Communicating with State Legislators

State legislators are very busy during session. As a result, it is essential that you develop a brief, simple and concise message about each issue that matters most to you. Below you will find information about conducting face-to-face meetings and drafting letters and e-mails. 


Conducting Face-to-Face Meetings

Be prepared to meet with the state legislator or his or her staff for only five to ten minutes. Legislators and their staffers are meeting with advocacy groups throughout the day and can only devote a limited amount of time to each group.

Here are some tips for face-to-face meetings:

  • Know who you are talking to.
    • Hopefully you have built and maintained a relationship with the legislator by attending town hall meetings and other district events. If not, do some research. Find out if you and the legislator attended the same school or if they have a family member who is a dentist or dental hygienist. Perhaps in a prior legislative session the legislator filed a bill in support of dental education. Any of these could help you make a connection and open the door for the legislator to support your effort.
  • Know your issue.
    • Be prepared for your meeting. Research how a bill will positively or negatively impact the legislator’s district and/or constituents. Perhaps building a new dental school in the district will add a certain number of jobs to the community. Be specific and use local data when possible. Find out what the exact economic impact will be in that legislator’s district. Perhaps the impact is not economic but on the long-term health of the community. Provide those numbers. How many in the community will obtain care because of the new dental clinic or dental school? How many work hours or school hours are lost because of dental issues?
    •  Legislators want accurate information regarding how proposed policies will impact their constituency. They use this type of data during debates with members who may be in opposition. Make their jobs easy and arm your state legislators with the tools they need to support your issue.
  • Have a specific “ask”.
    • Advocates must have a specific request. What are you asking the state legislator to do? For example, do you want additional funding for your institution? If so, be specific about how much you are asking for. Perhaps you are asking the legislator to support a bill establishing a student loan repayment program. Have you researched programs in other states? Do you have copies of draft bill language you can offer?
  • Practice your presentation and never go off message
    • Do not let your face-to-face time lapse without discussing your issue(s). Stick to the message you have crafted and practiced.
  • Leave behind a packet of information and offer to serve as a resource.
    • Be sure to leave behind a packet of information with your contact information. The leave-behind packet should also include state or local data and brief,
      high-level talking points in support of your position. Legislative staff will refer back to the information weeks after your meeting. This also allows staff to contact you directly if they have questions about an issue related to dental education at a later time.
    • Make sure you offer to serve as a resource for the legislator and his or her staff. Most legislators are not dentists, dental hygienists or professors/educators. They need people in their district who can serve as subject matter experts.
  • Follow up.
    • It is the responsibility of the advocate to follow up with the legislator, generally within two weeks of the meeting. This ensures that your issue does not fall through the cracks. A follow-up phone call can be a useful tool to prompt the legislator to make a decision on the issue, if he or she has not done so. A follow-up phone call also re-introduces you, and you can offer again to serve as a resource in any upcoming discussions on the issue.


Drafting Letters and E-mails

Whether drafting a letter or an e-mail, the best correspondence is concise and well written. Here are some tips for written correspondence:

  • Establish standing.
    • Constituents are given priority by legislators—they want to know what issues are impacting their districts. Identify yourself as a constituent.
  • Share a personal story.
    • Family and personal stories can often have a significant impact on the legislator. Keep your story brief, but tying a personal story to pending legislation is powerful. The legislator may re-tell the story during a committee hearing or floor debate to garner support for the bill. 
  • Have a specific "ask".
    • Advocates must have a specific request. What are you asking the state legislator to do? For example, do you want additional funding for your institution? If so, be specific about how much you are asking for. Perhaps you are asking the legislator to support a bill establishing a student loan repayment program. Have you researched programs in other states? Do you have copies of draft bill language you can offer?
  • Provide local data.
    • Legislators want accurate information regarding how proposed policies will impact their constituency. They use this type of data during debates with members who may be in opposition. Make their jobs easy and arm your state legislators with the tools they need to support your issue.
  • Be repetitive.
    • Often, the more times a legislator hears about an issue or reads a letter from an advocacy group, the more apt he or she is to take action. It is critical that advocates communicate on a consistent basis with their legislators and keep them updated and informed about an issue during each phase of the legislative process.
  • Follow up.
    • It is the responsibility of the advocate to follow up with the legislator, generally within two weeks from the initial correspondence. This ensures that your issue does not fall through the cracks. A follow-up phone call can be a useful tool to prompt the legislator to make a decision on the issue, if he or she has not done so. A follow-up phone call also re-introduces you, and you can offer again to serve as a resource in any upcoming discussions on the issue.