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You Can Be A Park and Recreation Advocate

Anyone can do it – even you The legislative process is open to every citizen who has something to say about an issue, a bill, or a problem that involves legislative action.

KRPA members are often public employees and you may have been told you are not allowed to take a position without approval of the policy body. You can, however, take a position as a citizen.

As a citizen you can:

  • Write a letter
  • Send an e-mail
  • Make a phone call without referencing your employer
  • Draw upon your professional experience in communicating your support or opposition to a bill. For instance, you may be opposed to changes in the application of pesticides in parks. You can reference your experience by simply stating... “in my 20 years of experience in applying pesticides in public areas, I have never experienced...” This lets the legislator know you have first hand experience with the issue.
  • Know when to contact and be prepared.

If you are interested in a specific bill, submit your views as early as possible in the legislative process while it is still in committee. Be prepared and specific. If you’re advocating because of something you’ve heard or read, share the source with the legislator so that he or she can make certain that the information you have shared has been accurately reported. The easier your position can be explained, the more likely it is that a legislator will be persuaded to accept it. Pare to the simplest, most essential facts and arguments.

Know the following information:

  • The number of the bill and the name of the sponsor
  • The current status of the bill: in committee, coming up for a vote, etc.
  • What you are asking for: trying to start a bill, stop it, amend it

Practice your pitch:

  • Be factual: Don’t exaggerate and never lie. Even a simple issue has pros and cons. In fact, by also addressing the arguments on the other side you have an opportunity to rebut them. Relate specific examples of how the legislation will directly affect the legislator’s constituents.
  • Be polite: Treat the legislator with dignity and respect you expect. Don’t threaten or offer rewards.
  • Zero in: Don’t ramble. Stick to the subject and say it in 2-3 minutes.

Get an answer!

Elected officials don’t like having to tell a constituent that they don’t agree with him or her. They may try to limit the meeting to “listening to your views,” without ever expressing their own opinions. They may state general inclinations rather than how they’ll vote on a specific bill or a specific amendment. Insistently, but politely, ask for an answer and wait to get it. If they still decline, ask for a specific time when they will give you their decision. Before leaving set up an appointment for a second meeting or a time when they’ll provide you their views in writing.

Follow up:

Within one week of the visit, send the legislator a letter thanking him or her for the meeting and confirming your understanding. Ask for follow up if you have not heard back from the office as promised.

Plan for the future:

Advocacy is a lot like baseball – no one bats 1,000. There’s always another game after this one. Even when you are unhappy with the position the legislator took, don’t feel you were a failure. You may have softened or moderated their views. Perhaps they voted your way on an amendment, even if they voted wrong during the final vote on the entire bill.

Your overall purpose is to educate, lay the groundwork for the future and to establish on-going relationships.

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