Legislative News Worth Hearing
One of the most confusing things for new advocates to
deal with is the jargon of government. This glossary
contains definitions of terms commonly used in the
lawmaking process and in advocacy.
Administrative Advocacy: An attempt
to influence policies within the executive branch such
as agency rulemakings, grant programs, or agency
budgets. Also known as "regulatory advocacy."
Speaking out on issues of concern. This can mean
something as formal as sitting down and talking to
your legislator; as intensive as engaging in efforts
to change a change in laws or policies; or as simple
as telling your neighbor about the impact of a law.
change to a bill or motion, sometimes replacing the
entire bill (called a "substitution"). An amendment is
debated and voted on in the same manner as a bill.
Basically, a fancy word for budget. A legislature's
appropriations committee will craft a bill that lays
out how the government's money should be spent for a
given time period (usually a fiscal year), which is
then voted on by the legislature and signed into law
by the president or governor. Often, these bills are
huge, and contain many "riders"
or activity and sets its funding limit. Authorizations
are often for a limited time, and programs must be
periodically "re-authorized," sometimes with changes.
for consideration by the legislature. Bills usually
must be formally filed with the legislature's clerk
and given an identifying number (H.R. 7, for example,
is the seventh bill filed in the House of
Representatives this session).
non-profit organization that is tax exempt under IRS
code section 501(c)(3) which derives substantial
support from the general public or is a religious,
educational, medical or governmental or charitable
support institution. Charities must apply for
501(c)(3) status with the IRS.
group of legislators that develops legislation on
specific topics (veterans" affairs, for example), and
has jurisdiction over all legislation that deals with
its topic. Generally, legislation must pass in a
committee before the entire legislative body can vote
on it. Committees often schedule public hearings to
discuss legislative issues. Most action takes place at
the subcommittee level.
The official transcript of federal House and Senate
proceedings. Often includes statements by members that
are added directly into the record, and not fully read
on the floor in the interest of time and staying
The House and Senate appoint members to a
conference committee to resolve differences between
versions of legislation passed by both bodies. Both
chambers then vote the combined legislation, which is
called a "conference report."
Resolution: Legislation passed by both the
House and the Senate permitting executive branch
agencies to continue operating in the absence of a
budget. In past years, several continuing resolutions
have been needed before a federal budget was finally
a legislator supports a bill, but is not the primary
sponsor, they may sign their name onto the bill as a
cosponsor to show their support. Legislation can
sometimes have hundreds of cosponsors.
Direct Lobbying: To
a case for or against a specific piece of legislation,
and to ask a legislator to vote a certain way. While
any citizen can lobby his or her legislators,
nonprofits have limits on how much money they can
spend on lobbying.
geographic area from which a U.S House member or state
legislator is elected.
Activities that directly attempt to influence the
outcome of an election. Charities are strictly
prohibited from engaging in electoral activities,
although other types or nonprofits are not.
Efforts to educate voters (such as legislative
scorecards), or to register or encourage them to vote.
These activities cannot include efforts specifically
designed to influence the outcome of an election (see
An action by the President or a Governor that has the
legal authority of a law, often dealing with
regulations or the workings of agencies.
used in the US Senate by the minority in an effort to
prevent the passage of a bill or amendment. The
Senate's rules allow for unlimited debate in some
situations, unless a 2/3 vote to end debate passes. A
filibuster results when one or more Senators continue
"debating" for as long as possible (sometimes for
Stating a position on a specific legislative
proposal to the public, then asking the public to urge
their legislator to support that stated position.
Nonprofits are limited in the amount they can spend on
meeting in which evidence to support particular points
of view can be presented to a committee. Usually in
conjunction with the consideration of a specific bill
and can include experts on a specific topic, or
members of the public who would be affected by the
bill or issue at hand.
lower body of the Congress, and most state
legislatures. House members are elected to represent a
geographic district. The US House (with 435 voting
members and five nonvoting delegates) is much larger
than the Senate (with 100 voting members) , as is the
case in most states.
Activities to either provide, or ensure the provision
of, information that can be used to shape policy.
Working for policy change through the legal system,
either by lawsuits, friend of the court briefs, or
providing information for legal cases. Also includes
efforts to promote a more just an equitable legal
system, which may also include legislative advocacy.
Efforts to change policy through the legislative
branch. May include formal lobbying in support or
opposition to a bill, the crafting of new legislative
language, writing amendments to existing bills, or
encouraging others to contact their legislators.
