1. Research the Issues
Before contacting your elected official, take the time to educate yourself about the issues underlying the proposed legislation. This involves not only reading--and re-reading--the legislation carefully, but also reviewing the existing laws (if any) affected by the legislation and identifying key supporters and opponents of the legislation and their respective positions. Potential sources of such information may include news article databases, indexing and abstracting databases in law and the political and social sciences, and, of course, the Internet.
2. Contact Your Representative
Often the most effective method of contacting your representative is to meet with him or her in person. You can find the name and contact information for your representatives here. Make every effort to arrange meetings early in the legislative session; the later in the session, the greater the chance of having your meeting canceled due to increased demands on the legislator's time. Following the conclusion of any meeting, be certain to send the legislator a letter of appreciation.
If an in-person meeting with your representative is not possible, another effective method of making your views known is to send the representative a letter or position paper. Given the volume of correspondence received by legislators on a daily basis, you should endeavor to keep your letter brief and focused. Personalized letters are more effective than boilerplate letters, so do take the time to write the letter in your own words. Keep the tone of your letter professional and non-adversarial. Most importantly, be mindful of scheduled hearings on your legislation and transmit your letter in sufficient time to permit it to be considered by the legislator in advance of the hearing. The Leginfo website permits individuals to submit comments to authors of bills via a "Comments to Author" tab that appears at the top of every "Bill Document," as illustrated below. Note that you will need to create an account with the site in order to use this feature.
If the time remaining before a bill is acted upon does not permit an in-person meeting or transmittal of a reasoned letter or position paper, you may also express your views on legislation by contacting your representative or committee members by telephone. This method of communication is likely the least effective of those mentioned here; however, it is certainly better than keeping your views to yourself!
3. Encourage Others to Get Involved
It is often said that there is strength in numbers, and thus you should not hesitate to spread the word about a bill and thereby to encourage others to get involved in your issue. To do so, you may write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, post a message to a blog, or organize a grassroots campaign in your area.
4. Attend and Testify at Bill Hearings
Finally, to the extent you are able to do so, plan ahead and attend the committee hearing on your bill. You may also request permission to testify from the author of the bill. To prepare for testimony, take the time to read all analyses prepared by the hearing committee so you will be ready to answer any questions the legislators may have.