TEXAS COUNCIL for
DEVELOPMENTAL
DISABILITIES

Advocacy Tips

Legislative Advocacy Tips

Your advocacy efforts are an important factor in helping to shape public policy. You might, however, be reluctant to advocate on pending legislation for fear of doing something wrong — or because you get nervous around public officials. It is completely normal to feel uneasy around elected officials, as they can often appear to be larger than life. Just remember, though, that legislators are people just like you — people who want to improve life in their communities.

Meeting with your legislators face-to-face is the most effective way to get your message across — and the best time to meet with them is when the legislature is not in session and they are in their home district offices. The legislative session is a busy time for them, so it is probable they will not be available to take your call or meet with you in person. If a legislator is unavailable to meet with you, you can meet with their staff. Having staff members on your side can be important, as they are required to be knowledgeable about many different issues and legislators rely on the opinions of their professional staff.

Letters, phone calls and emails are also good ways to contact your legislators — especially if made at the right time, with a sincere and heartfelt message. Following are some tips on contacting your legislator in person, in writing or by phone.

  • Contact your legislative office when an issue is being heard in committee, especially if your legislator serves on the committee discussing the issue.
  • If the legislator is unavailable, ask if there is a staff person who handles your issue.
  • When you want a legislator to take a position on an issue, contact them before there is a vote.
  • Be brief and get to the point quickly. Be specific about why you are contacting them.
  • If asked, be prepared to give your name, address and the organization you represent (if any).
  • If you live in the representative’s district, tell them.
  • Be polite, professional, positive and respectful.
  • If you are concerned about a specific bill, give the bill number and subject. State your position on the bill and a brief reason for that position.
  • Tell your legislator what you want them to do.
  • Thank them if they agree with you.
  • If they disagree with you or aren’t sure, tell them how a bill will affect your family, friends, community, business or job. Include one or two specific examples.
  • Offer to be a resource for issues related to developmental disabilities.
  • Thank them for their time.

A personal visit is the most effective means of communicating with a legislator as it provides you with the opportunity to build a relationship with your elected official.

  • Make an appointment. This is necessary.
  • When you call to make an appointment, ask to speak with the scheduler and let them know you would like 15 to 30 minutes to discuss an issue. Tell the scheduler what issue you want to discuss so the right staff person is made aware of your visit.
  • Accept an appointment with the appropriate staff if the legislator is unavailable.
  • If you do not have an appointment, you may not be able to speak with anyone or you may only have a few minutes.
  • Make the most of the time you have with your legislator. Practice beforehand what you want to say. Allow time for questions.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and follow up later.
  • If possible, leave a one-page fact sheet with the most important information about your issue. Include your contact information.
  • Take your camera to take photos with your representative.
  • Follow up with a thank-you note or letter, reminding your legislator (or staff) what you talked about and the actions you asked them to take. Include the answers to any questions that you were unable to answer during your visit. Send them your picture.
  • Include the bill number and what the bill is about at the beginning of your letter or email.
  • Include your address and telephone number.
  • If you want to comment on more than one issue, send a separate message for each one.
  • Invite the legislator to contact you to talk about your position on the bill or issue.
  • Ask your legislator for their position on the issue and request a reply.
  • Before you place a call, write down notes about the points you want to make. That way, you won’t forget anything.
  • Legislators are often too busy to take phone calls, and rely on their staff to keep them informed. Ask for the staff person who covers your issue area (i.e. education, human services, etc.).
  • If you request a return call, you will usually get one from the staff if you are a constituent. People who don’t live in the legislator’s community may not, however, get a return call. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to return all phone calls, especially if there is an organized campaign of calls.

Public Testimony Tips

Jennifer Osborne and Margaret Crittendon address legislators and their aides.
Jennifer Osborne and Margaret Crittendon
address legislators and their aides.

Public testimony is an effective way to help policymakers understand how an issue, policy or situation affects people across the state, presents difficulties or addresses needs. Public testimony also gives you the opportunity to show your support for what is being considered by the legislature.

Public speaking can be somewhat scary, especially for people who do not do it all of the time. But with some preparation, giving public testimony can be simple.

Most committees will limit the time witnesses have, so expect to have three minutes. Decide what you want to say in advance, and practice, practice, practice!

Practicing what you are going to say out loud in front of a mirror can help you become comfortable with your testimony and the words you want to use.

If you practice in front of your friends or family you will feel less nervous when you speak to a larger group. This will also give you an opportunity to get feedback on how to improve your message.

It is also a good idea to prepare two versions of your testimony — one that summarizes your message in 3 minutes — and a longer, written version that you can give to the legislators. If you take written testimony, call the committee office to find out how many copies you will need. If you do not have time to type up your testimony or make copies, you should still testify.

There will be a sign-up sheet at the hearing. Speakers are taken in order of first come-first served. Legislators, state agency staff and invited speakers are allowed to testify first.

  • Be respectful and professional. State who you are and the organization you represent.
  • Try not to read your testimony.
  • Identify your concerns and how you think the legislators can help. Offer to answer questions.
  • Remain aware of time limits, but do not hurry through your testimony. Take your time and be relaxed. They will let you know when your time is over.
  • Thank the legislators for their time and consideration of your position.

If you do not wish to speak, you have the option of filling out a testimony card to state your position on an issue. You can also submit written testimony in lieu of speaking.

Texas Legislature Resources

Texas capitol rotunda

Who Represents Me?
Information is available about current districts and members of the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, and Texas delegation to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. To find out who represents you, visit Texas Legislature Online: Who Represents Me?

Contacting Your Legislators
For information about how to find, contact, and address your legislators, visit Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Contacting Your Legislator.

How a Bill Becomes a Law
Do you know how a bill becomes a law in Texas? If you don’t, check out our easy-to-understand infographic that simplifies the complicated process. The infographic is available in English and Spanish.