A simple guide to being a citizen-lobbyist in Colorado
KUSA - Colorado lawmakers went back into session on Wednesday and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced his agenda Thursday in his State of the State address.
This kicks off 120 days of legislating a wide array of issues, some of which will be highly controversial, while others (though no less important) will be out of the limelight.
At the end of it, there will be new laws for the state to live by.
While the activity under the gold dome seems intimidating to newcomers, lawmakers in Colorado are fairly accessible, especially when compared to members of Congress.
With that in mind, here is a basic guide to making your voice heard and possibly shaping the direction of new laws.
KNOW THE PROCESS
This can be the difference between getting involved in the debate and complaining after it's too late.
LINK: Find bills introduced in 2014
A bill needs to go through a lot of steps in order to become a law. It must pass a full vote of each chamber, but your best chance to influence it is before this step in committee.
LINK: How a bill becomes law in Colorado
Each bill is assigned to a committee when it is introduced and again if it enters the second house of the legislature.
There is a set of deadlines to be aware of. With some exceptions, most bills will be introduced by the end of January.
Every bill gets at least one public committee hearing in Colorado, which includes an opportunity for public comment.
This is your one certain chance to make sure you can tell lawmakers what you think of a bill.
LINK: Committees in the Colorado legislature
Using the above link, you can find each committee's web website and contact information for staff who can help you get a better sense of what's happening with your issue.
If you have a deep personal connection with the issue at hand, it's helpful to find lawmakers who are sponsors or opponents of a bill so that they can help to call attention to your testimony.
"Early is better than later," says Senate President Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora,) who advises you to reach out to lawmakers ahead of testifying at hearings.
TALK TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Not everybody can make it to scheduled committee hearings, but that doesn't mean you should stay quiet.
A good place to start is to reach out to your Representative and Senator in the state legislature because they are most accountable to you.
LINK: Find your state lawmakers using your address on this map
LINK: Look up contact info for all state lawmakers here
Your local legislators may be able to help you find another lawmaker working on an issue you care about.
You should also reach out to bill sponsors and members of committees that will work on a bill you care about.
CRAFT YOUR ARGUMENT
It's easy to jam out a quick nastygram and send it to a lawmaker's inbox, but that's not going to help your cause.
"When I get those really negative and vitriolic emails, we tend to just shut that off and ignore it," said Rep. Mark Waller, (R-Colorado Springs.) "Put forth a reasonable argument even if you disagree with me and then be willing to listen to my answer."
Assuming you've got that covered, your message is still going to need to compete with a lot of chatter.
State lawmakers have to deal with hundreds of bills and feedback from all sides in a short amount of time. It's like drinking from a fire hose.
Whether it's an email, phone call, tweet, or hearing testimony, keep the following things in mind if you want to cut through the noise:
• BE CONCISE - your time will be limited at a hearing, but in all other forms make your argument short, sweet, and easy to understand
• BE POWERFUL - explain how the issue makes an impact in your life
• LOOK FOR COMPROMISE - it's much easier to convince a lawmaker to adjust their idea for you than it is to get them to scrap it altogether
Still not getting anywhere? Almost every lawmaker is on twitter, where you can publicly engage them.
Again-don't "troll" lawmakers, but hold them accountable respectfully.
If you think your issue isn't getting the attention it deserves, you can also alert the media.
Telling your story can bring attention to your issue.
You may not get to vote on specific bills, but you can hold your lawmakers accountable.
Let them know if they've earned or lost your vote and why.
When election time rolls around, seek out opportunities to ask candidates questions.
State legislative candidates are generally pretty easy to find and talk to.
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