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HEP GreenToo often, citizens underestimate their power as constituents of their elected officials. However, legislators are elected to represent the interests of their constituents. It does make a difference when citizens let their legislators know how they feel about important issues.

Legislators pay close attention to requests made by their constituents, especially when there is a large amount of support from their district regarding a certain issue. If enough constituents come together and contact their legislator concering a certain issue, the legislators are more likely to adope their position.

Your input can help officials learn more about an issue and understand how proposed legislation will impact constituents. And it is your right to communicate early and often on matters that are important to you. All communication is important because it shows the elected official that constituents care about the issue.

Whatever method you choose to communicate with your legislator, it is important to begin by building a relationship. Get to know your legislator (see "Developing Relationships). Also, make sure you understand the legislative process. You will be able to express your ideas more effectively, even if you have the most basic understanding of the process.

Communicating with your legislators is not hard - it just takes a little know-how and practice. On this page, we provide you with the knowledge and tools that you need.

If you haven't joined the UAB Legislative Network, join today and receive up-to-date information and calls to action regarding legislative issues that are important to higher education. Contact the Office of Alumni Affairs at 205.934.3555 for more information. For more information about the Higher Education Partnership, visit http://www.higheredpartners.org/.

Join the Blazer Legislative Network HERE!


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How to be Politically Active as an Individual

YOU have the Power! Robert Kennedy once said, "It takes one man to make a difference, and every man should try." How can you make a difference? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Personal Stregths: Make an evaluation of your personal strengths. Are they writing, speaking, debatting, arguing, meditating, or teaching? Then, base your strategy on what you are best at.
  • Persistence & Dedication: Don't be easily discouraged if you don't succeed immediatley. The process of getting your point across to a legislator takes time. Keep in mind, he/she is hearing different sides of the same issue. The important thing is to know your facts and have fait in your efforts. Keep pushing and you will make a difference. Persistence is what proves your dedication.
  • Correspond with Your Legislators: Writing letters to members of the Legislature does make a difference. They do pay attention to letters. For more information on writing letters, see the section "Communicating Through Letters."
  • Letters to the Editor and Opinion-Editorial Articles (Op-Eds): These are two most highly read sections of newspapers and magazines and are the easiest way to voice your opinion to policymakers and the public. For more information on letters to the editor, see the section on "Mass Communication Advocacy."
  • Meet with Your Legislator: Elected officials and their staff often meet with constituents to get their views on issues. You can meet with your legislator as an individual or as a member of a group. Because the legislator has to face many different issues, he/she seeks guidance from experts like yourself on individual issues.
  • Email: This will not replace the resonance of a personally signed letter, but when the situation is timely, take advantage of the speediness and convenience of email. It's a good idea to mail a hardcopy of your email, too.
  • Social Media: Get involved in the online conversations about higher education. Follow or friend your legislator on social media and engage with the content he or she posts. Most legislators manage their own social media pages, while some have staff who manage them. Either way, they are typically used as a tool for legislators to gauge their constituents' views on issues. You can use this to your advantage. To learn more about advocating on social media, view our section on "Social Media Advocacy."

Developing Relationships

Developing relationships is and important aspect in successful advocacy; however, it doesn't happen overnight. Building a relationship requires time and nurturing. Each time you speak with your legislator should stregthen the relationship. Becoming a source for your legislators and their staff, particularly on high education, should be your goal. There are many simple and enjoyable ways you can get to know an elected official. Here are a few suggestions.

  • available on their internet homepages. Knowing this information will help you fill potential gaps in conversation.
  • Arrange to meet with your legislator(s) in a relaxed atmosphere such as their district office or a local restaurant. Invite a few of your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to join you. A specific issue isn't necessary. General conversation is a great way for you and your legislator to get to know each other and estblish a positive, lasting relationship. In addition to having an opportunity to express your views, it is a great opportunity to hear the views of YOUR elected official. This is especially useful in the off-season, when they are out of session and have more free time.
  • Invite a legislator to address your faculty/staff meeting, student body, or any civic club in which you might be involved. They will enjoy the exposure and it will let them hear from you and their constituents.
  • Encourage your legislator to contact the university lobbyists or the Higher Education Partnership on higher education issues. He/she may not know they are a valuable resource on higher education issues.
  • Use the legislator as a resource regarding state issues and politics. Ask questions to determine what they think about other issues. This is especially important during election years.
  • Get involved in their campaign. A legislator never forgets who helped him/her win an election. Getting involved can take as little or as much time as you desire. You can spend one afternoon stuffing envelopes or you can serve on their sterring committee. The point is to get involved with candidates you support. You should also support your candidate financially, if you can.

