The Family Cafe and The DD Council
How to Advocate
The legislative process in plain English
Advocating in the legislature can feel like going to court without a lawyer. The 60 day legislative session can be fast and furious, interspersed with so many deadlines and rules that it can be intimidating. These rules can often be used as “excuses” as to why a good thing can’t happen, or why certain requests can’t be entertained. Thousands of bills are filed and only a relatively few will pass. Here are some important things to remember:
Bills are drafted and then filed by Representatives or Senators. They will be assigned to Committees by the Speaker’s Office (in the case of the House of Representatives) or the Senate President (in the case of the Florida Senate).
Once bills are “referred” to Committee they must have a hearing in those committees. Both bodies will generally refer a bill to at least three or four committees.
Most bills will die because they do not get through all their committee references. Bills will often pass all of their committee stops in one body but not both. This bill is dead.
Once bills complete all committee stops they are placed on the House or Senate Calendar.
There are two stops for floor hearings in the House and Senate. First is the “Special Order” Calendar where bills are brought up, amended if necessary, and questions are asked. After the sponsor has explained the bill and all questions are asked and answered a bill is “rolled over” to “third reading.”
The following day a “third reading” calendar will be posted. This is where bills are debated and ultimately voted on. Once a bill is voted out of the Senate it is sent to the House and is placed in “messages.”
An identical bill will have to pass both the House and Senate for final passage to the Governor. This means that even if they are identical (which they must eventually be) the Senate will take up the House Bill in lieu of the Senate bill or vice versa.
One of the most common ways bills die is that the House and Senate cannot agree on language in a bill. Bills often contain various provisions and any different language in any part of the bill will render it “out of order.”
Overriding truths and principles for successful advocacy
- There is no more effective advocate than a well-informed constituent. None. Personalize your communication.
- Tell your story. Putting a face or personal anecdote on an issue will make all the difference in the world.
- A personal visit is the most effective means of communicating with a legislator. Don’t assume that this must take place in Tallahassee. Legislators have office hours in their district offices too.
- Legislative Aides are a critical cog in the wheel. They decide what a legislator sees and when. Get to know them and always be nice, even if you know your legislator.
- It’s often a question of timing. On any given day a legislator will face dozens of important issues. With limited time before committee hearings, a good aide will make sure the boss sees the most important items.
- People with the identical amount of integrity can come to opposite positions on an issue. Never forget that.
- Don’t ever take a “no” personally. The experience of interacting with a legislator or aide will prove helpful in future contacts, even if your legislator can’t help on a particular occasion.
- Make an appointment in advance. Usually ask for 30 minutes, but don’t be offended if you only get 15.
- Timing is everything. Visits prior to a vote by the committee in which your bill will be heard are particularly effective. Visits prior to a vote by either the full Senate or House are also helpful.
- Session is a moving target. Issues come fast and furious and if you are looking at an “alert” or a newspaper story from a week ago, it is highly likely that the issue has changed or evolved completely.
- Tell the truth even if it weakens your argument.
- Legislators are like Emergency Room doctors. They have heard it all.
- Organize your visit if you are seeing a legislator with multiple issues. Time will be limited. Decide in advance of the visit who will say what, and don’t repeat the same points.
- Whatever you do, do not burn bridges. Today’s supporter may be next week’s opponent, and vice versa.
- Develop a relationship. The information you know about these issues is legitimately helpful to legislators. Go back and visit and say thank you. Make it a point to schedule a visit to say thank you if appropriate.
Make yourself familiar with the following websites:
These are the respective websites for the Florida Senate and the Florida House and can help you monitor bills and look up committee agenda’s during session.
Sayfiereview.com http://www.sayfiereview.com/ is an excellent source of news and blogs that monitors the legislative session. It is what most legislators and lobbyists will review first thing in the morning!