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Find Your Voice on Legislative Issues

Posted by Tom Mellish, Executive Director, IRTA on Dec 19, 2016 8:00:00 AM

As the 2017 General Assembly craft their biennial (two-year) budget, Indiana Retired Teacher Association members should remind their legislators how much retired educators support their communities. You have not seen an increase in your pensions since 2008.

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You should thank your legislator for his or her continued support of the “13th Check”. However, during this session, we will be lobbying for the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and for an increase in the “13th Check”. We also will be against switching future educators to a Defined Contribution (DC) Retirement Plan.

Big issues in the General Assembly this year that will dominate the session will be the infrastructure and road funding. They will be searching for a solution to long-term funding for our bridges and roads.

Public education issues that will be first debated in education committees will include:

  • A push for more funding going toward vouchers.
  • Consideration for an Education Savings Account that would potentially siphon more money away from public schools.
  • Student testing.

This is why Grassroots Advocacy is extremely important. The legislators need to hear from their constituents.

When lobbying and communicating with our legislators and officials, the first thing to do is your homework. Know who you are talking too and understand the basis for their positions. Know the legislator’s record on your concerns and any prior commitment for or against your cause. Know their party, position, and tenure in the legislature. Know their general predispositions and know how they like to be communicated by their constituents. Find out if they prefer phone calls, letters, emails or in-person communications? If possible, establish a personal relationship that goes beyond specific issues.

You also should know the Indiana Retired Teachers Association positionson issues and be a credible representative when speaking on behalf of the Association. Our website has information on the issues we know we will be lobbying for and against during the session.

Phrase the argument in your own words. Let them know why the issue is important to you. No one is expected to address every question or matter of concern regarding an issue. There is nothing wrong with admitting you do not have specific knowledge of a particular point; however, you will enhance your value to the legislator or official when you find the requested information and report back.

Know your opposition and anticipate their arguments and address them. Know yourself and maintain your objectivity by anticipating your own responses in a given situation. Lobbying is an exchange of information, not a debate. Don’t begin with “As a citizen and taxpayer…”, think more as a retired educator and don’t read word for word from a list of talking points. Make it your story and a conversation on why this issue is important to you.

Communicating with your legislator is most effective if you can do it in-person. This allows your opinion to be heard directly and they can make a connection with a name and face and that you are a concerned constituent. Remind your legislator on any previous contact with them. Be reasonable and end the meeting knowing the next steps and be sure to follow up.

Phone calls can be effective and strategic if they come just before a vote or immediately after action in support of your cause. Always be brief and specific and be sure to leave your name, address, and phone number when leaving a message. Respond to IRTA call to actions as soon as possible.

If using email or a letter, always introduce yourself as a constituent and in the first paragraph specify what action you want taken. If possible refer to bills by name or number, but focus on the issue. Briefly explain how the issue affects you, family, community or your colleagues. Always be respectful and clear. Include your contact information, especially your home address because it identifies you as a constituent. Keep it short, three to four paragraphs, and less than 300 words.

Other ways to make your voice heard are through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Letters to the editor, opinion piece (op-ed), talking to reporters or editors and radio call-in shows. Encourage other members to do so and reach out to other organizations.

Your voice is important and can make a difference on legislation as it goes through the legislature. The legislators represent you and they need to know how a bill will affect their constituents.

Topics: Legislature

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