If you have ever considered contacting your state legislator about an issue that is important to you, whether it is related to homeschooling or some other topic, you may have wondered whether your voice really matters and what is the most effective way of making your views heard. Legislators are busy people, and getting their attention can be challenging. VaHomeschoolers has some tips on how best to make your voice heard, thanks to an insider briefing with Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville), shared in a strategy session with the homeschooling community after this week’s subcommittee hearing on homeschool sports access bill HB 2395. (See our Legislative Update for more details on the hearing itself.)
The ideas and suggestions below are tailored for the sports access issue, but they could work for any topic of concern to you, as long as your legislator is one of those who will be voting on a bill related to your issue. Once the 2012 General Assembly is in session, you will be able to discover what committees your legislators are serving on and which bills those committees will be considering. Learn more about contacting your legislator and following a bill with the Virginia General Assembly’s online Citizen’s Guide.
Contact your legislators and ask their position on HB2395. Tell them why it is important to you and offer to provide them with further information on the bill if that are not very familiar with the issue. (If you need help drawing up talking points, please email GovtAffairs@VaHomeschoolers.org and we will be happy to assist you.)
Timing matters. You will get the biggest “bang for your buck” in making contact with your legislator if you do it NOW, before the 2012 legislative session begins in January and his or her schedule becomes much, much busier. We’re all busy in this holiday season, but our legislators will be even busier in January.
If possible, make a personal visit with your legislator before the 2012 legislative session begins in January. Make an appointment and stop by his or her district office, or invite your legislator to meet with your homeschool group to make a presentation on how the legislative process works. Your kids could learn a great civics lesson, and nothing makes an impression on a legislator like a group of kids who care about an issue.
If a personal visit is not possible, send a handwritten letter in the mail. When you take the time to write by hand, your senator or delegate knows the issue is very important to you, and will spend more time in reading your views and responding. Consider having your child write a letter as well; it’s a learning opportunity that covers composition and civics rolled into one!
Other avenues of communication: In order of effectiveness, the next-best ways to contact your legislator to express your views on an issue are a phone call to his or her office; an email that you write yourself; and, least effective, a form email that you fill out with your name or a petition that you sign.
Some legislators make more effective points of contact than others. If your legislator is part of the committee that is voting on a particular bill, then contact from you will be even more effective while that bill is still in committee. Newly-elected, “freshman” legislators, who have not yet taken office for their first legislative session, are especially “impressionable” and your meeting or letter will be likely to stay in his or her memory for a long time.
Encourage others to contact their legislators. Legislators only care about the opinions of their constituents, so try to find families who live in the districts of key legislators, and encourage them to advocate about the issue with a meeting, letter or phone call.
Speak to the local high school coach, principal and athletic director at your public school. If the local coach is supportive of homeschool student participation, their opinion could make a big impression on legislators. Encourage them to write a letter expressing why they think homeschool sports access is a good idea, and give them the information they need to mail the letter to their legislator.
Contact VaHomeschoolers with any news you may have regarding the issue, people you may have found in support or specific legislators who appear to be on the fence. Let us know if you contact your legislator, so we can keep track of who has already heard about this issue and gauge their level of support. If you host a homeschool civics event with your legislator, take a photo and share it with us via email or Facebook. If your child writes a letter to your legislator and receives a note in response, let us know. Sharing this information will encourage other homeschooling families in their advocacy efforts.