Do's and Don'ts of Effective Advocacy

Do...

  • Schedule ahead. If you are making a personal visit it is important to always set up an appointment. Your legislator's time is valuable, to you and many others.
  • Be organized in your presentation. Always organize your presentation whether you are writing, making a phone call, or making a personal visit. Illustrate your point with a hometown or personal example
  • Be brief. A personal visit should be no more than 15 minutes.
  • Always be friendly. State your views in a civil manner. If your Senator or Representative disagrees with you, listen politely to his/her viewpoint and the opposing position. A friendly attitude will open the door for the two of you to work together on antoher issue in the future.
  • Be sincere. Tell your story from the heart and don't be intimidated. Remember that the elected officials work for you. You are a taxpayer, a voter, and/or a businessperson in the legislator's district.
  • Leave a summary of your presentation. You should always leave brief, easy-to-understand highlights of your key points for them to refer back to later.
  • Say "thank you." If you meet with the legislator in person, send a follow-up thank you message. You may reiterate key points which you discussed during the meeting. You may also do this via email, thank you card, or letter.

Don't...

  • Be generic or generalize. Your legislator's time is precious. He/she should walk away feeling certain about how you or your organization feels about an issue. Being too generic can decrease the impact of your message.
  • Argue. Under no circumstances should you come across as argumentative. In the case of legislative advocacy, you typically "catch more flies" with honey. If you disagree with your legislator's statements or positions, do so respectfully.

Mass Communication Advocacy

One effective tool of grassroots advocacy is appealing to your legislator's constituents through mass communication. Typically, this type of advocacy is done through writing letters to the editor, op/eds, and guest columns. Below are tips for successful mass communication advocacy.

Letters to the Editor:

  • Know the policies of the newspaper. Policies vary from newspaper to newspaper.
  • Target several newspapers, if possible, in order to get to as many readers as possible.
  • Stick to one subject and keep it no more than 3 or 4 paragraphs. Typically, newspapers ask for letters to the editor to be less than 300 words. That is a good rule of thumb to operate by.
  • Before you write, make sure you are knowledgeable of the issue and your facts are correct.
  • Keep your angle simple and to the point. Make sure your target audience knows the position you are taking on the issue and why you feel they need to know the facts.
  • Be persistent. If the first one is not published, try again.

Guest Columns:

  • These opportunities are typically offered to an individual who has expertise on an issue or who holds some type of position of influence that makes his/her opinion of worth to the public.
  • Student leaders can often get guest columns published in the student newspaper and even the local community newspaper.
  • If you are interested in writing a guest column on an issue, it is best to start with a newspaper that you already have a relationship to ask them about writing a guest column.
  • You should develop a pitch for your story and your unique perspective and/or expertise on the subject.
  • Columns are typically longer than letters to the editor, so you should be prepared to write a little more - usually 300-500 words.
  • Know the deadline policy. It is always best to know the deadline policies so you get your piece in on time.
  • Be relevant. The most effective guest columns are published to provide an opinion on some prominent issue that readers see somewhere else in the news.

Letters to the Editor and Guest Columns are easy ways to present your perspective on an issue in public. The goal is to craft your message in a way that is useful to readers. Typically, those that read the newspaper are most likely to vote. Therefore, legislators will read the paper to get a feel for the pulse of his/her own voters on particular issues.

Communicating Through Letters

Writing letters to your elected officials is an effective way of communication. The following are helpful guidelines for a successful letter:

