Contacting your legislators
Did you know that you have employees? That's right—as a citizen of Indiana or Kentucky you are the employer of many people, including your state legislators. These legislators are elected to represent the interests of their constituents, including you.
Young or old, student or professional, it is your legislator's job to take your concerns to the statehouse, so don't be afraid to speak up! The first thing you need to do is to find your legislators.
How to find and contact your legislators
Join the Planned Parenthood Action Network for updates on legislation during the session and the fastest, easiest line of communication connected directly to your lawmakers.
Email is often the quickest way to make contact, which is important if you have an immediate concern about a bill. Each state legislator has a webpage; most prefer to get email through the web form on their own page. Visit the Indiana General Assembly or Kentucky Legislature to find your legislators' pages. To learn more about the U.S. Congress, visit the federal Senate and House sites.
Legislators take letters from constituents seriously, so don't be afraid to use snail mail. Phone calls are also a very effective way of contacting your elected representatives. (Addresses and phone numbers can be found at the links above.)
Meeting your legislators in person, either at the statehouse or in your district, is perhaps the best way to show how important an issue is to you. It can be intimidating, but remember: they work for you.
Tips for talking to your senator or representative
- If you are speaking about a specific piece of legislation, refer to the bill by its title and number. That way there is no confusion. If you are contacting your legislator between sessions, speak specifically to your issue.
- Only discuss one bill/ issue at a time and make sure to state your position clearly and directly, as well as what action you would like your legislator to take. If you try to address multiple bills, it's easier to lose focus.
- Be informed about the bill. Read the bill and know exactly what it says. If the bill has been amended since you first looked at it, read it again. Bills can change drastically over the course of the session; good bills can become bad ones and vice versa. If your information is out-of-date, you are less likely to be taken seriously.
- If you don't know how your legislator stands on a bill, or if your legislator's position does not match your own, make sure that you are armed with facts and evidence to support your position. It is much harder to blow off a constituent who is obviously educated on an issue.
- Even if you know that your legislator already agrees with you, you should still contact her. Everyone likes to be thanked for a job well done, and your message could help her convince her colleagues to vote the right way, too.
- Always be respectful. Name calling and inflammatory language may feel good at the time, but ultimately it undermines you and what you are trying to accomplish. Saying please and thank you never hurts, either.
- There is no such thing as too much feedback. Legislators generally want their votes to reflect their constituents' opinions. Even if you just wrote a letter or called last week, it is okay to do it again. The more your voice is heard, the better.
- During the session, your legislator is a very busy person. Don't be discouraged if you don't get to speak to him in person, or you don't receive a follow-up after sending a letter.
- Don't be afraid to get personal. When contacting your own legislator, make sure you mention that you're a constituent, and let her know how the bill will impact you, your family, and your community.
- Take notes and have them ready when you contact your legislator. That way you're not stressed out trying to remember everything you want to say off the top of your head. It's also a good idea to take notes after you contact your legislator so that you know exactly what he or she said.
Although the general tips mentioned above apply to all forms of communication with your legislator, there are some tips that are specific to each type.
Letters and emails
- Keep it brief – a page or less should be all you need to get your point across.
- Request a follow-up, either by letter, email or fax. It's important to get your legislator's positions on important issues in writing.
- Use the proper style. See an example (Microsoft Word).
- Proofread! Don't just rely on the automatic checks in your word processing program.
- You probably won't speak directly with your legislator, but rest assured that the staff member you speak to will forward your comments to your legislator.
- If you have to leave a voice mail, state the bill number/ issue you are addressing and whether you support or oppose it. You should include your full name and a reliable way to contact you, such as your phone number or email address. It is also a good idea to spell these out, particularly if your name is long or uncommonly spelled.
Meeting your legislator in person
- If at all possible, make an appointment ahead of time.
- Dress professionally.
- Arrive a bit early, and be prepared to wait. During the session, a legislator can't always control his schedule.
- Bring something in writing to leave with your legislator—a fact sheet or just a brief statement about your position on the issue. If you get interrupted, this will ensure that your legislator still gets your message. Make sure to include your name and contact information in case s/he wants to follow-up.
- Know that your time will be limited. You may only get a few minutes to make your point, so being concise is important!