Nebraska’s senators make important decisions affecting health care and the medical profession. The success of every legislative initiative depends on effective communications with your senator. Your personal relationship and contact with your senator will enable him or her to develop positions on important issues and make informed decisions. As a physician, it is critical that senators know your perspective as they make decisions about health policy.
–Make an appointment. Senators keep busy schedules, especially during the session. Their office staff can help you set a time and date for your meeting. Tell the staff what you want to discuss at the meeting. Often, senators are willing to meet with constituents in their districts, when the Legislature is not in session.
–Be prepared. The mere fact that you want your senator to take a particular position on legislation is not enough. If you are going to discuss a particular bill, read the bill. Have an agenda of points you want to discuss.
–Be focused. Restrict your visit agenda to no more than three issues. Your presentation should be direct, concise, and not excessively long (no more than 15 minutes). Your senator will appreciate your thoughtfulness in not overstaying your visit.
–Present accurate facts and good arguments. Explain your position on the bill and have information to back up your stance. Depending on the issue, facts and figures or anecdotal information may be more helpful. If a decision would have major consequences for constituents, explain them in specific terms.
–Explain how the legislation will affect the senator’s constituents. Your senator will be interested in the problems that you have identified and their relevance to the people in his or her district. Put yourself in the senator’s place and try to understand the senator’s outlook, aims, and problems.
–Give your senator a brief written summary of your major points. This can include documentation or articles that you do not have time to discuss. Senators generally keep files on each bill and refer to that file when a bill is being debated. They will put your information in that bill file for later reference.
–Ask your senator whether he or she will support your position. Often senators will say that they have not made up their minds or will be non-committal. Be courteous and patient. Recognize that there are legitimate differences of opinion. Ask them if there is any other information that they need which would help them make a decision.
–Make sure that you leave on friendly terms. Even if a senator does not support your position on a particular bill, there will likely be other issues in the future where you will need that senator’s support.
–Send a follow-up thank you letter. If the senator had other questions which you needed to research further, include your additional information with the letter.
Letters and Email
–Type or write legibly and make sure that you include your return address. Senators generally disregard messages if they cannot confirm the identity of the correspondent.
–Identify yourself and the issue you are interested in. If it involves a specific bill, include the correct LB number.
–Personalize the issue. The best letters or messages explain the writer’s relationship to the issue and tell a personal story. If senators suspect they are getting a form letter, the communication is generally not persuasive.
–Clearly state your position and reasoning. Draw on your experience and personal knowledge and focus on the impact that the legislation will have on the senator’s constituents.
–Strive for brevity. Senators receive hundreds of communications. If you can boil down your message to one page, that is ideal.
–Be courteous. Close your communications with a thank you and express your continuing interest in the issue.
–You can call senators at their office. You can obtain your senator’s phone number from the Legislature’s web site, www.nebraskalegislature.gov, or the Nebraska Medical Association office, 402-474-4472.
–Ask to speak with the senator’s staff person who handles health policy issues. Senators may or may not be able to take phone calls, depending on whether they are in their office or involved in other activities.
–Keep your call brief. Prepare for the call ahead of time, jotting down notes of key points. If the call involves a specific bill, have the LB number and subject matter. State your position on the bill and briefly give your reasons.
–Give your name, address and phone number so your senator knows who you are and how to reach you if he or she has questions.
–Thank the senator or staff member for his or her time and attention.
Legislative contacts are most effective if persons have regular contact with their senators both during and between legislative sessions. Make an effort to stay in touch with your senator throughout the year. Senators are involved in many issues and receive input from hundreds of people. They will value your time and input if they know that you are interested in them, respect their role, and are sincere in wanting to help them make informed decisions.
~Written By David Buntain, Nebraska Medical Association Lobbyist~