  • Personalize the letter: Don't send form letters or postcards. These are too generic. In fact, computer-generated mass mail has become so common it is difficult for leaders to know if the letter is actually coming from an individual. Handwriting a letter (neatly) or typing your letter on business/personal letterhead may be the only way the recipient knows the letter is coming from an individual. State your position in your own words. Personal stories or examples will make the issue more real to the legislator.
  • Identify yourself: Include your name and address. If applicable, also include how the issue in question impacts you.
  • Be specific: Let them know if you want him/her to support or oppose a particular bill. State your position early in the letter using the specific bill number. If you do not know the bill number, your campus's governmental affairs department should be able to help you with that information.
  • Be structured: The best way to ensure they take away the key message is to follow this rule: First, tell them what you're going to say. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them. In this case, strategic repetition of key points ensures the message gets across.
  • Be informed: Only use facts that can be verified. If you are knowledgeable about an issue and the legislative process, your opinion will carry more weight.
  • Be brief: Whenver possible, condense your arguments down to one page or less. A longer letter is less likelyk to be completely read.
  • Don't demand: Do not make accusations. Do not be condescending. Do not be argumentative. Anything read afterwards will be read defensively and most likely tossed. ASK for a legislator's vote.
  • Request a reply: Let the legislator know that you are interested in his/her position on the issue; ask for a response to your letter. Include your address, phone, and/or fax number in case they need further information.
  • Review and revise: As with any communication document, you should always look it over more than once to catch an spelling, grammatical, or informational mistakes. It is always best to have someone else look over it as well.
  • Follow through: Send a thank you letter when a legislator responds or votes the way you requested. Legislators seldom receive such correspondence commending/thanking them for their vote. Letters such as these WILL be remembered and appreciated.

See "Sample Letter" for an example.

Source: A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaighs and The Medical Association of Georgia

Sample Letter

Sample Letter

Speaking the Legislative Language

The following are helpful items to know when communicating with government officials about higher education:

The Meeting Schedule

During a regular legislative session, Tuesday and Thursday are reserved for legislative days while committees meet on Wednesday. Committees may also meet on legislative days before or after the adjournment of the body.

The Special Order Calendar

Each body has a Rules Committee which meets and decides which bills will be considered that day. This list of bills is called the "Special Order Calendar." The Speaker and the Lt. Governor have a great deal of influence on what bills will be placed on the Special Order Calender. The Special Order Calender must be adopted by the body in order to consider the bills on the calendar. If a Special Order Calendar is not proposed or adopted, the legislative body works off of the Regular Order Calendar.

Committee Meetings

In the House, committee meetings must be posted prior to the meeting.

Public Hearings

A public hearing on a bill can be requested in writing prior to the committee meeting. This is where members of the public are invited to speak on a particular bill or issue.

Filibusters

The Senate is a deliberative body that sometimes engages in lengthy filibusters. A filibuster occuers when several Senators conspire to kill a piece of legislation by talking it to death. A Senator may speak for one hour on any motion before the Senate. The House rarely engages in filibusters. House members are limited to taking ten minutes on any question.

Cloture

Each chamber can shut off debate by invoking cloture. In the House, a member can move the "previous question" in order to shut off debate. This motion requires a three-fifths majority of the members present and voting. In the Senate a cloture petetion must be signed by 21 or more Senators to set a "time certain" for a vote. The cloture petetion must also be voted on and this motion requires 18 votes in favor of limiting debate to be successful.

How to Read a Bill

Each bill is prepared by the Legislative Reference Service on 8-1/2 X 11 paper and can only pertain to one subject. All bills have the following sections:

  1. LRS Number: This string of characters defines what year and session the bill was introduced (LRS96-2229R1); what day the bill was completed (2/397); and the initials of the lawyer and assistant who typed the legislation (RMK/pg)
  2. Designation: This section tells the chamber and bill number (H.236); who sponsored the bill (By Burke); when it was introduced (R1 2/4/91); and what committee it was referred to (RFD Ways and Means)
  3. Synopsis: This section describes what the bill is about. In the House, if funding is involved in the bill, a statement of the source of funding must be included in the synopsis. This section does not become part of the final act.
  4. Title: The formal title always begins with the words "A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT." Following the formal title, a bill should contain the subject of the bill, citing the sections of the statutes affected.
  5. Enacting Clause: An enacting clause follows the subject title and is always in the following form: BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA.
  6. Body: This portion of the bill is divided into numbered sections. Usually, a bill contains several sections that include a short title, a preamble, and definitions. Language that is to be deleted is struck through and language that is to be added is underlined. If all the language in the bill is new, it should not be underlined.
  7. Severability Clause: Sometimes a bill may be subject to constitutional change. If one part of the bill is deemed unconstitutional, a severability clause will allow the parts unaffected by the ruling to remain as law.
  8. Effective Date Clause: This section tells the reader when the bill will become effective.

Source: Medical Association of the State of Alabama

How a Bill Becomes a Law

Idea

An idea can be conceived by:
  1. Individual legislator.
  2. Study committee, ad hoc committee, interim committee.
  3. Citizen or citizens' group.
  4. Special interest group or lobby.

