Tips For In-Person Legislative Visits

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Etiquette Tips: Statehouse Etiquette is IMPORTANT

  • Few people choose to meet with their legislators. You will make a strong impression simply by taking the time to engage with them on issues that matter to you.

  • By doing so you represent your cause, your organization, and WHY they should listen to your expertise and experience.

Legislative Visit Do’s & Don’ts…

Come Prepared: You should have a packets of info to give to the legislator and their staff that attend the meeting. 

  • The packet should include information about your organization, your business card, and any supporting research you plan to use to back up your assertions … or to dispute opponents’ claims. 

  • Make sure you provide information on how this issue affects the legislator’s district or the state—if possible, let them know how many people will be affected, how they'll be impacted, and how much it will cost taxpayers.

  • If you are lobbying on a specific piece of legislation, have a memo that outlines your reasons for support or opposition to the bill.

Act Like a Pro

  • Dress in business attire. Suits are normal, but dress slacks, business dresses/skirts, blouses, button-downs, ties etc. are all perfectly fine as well.

  • Try and park in the underground Statehouse Parking Garage (accessible from S. Third Street, E. State Street or E. Broad Street) or one of the many parking garages/lots in the downtown Columbus area.

  • Give yourself extra time to park- parking fills up quickly & you may have to go with a 2nd or 3rd choice.

  • The Ohio Statehouse has metal detectors, and you will be required to go through them. You will need your ID to get into the building.

  • Guns, knives, and other weapons are STRICTLY prohibited. (Leave your swiss army knife at home).

  • Backpacks are generally not allowed in hearing rooms as well but there are some exceptions for laptops, laptop bags, and big purses.

Expect Unpredictibility

  • If you are meeting on a day the legislature is in session, don't be surprised if a legislator’s schedule changes. 

  • Legislative meetings are often called on little notice, and legislative sessions often  run over. Remember to be flexible and not get flustered if plans change.

  • Legislators often hold impromptu meetings  with constituents and lobbyists in between votes or meetings.

  • But if you see them in the lunch line RESPECT their time. 

  • Offer to meet the legislator or staff member at a different time or place if an important meeting gets changed.

Have a Plan for the Meeting

  • Have a game  plan before you meet with a legislator or their staff. 

  • If you are lobbying with a group of people, have a group leader who will lead the meeting.

  • Decide in advance who will speak on which topics.

  • During the meeting, introduce everyone, and let the legislator know if you are from their district. Having a constituent speak to how an issue affected them can be very powerful for legislators.

  • Don’t allow yourself to be diverted from the purpose of the meeting by tangents and questions-redirect to your purpose.

Listen

  • At a legislative visit you are there to make your ask, and to learn about the legislator’s thoughts about your bill or issue.

  • Don’t do all the talking -- listen to what the legislator has to say. You can often learn valuable information about the status of a bill. 

  • Even when you don’t see eye-to-eye, NEVER ARGUE; you want to preserve your relationship for future visits. 

  • Ask questions that may help you better understand, or spark thought but do not be combative.

Have a Solution

  • Is the purpose of your meeting to make the legislator AWARE of a problem?

  • If yes, your position will be significantly stronger if you ALSO can propose a solution. 

  • Is it to get your legislator to change something about the bill?

  • You could draft proposed amendments to a law or proposed legislation, or draft a new law or a resolution to suggest  legislator consider introducing if they like.

Follow the RULES…. And say thank you!!

  • KNOW THE LOBBYING RULES IN YOUR STATE. Every state has some form of lobbying disclosure and registration requirements. 

  • Make sure you register and report your lobbying activities if you meet the threshold that triggers these requirements if you are with an organization or an individual.

  • And of course … say THANK YOU

  • Thank your legislator for their time and ear after your meeting. 

  • A handwritten card  will especially go a long way towards a good impression, but a follow-up e-mail or phone call is also a very welcome and meaningful way to maintain a good relationship and impression with your legislator.

Don't Ignore the Other side of the aisle 

Don't forget to Make an Appointment. Appointments are NECESSARY. This is especially critical if you want to meet on a day the legislature is in session. 

Don't assume that the legislator is open to changing his or her opinion until they tell you otherwise. Even if a legislator is opposed to some of your agenda, you may find you have some areas of common ground– give them a chance to meet you there.

DON'T Limit Your Lobbying to Your Elected Representative Don’t ONLY cultivate relationships with representatives in your district or direct service arena,  Make sure to develop relationships with representatives who sit on the committees that consider bills in your issue area.

  • For example, if your organization provides health services, it's a good idea to have relationships with representatives on the health committee, as well as any committees that address insurance laws and health care financing.

  • If your organization is lobbying in support or opposition of a bill that will be voted on by the entire legislature, you may consider leaving memos of support or opposition with all the legislative body.

Don’t… Underestimate the staff. The legislative staff is the beating heart of the Statehouse. They know everything, everyone, and probably MORE about the bills than anyone else. 

  • They handle the schedules and correspondence, including testimony. BE NICE, BE RESPECTFUL, and ALWAYS remember that their time is JUST as valuable as the legislators!

  • If you meet with staff, ask them where the legislator stands on the issue and what concerns the legislator may have on it.

DON’T Forget Your "Ask." 

  • Make what you want clear to the legislator.

  • Do you want the legislator to support a bill?   If yes, ask for their support clearly and simply. 

  • You can also ask a legislator to consider sponsoring or co-sponsoring  a piece of legislation, to talk to his or her colleagues about supporting the bill, or for help in getting it on a committee or floor agenda. 

  • Even if your bill is not supported by the legislator, you can ask that they allow it to go through a committee, or have it brought to the floor for a vote, depending on their role in the legislature.

Don’t… Make Up Answers…

  • If you are asked a question you can’t answer, say you will follow up with the information, or offer to connect the legislator with an expert who can provide it.. Either offer leaves a great opening for a follow-up visit.

PRO TIP: DON’T… Forget the Snacks.

Lobbying often involves a lot of walking and/or waiting. 

 

Make sure you are prepared. If you are making a day of it, carry a big bag with snacks, water, phone charger, a sweater or wrap, and good shoes.

And FINALLY… Don't… For forget the “Thanks & Spanks”

Lobbying for your cause often requires more than just one visit- keep the long game in mind.

“thanks… and spanks.”

 

When a legislator makes a vote or action you support, thank them.

If the vote is an important one for your issue, sending out an alert urging others to thank their legislator can help keep it moving through the legislature.

 

"Spanks" is letting legislators know when you are disappointed in their vote —often through an action alert urging supporters to contact a legislator to express disappointment in a vote.

It's a way to alert your supporters and the legislator’s constituents of a legislator’s position WITHOUT attacking them.