Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 4: District, Sweet District

Today is the 4th day of the 82nd Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate have adjourned until next Tuesday. Most of the Representatives and Senators will be back in their district offices today, checking in with their staffs and dealing with local business. This will be the legislature's pattern for about the first half of session: taking Fridays off.

Members of the legislature maintain two offices, one at the capitol and one in their district. Since almost all of the members will be in their district offices on Fridays for the next couple of months Fridays are a great day to call the district office and ask the people elected to represent you to support legislation that will improve your life.

To find the phone number for your representative and senator's district offices go HERE. Put in your address and press enter, then scroll down the page until you see the listing for state senator and state representative and find the phone numbers for their district office. You're going to want to call them every week anyway, so you might as well put the number into your phone's address book now.

I'll wait while you're entering the numbers into your phone...

... done? Good!

Now pick the legislation you want them to support. There are tabs at the top of this page that link to bills on different topics if you want to pick out a bill yourself, but I recommend the big anti-bullying bills: HB 224 and SB 245. HB stands for 'House Bill' and SB stands for 'Senate Bill' so you're going to talk to your representative about HB 224 and your senator about SB 245.

Right now both of these bills are in limbo waiting for the House and Senate to adopt their rules. So we can't ask our elected officials to vote for them (since there is nothing to vote on yet). What we can do is ask them to "co-author" the bill. Co-authorship is a way for elected officials to put their name on a bill to officially support it. If a bill has several co-authors it shows that there are many members who care about it and can help it move through the committee process faster.

When you call you will likely speak with a staffer. Tell them your name and make sure you say that you are a "constituent". They may ask you for your phone number, e-mail and address and a few questions about the bill, if you don't know the answers that's fine, tell them what you do know and repeat that you want their boss to "co-author" the bill.

What a staffer won't do (or at least should never do) is argue with you, or promise that their boss will take any action. Their job is to speak with you and then reduce your request down to a couple of sentences for their boss. So keep it simple:

"Hello, my name is [name] and I'm a constituent. I'm very concerned about the issue of bullying. I would like the [representative or senator] to co-author [HB 224 or SB 245] so that children don't have to be afraid to go to school."

That's it! If they have questions answer them as best as you can and just keep repeating "co-author".

It may not seem like much, but calls like this can make a huge difference. It is particularly important to call if you know that your representative does not support the queer community. Even if they will never co-author the bill, knowing that they have many constituents who support it will discourage them from trying to kill the legislation.

The phone calls won't take more than five minutes, but they will make a huge difference.

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