In order to enact laws that will properly address a given issue, our elected officials need your input. Ongoing and consistent communication will help Congress to understand how legislation affects constituents.
If you are concerned about the laws and regulations that will affect your business, it is both your right and responsibility to take part in the debate. You are better informed on these issues than most, if not all, of the people who will make the final decisions.
Getting involved can be easier than you may think. Traditionally, you would have sent a letter and hoped that it arrived on time, was read and was given consideration. Technology and security have made the letter less effective. It is still important to personalize your message, but e-mail, telephone and fax will likely have a greater impact.
No matter the method of delivery, your message is most effective when you are able to relate personal experiences. Delivering the modern equivalent of a form letter will not be persuasive.
Where Do I Find Contact Information?
Find contact information for your legislators by visiting their congressional Web sites. If you do not know your congressional representatives, visit the following sites and enter your zip code or state to find out.
The Capitol switchboard can direct you to House or Senate offices: 202-224-3121
How should I communicate?
Fax, e-mail, phone or personal visit — they all work!
Letters can be delivered to your legislators’ offices by e-mail or fax. Letters sent through the mail are significantly delayed by the screening process necessitated by security concerns. Written communications generally are most effective early in the legislative process.
If you fax a letter be sure to write it on your company letterhead or make sure you include your address and zip code so they know you are a constituent.
To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator (last name)
To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative (last name)
Electronic or E-mail Communication
Electronic communication has become the most common form of communication with Congress. It is not as effective as a well-placed phone call, but it is fast and efficient. Electronic communication, however, can be less than effective if done incorrectly.
Visit your legislators’ official Web sites and look for a “Contact” section. While it may be an e-mail address link, it is more commonly a form to complete. Don’t be dissuaded by the form. It is simply the most efficient way for congressional offices to hear constituents’ concerns.
When sending electronic communication, be sure to include your name, address and zip code so the staff can verify you are a constituent of the member of Congress.
Phone calls can be timely and effective. Unless you have a personal relationship with the legislator, expect to speak with a staff member. Don’t be put off by speaking with staff as they often wield significant influence with the legislator on specific subjects. If you plan to make a phone call, be as prepared as possible, and always follow-up with written communication.
As in business, personal meetings can be one of the most effective ways to communicate your message. Following are tips to help ensure a smooth personal visit.
Make an Appointment: The odds of dropping by a congressional office unannounced and meeting with your legislator are slim at best.If you are traveling to Washington and want to meet your legislator, contact your legislator’s appointment secretary/scheduler. Explain who you are and why you would like to meet. This will help ensure that the appropriate staff person attends the meeting (based on the topic you would like to discuss).
Contact the Green Truck Association: The GTA will be happy to brief you on matters of concern to Association members and current activities in Congress on such issues. In addition, the GTA can provide background material for your visit. Also, remember to let the GTA know how your visit goes and if there’s anything the Association can do to help you or the legislator.
Be Knowledgeable: Again, as with any business meeting, be as prepared as possible. Bring supporting materials that you can leave with staff and share examples of how the issue at hand would affect your business, industry and community.
Be Prepared to Wait: Make sure to arrive on time (or a little early to clear security) and be prepared to wait. It is common for legislators to have committee meetings that run beyond their allotted time or votes that need to be cast, so don’t be offended. Similarly, don’t be surprised if your meeting is interrupted. Be flexible and be prepared to continue your meeting with the staff — they will often be the ones making recommendations to the legislator.
Follow Up: It is common to be asked questions to which you may not know the answer. Offer to try and get an answer and follow-up with a thank you letter that includes any new information you have discovered, along with an outline of what was covered in the meeting.
Others Ways to Communicate
Your legislator may hold occasional town hall meetings. This can be a great opportunity to establish direct communications and begin to develop a personal relationship.
Your legislator may conduct online chats.
Many legislators are receptive to communication through their local offices. Get to know local staff via fax, phone or e-mail. This can be easier than and as valuable as contacting the Washington, DC staff.
Most legislators have monthly electronic newsletters that can be very informative and also let you know about opportunities to express your concerns. Visit your legislator’s Web site to see if you can subscribe online.
What should I say?
Make your message informative, personal, targeted and brief.
Don’t try to communicate with every legislator — most legislative offices screen e-mails from non-constituents. Communicate with your state’s senators and the member of congress that represents your home or work district.
Clearly identify the issue in which you are interested — not just by bill number but also subject matter (e.g., alternative fuel and vehicle technology funding). Also, keep your communication focused on one subject area.
In your own words, express why this subject is important to you — how it will affect your business or your community (which is also the legislator’s community).
Try to develop an ongoing relationship with your legislators — offer assistance on technical matters in which you have knowledge and experience.
The Legislative Process
In order to communicate most effectively with your legislators, it is helpful to understand the process by which they govern.
The legislative process is both simple and complex. At its simplest, bills are introduced, debated, voted upon and sent to the President. The complexity comes from the rules by which each step in the process occurs and, more importantly, the politics that propel or stall each step.
Following is a brief description of the main steps in the legislative process to help familiarize you with terms that are often used when discussing legislation.
Bill Introduction: Anyone can suggest and draft legislation, but it must be introduced by a member of Congress. Once introduced, it is given a number. In the House, the bill becomes H.R.___ and in the Senate, the bill is referred to as S.___.
Committee Referral: Once introduced and numbered, a bill is referred to the committee(s) with jurisdiction over its subject matter.
Committee Action: The newly introduced and referred bill is placed on the committee calendar. The committee may refer it to a subcommittee. The committee or subcommittee is tasked with debating the bill, and if no action is taken in committee, the bill dies.
Subcommittee Action: It is common for committees to refer a bill to a subcommittee for hearings and debate. Testimony may be provided at hearings by administration officials, other legislators and supporters, or opponents of the legislation. Testimony can be provided in person or in writing.
Mark Up: After the hearings are completed, the subcommittee will meet to “mark up” or amend the bill. Once the committee has completed the amending process, it will vote on whether or not to recommend the amended bill to the full committee. If the subcommittee does not take action or it votes not to report the legislation to the full committee, the bill dies.
Full Committee Action: After receiving the subcommittee’s report, the full committee can choose to conduct more hearings, further mark up the bill and vote to send it to the House or Senate floor for a vote, or it can choose to take no action, in which case, the bill dies in committee.
Floor Action: Once the committee reports a bill to the full chamber (either House or Senate), it is placed on the calendar and the majority party leadership determines when, and if, it will come up for debate and a vote.
Floor Vote: After debating and possibly amending the bill, the full House or Senate votes on passage.
Referral to Other Chamber: If the bill is passed by the House or Senate, it is then referred to the opposite chamber where it is referred to the appropriate committee(s) and the process begins again.
Conference Committee Action: If both the House and Senate have passed bills that are in different forms, they are referred to a conference committee composed of members from both the House and Senate. The conference committee attempts to negotiate one final version of the legislation. If it is unable to negotiate a final version of the bill, it dies. If they are successful in crafting one version, a conference committee report is prepared and sent back to each chamber for final approval.
Final Passage: Once the House and Senate have approved identical versions of the bill, it is sent to the President. If the President signs the legislation (or takes no action for 10 days while Congress is in session), it becomes law. If the President vetoes it or takes no action for 10 days after Congress has adjourned for the year, the bill dies.
Overriding a Veto: If the President has vetoed a bill, Congress may override the veto. In order to override a veto, two-thirds of both chambers of Congress must vote to override, and then the bill becomes law.