LTE: four things to help you be an informed advocate

Know your legislator:

Those who have higher positions or who sit on committees that get the first vote on a bill is appealing but misleading. Your legislators are elected to represent YOU. Others are elected to represent different parts of the state, and your opinion is not going to influence their vote. If you don’t know your legislator you can use www.whois.virginia.gov to find your state and federal legislators.

Find bills:

For more high profile bills, legislative aides will know bills by their nicknames (aka “the bathroom bill” from this session), but generally when you’re calling or emailing your legislator, you should know the bill numbers you’re interested in. Most news articles don’t include bill numbers, so you may have to find them for yourself. These are available on LIS, and you can look them up by patron, bill number, or committee assignment. You can also search for bills using Richmond Sunlight, where you can search for bills on different topics.

Track bills:

Once you’ve found a bill, the next step is to track its progress through the General Assembly. Virginia’s House of Delegates tracks all bills online through Legislative Information Systems (lis.virginia.gov). The site can be confusing at first, but it’s worth the time and energy to learn how if you want to influence legislation effectively. Each bill page contains a summary of the bill and a history of the bill. The history will tell you which subcommittee and committee will be reading the bill next. The website also lists members on each committee. If your legislator is on the committee, congratulations! Call them up and tell them your thoughts. If not, you will have to continue tracking the bill until it reaches the house floor, where your legislator will get the chance to vote for or against it.

Contact your legislator:

As wonderful as letter writing campaigns are, contacting your legislator via email or phone is a faster, easier, and more reliable method. Letters take time to mail, and it’s possible that the bill you’re supporting or opposing will pass or fail before your letter can make it to the General Assembly.

Katie Sallee

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