Tips for Contacting Lawmakers
TIPS FOR CALLING YOUR REPRESENTATIVE TO URGE THEM TO CO-SPONSOR H.R. 1998 S.1381
“THE BIG CATS AND PUBLIC SAFETY PROTECTION ACT”
By Howard Baskin, Advisory Board Chairman, Big Cat Rescue – Howard.Baskin@BigCatRescue.org
Once a bill has been introduced by one or more Legislators, the next step is to ask other Legislators to “cosponsor” the bill. By becoming a co-sponsor, they are expressing their support in advance and indicating they will vote for it, although technically they are not obligated to do so. The more momentum we can build with cosponsors, the more likely the bill will be heard and pass through the Committee it is assigned to, and pass when it comes for a vote.
When a bill is introduced in the House, a similar bill, called the “companion bill,” must be introduced in the Senate. So we have two bills to ask Legislators to support, H.R. 1998 in the House of Representatives, S. 1381 in the Senate. In the House, you are in the district of one Representative. Senators are elected statewide, so you have two Senators.
The first step is to find out who your Representative is and your Senators are if you are not sure, and their phone numbers. You can find out easily at www.CatLaws.com. Just type your zip code into the box to the right of Elected Officials. Then, to find out if your Legislator is already a cosponsor of H.R. 1998 or S. 1381 go to www.BigCatRescue.org/house and www.BigCatRescue.org/senate.
If your Legislator is already a cosponsor, it is extremely helpful to call and thank him! The bills are likely to have to be reintroduced in the next session, and we want your Legislators to know constituents appreciate their caring about the animals and want them to cosponsor again.
Impact of Calling
Very few people call their Legislators. So, when people do, it tends to have much more impact than emails. One day we were in Washington D.C. sitting in the outer waiting area of a Representative’s office where there were two staff members handling the phones and greeting visitors. One got off the phone and turned to the other and said “wow, that was the 12th calls got their attention. Your call does matter!
Talking to the Aides
Each Legislator has a number of aides each of whom handle one or more issues or areas of concern. Typically there is an aide who is responsible for environment, animals and perhaps other issues. Not always, but usually. Sometimes constituents feel they are being slighted when they are asked to talk to an aide instead of the Legislator himself or herself. But, this is not at all the case. The Legislator relies heavily on the aide to know the issue and recommend positions.
When you call, the first thing to say is that you live in the Legislator’s district, or state in the case of the Senate. It is important for them to know that you are a constituent. The best procedure is then to ask if there is an aide who deals with animal issues. If so, ask their name and if you can be transferred. If they are not available, ask if they would call you back. Generally they are pretty good at calling back.
If you are asked why you are calling, you can say it is about HR 1998 or S 1381. If there is no aide assigned to animal issues, you can talk to whoever answers the call I have gotten today on that issue, it must be a hot one.” What struck us was that 12 Not an expert; get back to them if any questions.
You do NOT have to be an expert on this bill or the issue. What is most important is simply to have your Legislator know that a constituent supports this bill. The Fact Sheet is designed to arm you with some talking points. Just use whatever you feel comfortable saying. It is important to be professional.
Animal abuse arouses our passions and it is fine to express how strongly you feel, but it is most effective to speak calmly and slowly. It is best to avoid getting too emotional or avoid becoming argumentative. If the person you talk to asks you questions you cannot answer, that is great! It means they are interested and it gives you a chance for a second contact.
You can simply say you are not sure about that and don’t want to guess, and ask if you can get back to them. Then feel free to contact me at the email address above.
Reactions. Generally the people you speak with will be polite and courteous. The conversation may depend a lot on where the particular aide or the Legislator is in the spectrum of caring about animal issues. But even if the Legislator is not someone likely to be supportive, letting him know that constituents care is important.
If enough people do so, it can have an impact.
We so appreciate you making this effort for the animals! This bill really is the only solution. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions and to let me know what transpires when you call. Thanks!!!