Session began last Monday, and there are hundreds of new bills that are being added to the thousands that didn’t get passed last year. It is a short session which means it will move fast. Many bills will go before the House and the Senate without the public being able to weigh in during hearings because those bills were heard last year. There are others that will get hearings, but because things move so fast in a short session, the public won’t have much time to act. The key in the short sessions is to notify your legislators the minute you hear about a bill that you do or don’t like.
You may wish to ask your legislator to support keeping car tabs at $30. There’s a bill for that – HB 2227. Or how about a ban on local income tax – SB 6462. There are many very good bills like those two. How about some bills you may not like – HB 2529, which bans initiatives and referendums in odd numbered years (the citizens have a constitutional right to put checks on our Legislature. This takes that right away). SB 6175 – sexual health education and affirmative consent (sexual ed in kindergarten – 12th grade to teach gender fluidity), SB 5412 – Low Carbon Fuel Standards which will increase gas prices, possibly more than 50 cents a gallon without adding one cent to improving congestion. I won’t even go into all the gun bills, because the NRA and Facebook both do a good job of getting the word out on those bills.
But when you find that bill number what is the best way to let your legislator know how you feel? What can make your letter more effective, and how do you keep your letter from being ignored. Below are some guidelines that will be helpful when writing letters to voice your opinion.
Write a letter –
1. If you don’t know your representatives’ names or contact information, click here – https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/ and enter your home address. The name of your senator and two representatives will pop up. Click on one name and it will take you to the rep’s information which includes a link you can click on to send an email. Just send to one – the others are cc’d on the letter.
2. Keep it short. I know you might be angry and frustrated, but I want you to do a little math here. A legislator gets several hundred emails a day. Let’s use a very small number of 200 (reality is often much higher). If you get 200 emails in a day and take 5 minutes to look at each one, it will take you 16 hours to read them all. But then you have to add in the time it takes to answer. Basically 200 emails takes one person all day to process. Keep your letter short and to the point, offering your view on the issue.
3. Be civil – even if you are passionate or angry. Your point is to get your view across to your legislator, and I can guarantee that if you use foul language or call your legislator names in your email, you are not likely to change anyone’s mind. My grandma’s saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” applies here.
4. Send only one letter. I think there may be an impression that sending several letters to express your view on a bill is a good idea. Most offices keep a spreadsheet to keep track of constituent emails on different issues – you won’t be added twice just because you wrote two letters (or four or ten). After the 4th or 5th letter, you may not even be heard anymore. That’s isn’t an effective way to utilize your time.
5. Write only to your own representatives (one senator and two representatives), and make sure your name and address are included. I ask you to remember the math from step two above. In today’s world of being able to forward messages and emails with links to make it easy to communicate, we often get letters with just a name. There is no way to tell if that is a constituent or not. Emails without any indication of where the writer is from are often ignored. There is a good reason for that. I remember one year, we had a bill that generated letters from people all over the U.S. We even got one from as far away as Dubai. A legislator is a representative of his or her constituents in the district where they live. Not California, Dubai, or even another part of the state. As citizens, we deserve representation in Olympia. As a constituent in Lewis County, I do not want my legislator to bow to the views of King County. My legislators’ job is to represent me and my values. If an office gets 500 emails in a day and 200 of those have no indication of where they are from, they will be the last to be considered and maybe even be deleted. When it is not humanly possible to process the volume, you have to pay attention to your constituents first, and the only way to know is if they identify their address in their email.
People ask me why I encourage people to write to their legislators, even when they know the legislator agrees with them. That’s a good question. Encouraging people to write, adding hundreds of emails to the office workload seems like a self-defeating idea. But there are three reasons. The main one is that everyone has friends in other counties and districts that they could influence to contact their legislator. My comment in an email or on Facebook may reach someone in another district that has a Democratic legislator, so by posting my suggestion that everyone write, I’ve influenced voters that are possibly outside my district. The second reason is informational. People who write in want to be assured that the legislator is still on their side, and constituent letters help legislators know what is foremost in their constituents’ minds. There is a third reason. If an office gets hundreds or even thousands of emails that agree with the legislators’ view, he or she can use them as an example in debate.
One last note from someone who has had to process thousands of emails. Bear in mind that when an office gets hundreds of emails every day, they have to be prioritized. Unknown people go to the bottom of the list. People from other districts or states are at the bottom, as well – these are often easy to spot because they write to every single legislator and usually don’t provide their address. People who use foul language are not a priority, and someone who writes every day about the same thing will eventually be put at the bottom of the priority list – not out of lack of care for the constituent, but just because of the sheer volume of letters. If you have written about a particular subject and you know your legislator is on the same side as you, you really don’t have to write again. For example, if you know your legislator is a Second Amendment supporter, you don’t have to write about every single firearms bill (and there are a lot of them!). You also need to understand that you will get what some people call a form letter – one that responds to the issue but may not respond to the exact wording you use. Again, go back to the math equation above, but change the amount of time it would take to form a unique answer to an email and write a response. You are now looking at 15 minutes per email at a minimum – that triples the time it takes to respond. You are now looking 50 hours to respond to the 200 emails. And 200 per day is a low estimate. The legislator has to write one response to each issue and that one response has to be the answer for every email on that issue.
Use your resources effectively. We can make a difference, but after you have contacted your legislator, use your remaining time to get the word out and inform the people in your sphere of influence.