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Relate the Message

Ways to Relate Your Message to Public Officials


When you receive an action alert via the Catholic Diocese of Columbus Office for Social Concerns Information and Response Network, you will be asked to contact public officials such as representatives, senators, the Governor, the President, or department and agency directors.

Typically, an action alert will contain the following: headline, background information, and action instructions. When you receive an action alert, please act on it. Also, be sure to encourage others in your parish to act. You may be part of an established parish phone tree network or associated with members of a committee or other parish group.

There are many ways you can communicate with a public official: letter, phone call, fax, e-mail, postcard, letter to the editor, and personal visit. Which method to use depends on several factors. Time, location, and knowledge about a particular issue influence the decision. 


Personal Visit
Legislative Aide
Personal Letter
Forms of Address on Letter and Envelope
Telephone Call
Fax
E-mail
Postcards, Petitions, and Form Letters
Letters to the Editor
How a Bill Becomes a Law in Ohio (Ohio General Assembly)
How a Bill Becomes a Law: At the Federal Level
How to Track Legislation

Personal Visit

The most effective means of relaying a message is the personal visit. Building a relationship with a public official is key. Serious work can be done when the public official and constituent have an opportunity to know each other's interests and concerns. There are many opportunities for you to visit a public official:

Tips for the Visit with a Public Official

When you schedule a visit, make sure you do your homework. If possible, research the public official's voting record and position on the issue.  Develop a packet of supporting statements, editorials, articles, and other forms of background information.  It is also best to go with a friend or group. If going with a group, assign each person to a specific talking point or issue before the meeting.  It is important arrive on time. Be patient if the legislator is not on time for your meeting. There may be a vote, caucus, or sudden change in a committee schedule which is beyond their control.  As you begin, warmly introduce yourself and others in your group.  Mention your parish and city.  Focus on only a few issues. Be brief and clear on your position.  Lead the discussion. It's important to be a good listener when the public official or aide is talking, but don't let them take control of the flow of the meeting. Intentionally or unintentionally, they may sidetrack the issue. Politely get them back on track. Personal time is precious.  Remember, you do not have to be an expert on the issue. It is very important to not try to make up an answer if you do not know the facts. Simply tell the public official that you will get back with the information.  Work on a commitment. Ask the classic question, "Can we count on you for your support?" If the official has not made a position yet, ask what needs to be done to gain support.  Leave a packet of written materials after your discussion. You do not want the official reading papers during your meeting.  Be positive as you leave. Don't forget to say thank you.  Follow up with a thank you note which restates your position.  Report to the Department of Social Concerns on what happened at the meeting. 

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Legislative Aide

You made an appointment with a legislator. After arriving at the office, the secretary says, "I'm sorry, but the senator was called to a meeting. The senator has arranged with the legislative aide to meet with you." Don't be discouraged. In fact, be pleased -- a legislator depends heavily on his/her legislative aide. In the absence of the legislator, the legislative aide is your next best step. 
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Personal Letter

Time permitting, the personal letter is a very effective response. The letter allows for you to articulate your position on an issue. At the grassroots level, a legible hand-written letter is most effective. Of course, the staff will welcome a typed letter. The letter is preferred over a postcard, petition, or form letter. You can always transfer the message of a form letter into a personal letter.

Tips on How to Write an Effective Letter

    1. Begin the letter by stating your purpose.
    2. Focus on a single issue. Try to use only one page.
    3. Include the bill number and name.
    4. Be brief and clear on your position.
    5. Be positive in your approach and explain why you are concerned about the issue. Never be rude or threatening. Give supportive facts.
    6. Ask for the public official's support on a particular action.
    7. Suggest alternatives.
    8. Make sure to request a response from the public official. A special request may be how he or she will vote on the issue.
    9. If necessary, enclose any additional information to support your position.
    10. Thank them for any past support.
    11. Include your name and mailing address.
    12. Follow up with a thank you letter if the public official acts in accordance with your position.

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Forms of Address on Letter and Envelope

State Representative
The Honorable (full name)
Ohio House of Representatives
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43266-0603
Dear Representative (last name):
Sincerely,

State Senator
The Honorable (full name)
Ohio Senate
Statehouse
Columbus, OH 43215-4276
Dear Senator (last name):
Sincerely,

Governor
The Honorable (full name)
Governor of Ohio
77. South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117
Dear Governor (last name):
Sincerely,

U.S. Representative
The Honorable (full name)
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative (last name):
Sincerely,

U.S. Senator
The Honorable (full name)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator (last name),
Sincerely,

President of the U.S.
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. or Madam President:
Very respectfully yours, 

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Telephone Call

When a vote or action is imminent, the phone call is the appropriate tool. Keep in mind, your message depends on with whom you are talking. Generally, you will reach the receptionist or administrative assistant. This person works very hard, but usually on activities not related to public policy decisions. If this is the only person you can reach:

Tips for Leaving a Phone Message

    1. Introduce yourself. Mention your name, city, and parish (if responding to the DSC IARN) and that you are a constituent.
    2. Be positive and focus on the issue.
    3. Mention the bill number and name.
    4. Be brief and clear on your position.
    5. Ask for a written response.
    6. Repeat your name. Give your mailing address.
    7. Thank the receptionist. The receptionist may place your call as a check in the appropriate column on the list of issues and then attend to other duties. Even though your call is a checkmark, it is still important.


