublicaffairs.com.

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