A Municipal Guide To Grassroots Lobbying
You can have a lot of influence at the State House both as a municipal official and as part of the Maine Municipal Association's lobbying effort. MMA's 70-member Legislative Policy Committee sets policy and gives direction to the State and Federal Relations staff, but it is the personal contacts with legislators by local selectmen, councilors, managers, clerks, assessors, and other municipal officials that really make the difference.
Know Your Legislators
- Face-to-face contact with your legislators is the most useful way to communicate your positions.
- Invite your State Senator and Representative to attend meetings of the Board of Selectmen or Town/City Council.
- Ask them to come periodically to update you and the citizens about what's happening at the State House, and keep them informed of local issues.
- Invite them to monthly breakfast or dinner meetings. Your municipality can do this on its own, or you can ask neighboring towns to get together to host a meeting with the area legislative delegation.
- By keeping in touch with your legislators on a regular basis, you'll develop a better working relationship.
Know the Issues
Here are some ways to keep informed about municipal issues being considered at the State House:
- MMA's Legislative Bulletin. Published weekly while the Legislature is in session, each issue contains up-to-date information on bills that have been introduced, bills scheduled for public hearing, and action that legislative committees have taken.
- Legislative Information. For information about the current status of legislation call 287-1692.
- Document Room. For copies of legislation and amendments call 287-1408.
- If you need additional information or want to discuss the impacts of particular legislation, please feel free to contact MMA's State and Federal Relations staff.
- Other helpful information. Two helpful publications are available from the Secretary of the Senate (800-423-6900 or 287-1540) and the Clerk of the House of Representatives (800-423-2900 or 287-1400).
- The "Senate and House Register" contains information on the State's governor, the State Constitution, Maine's federal delegates, pictorial directories for Senators and Representatives, and the Legislature's Joint Standing Committees.
- The "Legislative District Directory" lists Senate and House Districts by county, towns and cities. Indices provide a cross reference by municipality and by legislator.
Understand the Process
Once a bill has been introduced, it is assigned to a Joint Standing Committee. These committees are responsible for holding public hearings and recommending action on the bills assigned to them.
- When the Legislature holds a hearing on a municipal issue, it is important to attend the hearing and testify.
- Arrive early (to get a good seat!); when called on to testify, be brief and to the point - you can elaborate in more detail in your written comments.
- If previous speakers have explained your position fully, tell the Committee your name and where you are from, and that you agree with the previous speakers. Answer any questions they may have.
- Have enough copies of your typewritten testimony to present to all the committee members and committee staff (16 copies) and a few extra to give to other interested people.
After the hearing, the Committee meets in a "work session" and issues a "Committee Report." Work sessions are where the important deliberations of the Legislature take place. Committee reports may be "unanimous" or "divided." Terms used to describe committee reports are: "Ought to Pass" (OTP); "Ought to Pass as Amended" (OTP-A); "Ought Not to Pass" (ONTP); and "Leave to Withdraw" (LV/WD) (sponsor is allowed to withdraw the bill).
After the bill is reported out of Committee, it goes to the House and Senate for final action.
Be a Resource
- Legislators are expected to make decisions on a wide variety of issues. You can help your legislators, and all municipalities, by providing information about common municipal issues.
- Explain how proposed legislation will affect your municipality, particularly if it will have a financial impact. Make sure the information you provide to your legislators is accurate; often legislators will use your information before a Committee or during a debate or on the House or Senate floor.
- Make sure you contact the Committees and individual legislators early in the process; try to do most of your lobbying before the Committee reports the bill out, since the recommendation by the Committee usually determines the fate of the bill on the floor of the House and Senate.
- Sometimes you will see an "Action Alert" in the Legislative Bulletin, or MMA staff will call you, asking you to call your legislators. Your involvement is most crucial at these times, but you may call your legislators any time an issue is important to you. If you are not able to reach your legislators at home, you may leave messages for them at the State House:
- For Senators: 287-1540 or 800-423-6900
- For Representatives: 287-1400 or 800-423-2900
- Find Your Elected Officials with Contact Information
- If you are not able to attend a public hearing but want to convey your support or opposition on a bill, writing to the Legislative Committee is effective. These letters are particularly helpful if one of your own legislators is on the Committee. The State House Station number is the same for all of the committees; letters to Committees should be addressed: The Honorable (John Doe), Senate Chair The Honorable (Mary Smith), House Chair Members of the Joint Standing Committee on (Committee Title) State House Station 115, Augusta, ME 04333.
- Include a "Re:" line, stating the number and title of the bill, and use the following salutation: "Dear Senator (Doe), Representative (Smith), and Members of the Committee:"
- Provide enough copies (16) for committee members and committee staff. Letters to your own legislators or to sponsors of legislation should be addressed: For Senators: State House Station #3 or FAX: 287-1900; For Representatives: State House Station #2 or FAX: 287-1245.
- Follow up your contacts. Let us know when you've talked to your legislators and how they feel about an issue. Coordinating your grassroots lobbying efforts with our efforts will enhance MMA's advocacy strategy at the State House.
- After contacting legislators, keep track of where your bills of concern are (in Committee, before the Senate, before the House), and follow up your letters and phone calls along the way.
- Be courteous and respectful in your contacts, and remember to thank your legislators for the time they took to talk with you, especially if they voted the way you requested.
- Legislators, like municipal officials, do not receive much praise or gratitude for their hard work; recognizing your legislators' efforts can help forge a better partnership.
- Talking to the Legislature is not something that should be left to the "experts" or professional lobbyists. Don't be intimidated by the legislative process; legislators want to hear from their constituents - they want to hear their concerns.
- You, as a municipal official, are an important resource for legislators. No matter what method you choose to communicate with your legislators, the important point is that you do it!