Note: Ideally, it is always better to relay your message to the legislative aide or staff person assigned to the issue. In that way, you will make a more lasting impression and may learn where the public official stands on the issue. Ask the person who answers the phone if you can talk with the appropriate staff person or legislative aide. If he/she is not available, leave your name, number, and brief message along with a request for a return call. 

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Fax

The fax can be used in place of a mailed hand-written letter when a vote or action is imminent. 

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E-mail

The verdict is still out on e-mail. Some public officials value e-mail. Others may not be technologically sophisticated. You may want to test out the effectiveness of e-mail with your public official. In your e-mail be sure to ask for a response. Always include your name, e-mail and mailing address. 

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Postcards, Petitions, and Form Letters

These tools are the lowest forms of response. They lack a personal tone. Although they can show a unified response generated by a particular group, it is always better to use a personal letter. 

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Letters to the Editor

A printed letter to the editor in a local newspaper or a national magazine is an extremely effective method of relaying your message to not only public officials but to a large audience. In local newspapers, the editorial page is second only to the front page in terms of readership. In reality, many public officials obtain the "pulse" of a constituency by reading articles, editorials, op eds, and letters to the editor in the local newspaper.

Public officials representing a large constituency rely heavily on media pieces supplied by a clipping service. They collect information related to the public official or issues of concern to the public official from several media outlets and compile it into a single package. One can sit in on a session of the Ohio General Assembly and see a legislator sifting through a clipping packet during session. It is an effective advocacy tool.

Tips for Writing a Letter to the Editor

    1. Before writing a "Letter to the Editor", look in the periodical for guidelines and submission information.
    2. Address the letter To the Editor:
    3. The letter should be brief and clear. It should not be more than one page typed. Long letters tend not to appear.
    4. State the issue of concern and stakeholders involved if necessary.
    5. If some type of action is needed or another solution or approach to the problem, explain it.
    6. Make sure your information is accurate.
    7. Be polite and constructive in your approach. Never falsely accuse.
    8. End the letter with Sincerely, followed by your signature, printed name, mailing address, and phone number.

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How a Bill Becomes a Law in Ohio

(Ohio General Assembly)

How a Bill Becomes a Law: At the Federal Level

Introduction of Bills

A bill can be introduced in the House of Representatives or the Senate by a member of the respective house. The bill is assigned a number such as House bill number 1 (H.R. 1) or Senate bill number 1 (S. 1).

Referred to Committee

After the bill is introduced, it then goes to a standing committee. Then, the bill can either be referred to a subcommittee for study or be considered by the full committee.

Referred to Subcommittee

Typically, the committee refers the bill to a subcommittee for study and hearings. At the hearings proponents, opponents, and other interested parties can give testimony in person or by written statement on their particular views. Public input is crucial at this step of the legislative process since the subcommittee has the power to amend the bill. The subcommittee may then report the bill to the committee or vote not to report the bill in which case the bill would die.

Committee Action

After the committee receives the subcommittee's report, the committee can conduct more hearings or vote on the subcommittee's recommendations.

Floor Action

If the committee votes to report the bill, it goes to the chamber to be placed on the calendar for floor debate.

Debate

At this point members will debate the merits of the bill. Members may also introduce amendments to the bill. Members will then have the opportunity to debate on the amendments and vote to pass or defeat them.

Vote

After the debate, members vote to pass or defeat the bill. If the majority of members vote to pass the bill, it then goes to the other chamber (House or Senate) for consideration following the same route.

Conference Committee Action

If the other chamber approves the bill it goes to the President. If the chamber slightly amends the bill, it goes to the original chamber. If significant amendments are made it goes to a Conference Committee made up of members of both houses to work out the differences. The Conference Committee then sends its version to each chamber for final approval. If the Conference Committee cannot work out the differences, the bill dies in committee.

The President

After the compromised bill worked out by the Conference Committee has been approved by both houses, it is then sent to the President. The President can sign the bill into law or veto the legislation. Congress may override a presidential veto by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses for the bill to become law. 

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How to Track Legislation

There are two main avenues for the lay person to keep track of legislation. You can simply make a phone call to the legislative aide or staff person assigned to the bill or to a staff person in the committee in which the bill is being considered. There are also phone numbers at the state (800-282-0253) and federal (202-225-1772) levels for legislative information.

You can also go on the internet. You can obtain almost any amount of information you want at the state (www.legislature.state.oh.us/laws.cfm) and federal (thomas.loc.gov) levels including bill status, bill text and changes, bill analysis, committee and session schedules, and directories. The legislative websites are improving. However, they are not always updated to the minute. Some bills move very slowly and others move very quickly. For fast moving bills, make the appropriate phone call for information.

To obtain a Legislative Directory, please contact the diocesan Office for Social Concerns at (614) 241-2540. 

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