— by Marla Turner, NSDP Secretary
With the new Congress sworn in and the Nevada Legislature set to start on February 4th, it’s a good time to refresh ourselves on how bills become law and how we can track their progress. At both the federal and state levels, the process of getting a bill signed into law is a complex one.
To start, you’ll want to set up your online legislative accounts and take some time to review the bill drafts that have been submitted. Then you can decide on which bills you want to track. When finished, you will receive email notifications about what’s happening to the items you’re interested in. This will help you determine which legislators you want to contact and when.
How a Bill Becomes Law
Federal – Every few years, the U,.S. government prints an updated version of “How Our Laws Are Made.” The 2007 version is a bit formal so you may wish to check out U.S. Government Info’s more concise version instead.
Nevada – The 2011 Legislative Manual describes in great detail how a bill works its way through the legislature.
The majority of Nevada’s bill draft requests (BDRs) have already been submitted. Each Assembly representative and Senator may submit a few more BDRs through the 8th day of Session and Standing Committees have until the 15th day of Session.
How to Track Bills
To follow the status of all Congressional bills and their incarnations, visit the Thomas Library. You can also track bills at GovTrack.US. You can also track and send comments about various bills using POPvox. To be able to send comments regarding a bill being considered by congress, you’ll either need to register for a log-in or use a social media account to log into POPvox. It does, however, come in handy to view what other people, groups, corporations are saying about any particular bill.
House of Representatives
Visit the Document Repository to see the bills waiting to be considered on the House floor. You can also check roll call votes, status of “discharge petitions,” bill summaries and their status, bill text, and bills that have been passed into law at the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Track all Senate legislation, nominations, and votes here.
- Check out NELIS to get info on all the bills, committees and budget activity.
Tips for Contacting Your Legislator
There will be times when you want to let your elected officials know how you feel about a certain issue. It’s important to be judicious about this because you want to be as effective as possible. Think about which issues are truly important to you: if you contact your legislator about every issue all the time, you will not be taken seriously.
Here’s a list of helping Dos and Don’ts for contacting your legislator. Thank you to Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel for reviewing the following list and making some helpful suggestions.
- Be respectful and courteous. There are plenty of ways to adequately communicate your feelings on a subject without resorting to personal attacks or profanity.
- Let them know if you are their constituent. As the session moves along, they will hear from more and more people. Those who are their constituents will get top priority.
- If you are referring to a specific piece of pending legislation, cite both number and title.
- Do your homework. Know your subject matter. You do not need to be an expert, just a reasonably informed and concerned citizen.
- Tell your own personal story about why the issue is important to you. Make it a story they can repeat.
- Keep your comments short. No one wants to read a whole page or more of single spaced diatribe.
- Offer to get more involved (such as testifying at an appropriate hearing).Let them know you will help them.
- Leave or send written materials that back up your position if possible.
- Do the ASK. (1): Request their commitment to your philosophy. (2): Ask for a direct response.
- Give your contact information so they can get back to you.
- If meeting with them in person, send a written thank-you note for their time.
- And remember to THANK THEM if they vote or act how you want them to. .
Remember, it is up to you to educate your legislator about why you support or object to certain legislation. Think of yourself as a kind of consultant: you have insights that will help the legislator better understand the ramifications of a bill or issue, so tell them how it will impact you in real, personal terms.
- Use a form letter. That defeats the purpose of all of the above.
- Contact a legislator at odd hours and times – legislators are human and they need their sleep and family time.
- Corner them at inappropriate times – church, dinner, at a red light, etc.
- Address them incorrectly. Know their titles and use them accordingly. A U.S. Senator is not Mrs. Smith, but the Honorable Senator Smith.
- Discuss multiple issues at the same time.
- Guess or bluff the answer to a question if you don’t know. You will lose all credibility. Tell them honestly that you don’t know – but that you’ll find out and will get back to them. And then do it. Get back to them.
- Cite references that you haven’t seen, don’t have tangible documentation, or that you have no first-hand knowledge of.
- Be confrontational or threaten them in any way.
- Burn your bridges with a legislator. While they may not support you today, you may need them tomorrow.