Building Relationships with State Legislators
Building relationships is the most important aspect of advocacy. Relationships with legislators will provide you with opportunities to work more closely with them to get bills introduced, assist in drafting bill language, shape the debate and, ultimately, get legislation signed into
▷ Your Knowledge and Standing in Your Community Makes You a Resource
There are many ways to build professional relationships with state legislators and their staff, but like all relationships, it is important that you provide value. In this case, as a subject matter expert, your greatest value is most likely your ability to become a resource through your knowledge of your school’s contributions to your community, and your expertise on issues related to oral health and higher education.
Much like the general public, few state legislators are experts on oral health and higher education policy. Unlike most people, however, legislators are expected to make decisions that shape our communities, even when they know little about the topic at hand. Because of this, is not unusual for a legislator to turn to subject matter experts when crafting policy. As a leader in your field and respected member of your community, you are in a strong position to become a resource for legislators in your state.
It may be helpful to look at statutory language in states that have enacted a program or policy similar to the one for which you are advocating. There’s no copyright on legislation, so ideas and language may be borrowed from another state that has enacted a policy or program of interest.
▷ Find Opportunities for Building Relationships
While one-on-one meetings are extremely valuable, they may not always be easy to schedule. Legislators have busy schedules and their availability is often limited. Because of this, it is important that you remain engaged and look for other opportunities to establish relationships.
Many legislators host town hall meetings, district meetings and other special events in their districts when the legislature is not in session. These can be great opportunities to meet legislators or ask questions about important issues.
▷ Advocate Between Sessions
It is also important to remember that in part-time legislatures, a considerable amount of advocacy is conducted when the legislature is not in session. The constraints of a full-time job when combined with legislative duties can significantly limit the amount of time legislators have during session. Additionally, the fast pace of a part-time legislature and the procedural constraints like bill drafting and introduction deadlines, as well as limitations on the number of bills a legislator may introduce, means that many legislators make decisions about the legislation they intend to introduce before a session even begins. Because of these reasons, it is vital that you seek opportunities to engage legislators and their staff when the legislature is not in session.
One great opportunity for between session engagement can be found working with interim committees or working groups that meet between sessions. These committees or groups are made of a select group of legislators (and sometimes stakeholders) who meet to deliberate, debate and discuss an important issue the legislature is considering. Work session groups usually hold meetings that are open to the public, and produce legislation or recommendations for legislation that are presented to the entire legislature during an upcoming session. When a working group is considering an issue that is important to dental education, you can provide input by commenting at meetings, submitting written comments or scheduling meetings with members of the group.