Communicating with your legislators is important to educate them about ideas
and initiatives. You can express concerns about pending legislation, and
encourage support of appropriate pending bills. Overall goals include:
- Developing a lasting rapport with legislators
- Explaining who NYSDRA is and represents
- Beginning an ADR dialogue with legislators
- Educating representatives about pending ADR legislation
- Talking with legislators about your work in their communities
When you are meeting with a legislator on behalf of an organization, you need
to remember that his/her opinion of the organization will be influenced by how
you handle the meeting. Please note, if the legislator is not available, and you
meet instead with a staff person, do not be disappointed. Legislators do have
busy schedules, ones that can change at any time. Typically, staff people are
well-versed in subject matter and extremely influential in the decision-making
Before your legislative meeting:
- Find out who your legislator is. (Go to http://www.vote-smart.org whose
website can inform you of all of your elected officials). This website also
makes available each representative’s biography and other pertinent information,
such as what districts they represent, their political party and committee
- Be prepared to tell a little bit about yourself and what kinds of questions
may be asked.
- Ask yourself "Why am I meeting with my legislator(s)/what should my
end-result of my visit?”
- When going with another constituent, decide beforehand who is going to deal
with particular topics.
- A familiarity with the legislative process can be especially helpful
although you need not be an expert. (New York State’s legislative process is
roughly outlined at http://www.nysdra.org/articles/article_details.asp?ID=60).
- Visit legislative websites. You can also track pending legislation and
others areas of concern.
At your meeting:
- Be prepared to answer questions succinctly (think about what you would ask
if you were a legislator).
- Give the representative the legislative packet that has been provided to
- Be prepared to summarize key points: If it is a group visit, decide who will
start the discussion and put your agenda on the table. If there are various
topics to be addressed, assign one individual in your group to lead off each
segment of the discussion.
- You need to focus and stay with the reason for your visit.
- Decide what you would like to get out of the visit (e.g. a commitment to
support a bill, or simply to gather or to provide information).
- Tell a little bit about your experience and professional background, NYSDRA
and the dispute resolution field.
- Whenever possible, refer to activities/issues that occur in the legislator's
districts (as they relate to ADR/CDRCs/your experiences/NYSDRA etc.)
- Briefly tell them something about your experience, professional background,
interests and concerns and how they may contact you for assistance.
- Remember, legislators recognize and value your knowledge and insight.
- You may even invite them to programs and/or events that you or your
organization is sponsoring or a brief tour of your organization may be more
interesting and noteworthy than a meeting at their office.
- Lastly, be sure to leave a business card and tell how they may contact you
Responding to Representatives Questions and Comments:
- Be prepared, but don’t feel that you need to be an expert. If you don't
know the answer to a question, say so, and advise that you will get back to
him/her about it at a following date (e.g. next day, next week, etc.).
- Don’t be intimidated or feel uncertain about what it is you are doing. Say
what it is you have to say, but, as a good mediator, remember that listening is
- If you disagree with your legislator, express your opinion using your
mediator skills to present your interests and positions.
- If a legislator asks for your opinion on other subjects (sometimes they like
to do this), briefly describe them in the context of your familiarity and
experience with them. Be sure to point out that these are your personal opinions
and not necessarily those of the organization that you are representing.
- If a legislator definitely strays from the ADR topic, diplomatically bring
him/her back to it.
- Remember you are there to build a relationship.
After your meeting:
Write a letter thanking your
legislator for meeting with you. Include any additional information, answers to
questions, etc. that may have been discussed at your meeting.