At this point in the legislative session, most of our bills have been referred to their first committees. The next step is to encourage legislators to give them hearings, and to develop a relationship (if you don’t already have one) with your legislators, so that when you testify or ask for their support on a specific bill, your name rings a bell.
1. Find out about them:
One of the most important things to do before writing your legislators is to find out a few key pieces of information about them. You need to find their names, their addresses, and crucially what committees they sit on or chair. The easiest way to find out this information is to visit the Hawaii capitol website here. Then, in the upper right corner, you will see a search bar that says, “enter street name.” As shown in the screen capture. Enter your street name (not your address) into this box and hit enter.
This will take you to a page that looks like this. It will show a list of all of the streets in the state that share a name with yours. Find your street on the list, and it will show you both your senator and your representative. Their names are links to a page that has all of the information you will need, and looks something like this image. Make a note of their name, address, and committee membership, or keep this page up while you write your letter.
2. Write a letter or email:
Right now we are just opening a conversation that will last for the length of the legislative session. The ideal letter in this case is short, no more than a page. It is best to be both personal and polite. The most important things to convey to your legislators are:
- You are their constituent. Mention this specifically in your letter or email rather than saying that you are a voter or taxpayer. Legislators pay about 10 times more attention to letters from constituents than to letters from other people according to the electronic frontiers foundation. Tell them you are their constituent and include your address to back it up.
- You are informed. Address your legislators correctly: The Honorable (Senator’s name) or The Honorable (Representative’s Name). Address (at the state capitol). Dear Senator (Name) or Dear Representative (Name). Use these addresses even when sending an email. Explain that you hope for their support from a specific committee. If they are on any committees that currently have any of our bills, mention them by name.
- You are personally involved. Tell them your personal story. Your legislators are used to getting stacks of form letters requesting support for SB472. Tell them why this issue is important to you, and why it is important now.
Here’s a brief template that you can use if you find it helpful:
The Honorable Senator Suchandsuch
Hawaii State Capitol Room 123
Dear Senator Suchandsuch,
In this paragraph explain that you support progressive drug law reform, and that you are a constituent. Mention any specific bills that are before their committees by name.
In this paragraph, explain your personal story, why you feel that marijuana laws are wrong on a personal level. Try to avoid general statements.
In this paragraph, thank the legislator for their attention, and tell them that you hope to discuss the issue further with them as legislation progresses.
Sincerely, (Or Mahalo or Aloha)
3. Start a dialogue.
Don’t let one email be the last of it. When bills come up for hearings, reply to your legislator’s replies to this email. That way they can see that they have a relationship with you, and can be reminded that they must take you seriously because you are an informed, connected constituent.