Drafting

A bill can be drafted by:
  1. Any of the before mentioned groups or individuals utilizing private legal resources.
  2. Legislative counsel on behalf of individual legislator, legislative committee, or subcommittee.
  3. Copied after legislation in other states.

Introduction

  1. The bill is filed with the Clerk of the House or Secretary of Senate by a legislator.
  2. The bill is then read for the first time by title only - this is called a First Reading.
  3. The bill is then assigned to the appropriate committee.

Committee Action

The standing committee studies the bill and:
  • Sets a date for a hearing.
  • Interested persons testify, for and against the bill.
  • Committee votes with several common outcomes:
  1. Vote to pass in its Original form.
  2. Vote to pass with Committee Amendment.
  3. Vote to pass as substituted by Committee.
  4. Vote to not pass and kill the bill.

Chamber Action

When a bill is passed out of committee:
  1. It goes back to the House or Senate Chamber and gets a Second Reading.
  2. The bill is then placed on the chamber's calendar. It may be taken out of order by action of the Rules Committee; otherwise, it is addressed as its number is reached.
  3. Legislators then take a vote.
  4. If the bill passes, it goes to the opposite chamber where the process repeats.

Opposite Chamber

If the bill receives a majority vote of the second chamber:
  1. It must go to the original chamber for enrollment*.
  2. Original chamber must approve any amendments made in the second chamber.
  3. If the original chamber does not concur on amendments, a conference committee is chosen from both chambers to report on the bill.
  4. If the conference committee report is accepted, the bill is considered passed.
*Enrollment is when the bill is rewritten to include all amendments.

Bill Becomes a Law

The bill, once it passes the House and Senate Chambers, is sent to the Governor's office. The enrolled bill becomes a law if:
  1. Governor signs the bill.
  2. Governor does not sign or veto the bill in 10 days.
  3. If Governor vetoes the bill, the Legislature may vote to override the veto with a majority vote (53 votes in the House and 18 votes in the Senate) and the bill becomes law without the Governor's approval.
  4. The signed bill is filed with the Secretary of State and receives an Act Number.
  5. It is then compiled in the Alabama Code of Law.

A Preview of the 2017 Legislative Year and a Look Back at 2016

The 2017 legislative calendar will be one filled with challenges. A primary issue will be finding long term solutions for General Fund programs: corrections, medicaid and others. Other challenges will evolve around retirement and health insurance issues for employees. Of particular interest to higher education will be the discussions of how to protect revenue sources in the Education Trust Fund.

This 2016 legislative year will be remembered as one of fiscal challenge for our state. The challenges included maintaining appropriate funding for public education through the Education Trust Fund and dealing with the General Fund budget short-fall.  

When the debates finally ended, Governor Bentley signed a $6.3 million Education Trust Fund into law for Fiscal Year 2017. While this was the largest Education Trust Fund Budget since 2008, Alabama still lags behind our southeastern peers in funding.  With the  ETF  funded largely by sales and income taxes, this budget is considered to be a very positive indicator, reflecting a strengthening economic performance that has not been seen since the 2008 recession, and marking a 3% funding increase to our state universities over last year. 

This year introduced the challenge of two special sessions, which called for legislators to address a shortfall in the General Fund Budget. In addressing the GFB shortfall, an agreement was reached to use short-term funds from the state’s BP Oil settlement to meet General Fund financial needs. There was discussion of using education dollars to meet General Fund needs.

In this current environment of budget stress and financial need, Higher Education must remain vigilant to the possibility of challenges like using the Education Trust Fund to meet General Fund needs. All supporters of the universities must be aware that merging the two budgets is not in the best interest of the institutions, particularly the faculty, staff and students. 

The Higher Education Partnership will continue to monitor these and related legislative activities and will advocate the position of protecting the Education Trust Fund.

Higher Education Day: February 23, 2017

Higher Ed updateHigher Education Day provides a perfect opportunity to remind Alabama’s political leaders of the need to improve the university appropriations. The Higher Education Day Rally is Montgomery’s largest annual advocacy rally. By having a large number of attendees, the universities let legislators know that we are not only concerned about the funding of higher education. We also remind them that the universities have a large and involved voting block. Join with students, faculty, staff and other supporters and take part in a huge rally supporting higher education.