TEXAS COUNCIL for
DEVELOPMENTAL
DISABILITIES

Legislative Advocacy Resources

Find tools and tips to help you advocate on public policy issues.

Your advocacy efforts are an essential factor in helping shape public policy. Meeting with legislators in person is the most effective way to get your message across. Letters, phone calls, and emails can also be useful when contacting your legislators — especially if they are made at the right time with a sincere message. 

Since legislators may not be always available to meet with you during busy legislative sessions, the best time to connect with them is when the Legislature is not in session and legislators are in their home district offices. If your legislator is unavailable to meet with you, you can meet with their staff. Having staff members on your side is important. Legislators rely on the advice and opinions of their staff, so staff members must be knowledgeable about many different issues.

If you’re nervous or reluctant to advocate on an issue or bill that’s important to you, don’t worry. Meeting with an elected official can be intimidating. You might be afraid you will do something wrong. Those feelings are completely normal. But remember: legislators are people just like you — people who want to improve life in their communities.

National Resources

 

Meeting With Legislators

The following tips can help you organize your advocacy message and contact your legislator in person, in writing, or by phone.

  • Contact your legislator when the issue you would like to advocate on is scheduled to be heard in a legislative committee. This is especially important if your legislator serves on the committee discussing the issue.
  • If your legislator is unavailable, ask if there is a staff member who handles your issue.
  • When you want a legislator to take a position on an issue, contact them before there is a vote.
  • When discussing your issue with a legislator or staff member, be brief bu specific and get to the point quickly. 
  • Be prepared to give your name, address, and the organization you represent (if any).
  • If you live in the legislator’s district, be sure to say so.
  • 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 gives you the opportunity to build a relationship with them.

  • Make an appointment. If you do not have an appointment, you may not be able to speak with anyone or you may only have a few minutes.
  • When you call to make an appointment, ask to speak with the scheduler and let them know you would like 15-30 minutes to discuss an issue. Tell the scheduler the issue you want to discuss so the right staff member is made aware of your visit.
  • Accept an appointment with the appropriate staff if the legislator is unavailable.
  • 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 legislator.
  • 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. Also send them any pictures you took during your visit.
  • 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 (for example: education, human services, transportation).
  • If you request a return call, you will usually get one from the staff if you are a constituent — meaning you live in the legislator’s district. Legislators have busy jobs and will usually prioritize speaking with the people in their districts. So, if you are not a constituent, you might not get a return call or at least get a call right away.  

Giving Public Testimony

Here are some tips on providing testimony about legislation and other public policy issues. 

 

Public testimony is an effective way to help policymakers understand how an issue affects people, presents difficulties, or addresses needs. Public testimony also lets you show support or opposition to specific bills under consideration by legislators.

Public speaking can be scary, especially for people who don’t have much experience. But with some preparation, giving public testimony can be simple.

Most committees will limit the time for witnesses (that’s you), so expect to have  three minutes. Decide what you want to say in advance, and then practice, practice, practice!

Practicing what you’re going to say in front of a mirror can help you get comfortable with your testimony and decide on the words you want to use. To help get used to speaking to a large you, you could practice in front of your friends or family. This will also give you a chance to get feedback on how to improve your message.

Preparing two versions of your testimony is a good idea. One version should summarize your message in three minutes. You can also write a longer version to give to legislators after sharing your summary. If you take written testimony with you, 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.

Not sure where to start? Use the My Testimony Blueprint (PDF) to begin writing your testimony.

When you get to a hearing, there should be a sign-up sheet for you to indicate you want to give testimony. Speakers are taken in the order they sign in, but legislators, state agency representatives, and invited speakers are usually allowed to testify first.

  • Be respectful and professional. Say who you are and the organization you represent (if any).
  • Identify your concerns and how you think the legislators can help. Offer to answer questions.
  • Be aware of time limits, but do not hurry through your testimony. Take your time and be relaxed. The committee 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 can fill out a testimony card to state your position on an issue. You can also submit your testimony in writing instead of speaking.

Track Legislative Activity Online

In the following videos, TCDD Public Policy Director Scott Daigle provides an overview of the Texas Legislature Online website. Learn how you can use the website to search for bills and track activity in the Texas Legislature. 

Infographic: How a Bill Becomes Law 

Use the following image and links to view and download an infographic that explains the Texas legislative process. 

Texas Partners in Policymaking

Texas Partners in Policymaking is TCDD’s advanced leadership training program for self-advocates and family members of people with developmental disabilities (DD). Through accessible and interactive training sessions, participants develop leadership skills to create partnerships with elected officials and other policymakers who make decisions that impact people with disabilities across Texas. Participants develop innovative projects that improve the lives of people with DD in their communities. Ultimately, graduates of the program work to impact policy and change systems so more people with DD are fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives. Some graduates even go on to become policymakers themselves. 

Application periods for the annual classes usually begin in January. To receive updates about future application periods, subscribe to our newsletter and connect with Partners on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn

Disability Policy Academies

Our Disability Policy Academies provide policy professionals and community advocates with deep educational dives into disability-related topics. Participants have opportunities to learn the background of an issue, hear from leading experts, and leave with action steps they can implement in their own work. 

To learn about upcoming programs and view recordings of past programs, visit Disability Policy Academies

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