Advocating for Legislative Change in Pennsylvania
First and foremost, you need to find out who your Pennsylvania legislators are. You can do that HERE. If you haven’t yet contacted your legislators, please do so. Let them know that you support medical cannabis in Pa and you want them to as well.
We often receive calls from people who have an idea for a new law or an amendment to an old one. Making the case for legislative change requires more than a simple anecdotal demonstration of the need for change. If you have an idea that you think would make Pennsylvania a better place, we are always happy to hear about it. Here are some guidelines to help make your case more effective:
Define the need for the change. Briefly describe who is harmed by the current law and who will benefit from a change in the law.
Contact other groups or organizations who you believe would have a vested interest in the issue and see if they are already working on anything to address the problem. Seek other individuals who are affected by this issue to see if they are willing to join with you in seeking a solution.
Meet to determine an action plan.
Research to find what other states have done to resolve similar problems.
Present sample legislative solutions: if your group does not include a lawyer use sources such as NCSL (National Council for State Legislators) to determine legislative language that mirrors your goals.
Find a member of the General Assembly that would be willing to champion your cause and sponsor the bill.
Seek other members of the General Assembly that would be supportive of your bill and ask for their support.
Determine to which committee that specific bill would be sent and contact members of that committee asking for their support in bringing the bill up for both consideration and passage.
Requesting a Meeting
As a constituent, you are entitled to request meetings with your legislator. Because of the legislator’s undoubtedly busy schedule, he may not always be available to meet with you personally. However, all legislators have staff that is capable of handling meetings when the legislator is unavailable. Protocol dictates that the staff member you meet with will discuss the meeting with the legislator personally.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are requesting a meeting with your legislator:
If you are calling to request a meeting, please be clear and ask to speak to the person who “handles the [legislator’s] schedule,” typically known offhandedly as their “Scheduler.” The Scheduler handles all aspects of the legislator’s calendar and will be able to find a good time to schedule a meeting.
Please let the scheduler know what the meeting will be about. Not only will you be meeting with the legislator in question, but a staff member will be present as well. It is important that the appropriate staff member is there so that your requests or concerns can be addressed properly.
Please be prepared to give a brief overview of your request and have an idea of how you would like the legislator to assist you.
If you have any information that might be helpful to the legislator and their staff before the meeting occurs, be sure to forward it to the office so that the meeting itself can be as efficient as possible.
Preparing for a Group Meeting
Plan to bring only 2-4 of the principle members of your group.
Designate a spokesman.
Prepare an agenda.
Leave-behinds are important and should include names and contact information of principle members of the group and the specifics of group’s request.
Lobbying for Your Issue
Do your homework. Understand that legislator’s district and their legislative priorities.
Determine the factors that impact a legislator’s decision to support the bill: voting record, demographics, donors, position in the Caucus, the election cycle.
Familiarize yourself with the current agenda in the General Assembly and consider where your issue fits in.
Help the legislator understand both sides of the issue and be prepared to discuss what groups are opposed to it and the reasons why they are opposed to it.
Provide the legislator with substantive facts and compelling reasons to advocate for your issue. Don’t be afraid to offer talking points.
If the bill you are there to discuss has already been assigned to a committee, be knowledgeable of the members and the dynamics of that committee.
Be yourself and appeal to the legislator on a human level. Be respectful. Legislators are mere mortals and the good ones appreciate your understanding of their situation.
Don’t be afraid to ask them directly if you can count on their support. If they say no, don’t be afraid to respectfully ask them why.
General Letter Guidelines
Every legislator receives hundreds of letters every month. Each office does its best to respond to every one of them in a timely manner. To ensure that your letter stands out, here are some simple rules to follow:
Be as concise as you can without leaving out important information.
Please include all of your relevant contact information so your letter can be responded to or so a staff member can reach you. And more importantly, please make sure that this information is legible.
Include a date on your letter. It is important for us to know when your letter was originally written.
If you can, avoid handwritten letters. Small handwritten notes of support or thanks are always appreciated, but if you have more detailed concerns or questions, it is best that inquiries of that sort are typed. If the legislator or staff cannot read your letter, they will not be able to respond to it.
Refrain from using confrontational or abusive language. Every letter we receive is taken seriously, whether or not the Senator agrees with the author’s opinion. The Senator looks forward to productive debates with constituents from all points of view.
General Email Guidelines
When writing an email to your legislator, following these guidelines will make the most of your correspondence:
Use a descriptive subject line, where possible. For example, if you are making a scheduling request, note that in the subject line. If you are writing about a specific bill, put the bill number in the subject line.
Be as succinct as possible. If you would like to discuss your concerns further with the legislator or a staff member, please say so in the body of your email.
Refrain from using all caps or multiple fonts or colors.
Please include your contact information, particularly if you would like a response.
Refrain from sending chain emails or “forwards.”
If you are sending an attachment, make note of it and describe what the attachment is for somewhere in the body of the email. Offices may be wary of attachments due to the threat of computer viruses.