It’s December, and the 85th Texas legislature will be starting up next month.  This promises to be a very interesting session for people who have kids with disabilities.  Between Lt. Governor Patrick backing educational spending accounts, the 2017 version of vouchers, the redesign of day habilitation programs for adults with disabilities, and new attempts to whittle away at the freedom to decide how many vaccines your child will receive.  Opportunities to voice your opinion will abound in the next six months.

Advocacy groups often encourage us to e-mail or write letters, the staffers who work in the offices for senators and representatives tell me that phone calls are still the most effective way to express your opinion—way more effective than letters or email.

“Call my legislator??  I can’t do that!  I don’t know what to say and it takes too long!  I don’t even know who they are”  you say.

Follow the simple steps outlined below, and you will soon be a master advocate.  The turbulent times call for all of us to develop and hone this valuable skill.

Did you know that a legislator will pay attention to a particular bill if only as few as TEN—that right 10– CONSTITUENTS  call in to voice an opinion?  Remember, you are a constituent when you live or own a business in the district that legislator represents.

So if you and nine of your neighbors call in to express a similar opinion about the same bill, suddenly your legislator’s staff will track and pay attention to that bill.   You have started a trend.

This also means that when you call a bunch of legislators who sit on a particular committee, they don’t have to listen to you because they don’t represent you—you aren’t a constituent.  Staffers have told me in the past that these kinds of campaigns are often ineffective and annoying.

There are some exceptions but not many.

Getting Ready

You only need two items: your legislator’s number and the name of the bill that you are calling about.  Follow these simple steps and you will be on your way to becoming a master advocate.

  1. For Texas, search “who represents me in Texas”.
  2. Type in your address, and hit return.
  3. You will get a list of the different legislators who represent you. The important ones are
    1. Your Texas senator
    2. Your Texas representative
    3. Your state school board member
    4. Your two US senators.   for Texas they are:  Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz
    5. Your US representative.
  4. Now create a contact for EACH of these using either
    1. the Austin office number, for the Texas legislators OR
    2. the DC office number, for the US legislators.
  5. Now if you are very eager, you can also include the leadership.
    1. Gov. Greg Abbott:  512-463-1782
    2. Lt. Gov Dan Patrick:  512-463-5342
    3. Speaker of the House:  Speaker Joe Straus:  512-463-1000

If you think you will forget the names, put a term you will remember under the “company” section of the contact.

Viola, you are ready to jump into action whenever the call goes out for people to express an opinion.

Next you need a source you trust to keep you informed about what is happening at the state and federal capitol.

It could be the alert list from the Disability Rights or ARC of Texas.  It could be an active Facebook or other parent support group that you follow where members post what is happening in the legislature.  Get on their list and be on the lookout for any calls to action.

Making the Call

Make sure you note the number of the bill you are calling about.  There is usually a letter followed by some numbers.  Examples are:  HR 1421; SB 2.  Sometimes the bill will have a name, like Avonte’s Law, but the aides will usually know it by the bill number.

Finally you are about to call your legislator.  A lot of people get nervous about this and don’t know what to say.  Relax.  You will be shocked at how simple it really is.

Key points to keep in mind.

The most effective conversation is the simplest and the shortest.

You will not be talking to the legislator.  They are simply too busy.  You will be talking to one of their staffers.  Staffers are usually 20-somethings who are looking to start a career in politics or public relations by working for a politician.  There are exceptions, but you usually tell the general age of the voice on the other end of the line.

These legislative staffers work massive hours.  In Austin, this goes triple.  Towards the end of the Texas legislative sessions, the staffers countdown to the end of the session by minutes rather than days or hours.  That’s how busy they are.

The quicker and more politely you get to the point, the more inclined they are inclined to listen to you.

Dial the number to the office.

A staffer will answer.

Ask to speak to either

  • the health aide (if the bill is about any kind of health care, insurance or Medicaid related issue) or
  • the education aide (if the bill has anything to do with the schools or vouchers, etc.)

If you are unsure, ask the person who answers the phone which aide is handling that bill and ask to speak to them.

When the appropriate aide gets on the line simply say,

“Hi.  I’m calling to support S 2614.”

OR

“Hi.  I’m calling to oppose HR 6.”

The aide may ask you your zip code if the caller ID doesn’t show a matching area code of the legislator’s district.  The aide will thank you.  You thank them because they work very hard for low pay during the session.

And you hang up.

That’s it.

It’s takes about three minutes as long as the office isn’t receiving a lot of calls.

You don’t have to go into some long story about a particular bill or how it will affect your family.  Of course if you are very passionate about something, you could tell a SHORT relevant story that illustrates why you support or oppose a particular bill.  But it’s not required.  Trust me—the aides don’t really have that much time to spare listening to long stories.

Congratulations!  You have now leveled up in your participation in our great democrat republic.  Let your voice be heard as you help to reshape your state and even the country!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;  indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

 

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