Communication with elected officials or their staff,
which expresses a position on a pending piece of
Mark up: The
process of amending a legislative proposal in a
committee or subcommittee. Committee members can offer
amendments, which if successful, are incorporated into
language of a particular bill. Legislation may be
drastically changed during mark up.
The leader of the majority party in the Senate,
elected by his or her peers. In the House, the
Majority Leader is the second in command after the
Speaker of the House and is also elected to that post
by his/her peers.
Leader of the minority party in the House and Senate,
elected by members of his or her party.
A bill related to a specific area that covers many
issues or topics. Often, the federal budget is an
omnibus bill that deals with many agencies' budgets at
After a bill passes both the House and the Senate and
is signed by the president, it becomes a public law.
rule or order that has the force of law that
originates from the executive branch (usually from an
agency), and deals with the specifics of a program.
Congress, for example, may instruct EPA to reduce
automotive emissions by 5%, but the EPA must develop
regulations to reach this goal.
amendment to an appropriations bill, which may not
actually deal with the allocation of government funds.
Roll Call: A
formal vote on a bill or amendment taken by each
legislator announcing "yea" "no" or "present" as their
name is read by the clerk.
upper body of the Congress, and most state
legislatures. Each state has two US Senators, elected
at-large, to serve six-year terms, with one-third of
the seats up for re-election every two years. In state
legislatures, Senators usually represent larger
geographic areas than House members.
Speaker of the House:
The "leader" of the House of Representatives,
elected by the majority party. The speaker controls
the calendar and other aspects of the House's
or more legislators who are the primary writers of a
bill. All bills must have at least one sponsor, but
many have more than one primary sponsor, and a number
of cosponsors as well.
part of a committee that deals with a specific issue
within the committee's jurisdiction (such as the
veterans" benefits subcommittee of the Veteran's
Affairs committee). Most legislation is first
developed and voted on at this level, as a full
committee will usually not consider legislation until
it has passed its subcommittee.
Voting on a bill by acclimation, or asking those in
favor to say "yea" and those opposed to say "no."
Usually, only non-controversial legislation without
any "no" votes is passed this way (such as renaming
post offices), but a voice vote will sometimes be
taken before a roll call vote.
or Representative who serves as an internal lobbyist
for the Republican or Democratic party to persuade
legislators to support their party"s position, and who
counts votes for the leadership in advance of floor
votes. While the whip is an official position, there
may be other members who act as a whip for specific
legislation or issues.
How To Series: MEETING
WITH MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Face to Face
Myth: Most Senators and Congressmen won't meet with an unknown
Fact: Members of Congress are impressed when citizens take time to make
a personal visit. Citizens making that effort are more impressive than
a herd of Washington lobbyists.
Travel to Washington is a must to be listened to.
Only paid lobbyists can afford the time or the
expense - a luxury most citizens do not have.
Fact: Travel to Washington is not necessary as there
are other available opportunities. Members of Congress
come home weekends. In addition, there are longer
designated "work periods" during national holidays.
Work days and Town Meetings are normally scheduled
during the summer recess. These are held to solicit
constituents' views. Sometimes the member of Congress
is seeking support for a project he wishes to sponsor.
He may even ask for your help.
Only experts are listened to.
Fact: While it is important to know the substance of
an issue (particularly when talking about local or
state causes), constituents are not expected to know
every fact or every detail of a national piece of
legislation. Do your homework. Follow the scouting
motto and Be Prepared. If the legislator
has questions and you have no ready answer, it is OK
to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out and get back
to you" --- and be sure you do get back!
Call your legislator's District or Washington office.
Ask to speak with the appointment secretary or
· Introduce yourself as a constituent living in
· Tell the scheduler you wish a meeting to
discuss _________________ .
Hint: A single topic is always best.
an appointment is not possible during an upcoming
recess, express your disappointment and immediately
request an appointment for the next time the
Congressional Member is at home. Telephone
appointments are rarely satisfactory.
it usually is best to meet directly with your
legislator, if he or she is unavailable, ask for a
scheduled appointment with the legislative staff
member that is working with your issue. Legislative
aides are usually well informed and as time permits,
A letter confirming your appointment is an excellent
follow-up. Include your name, address, phone number,
e-mail address and subject to be discussed.
Hint: Ask one or two interested individuals to
go along. They can take notes, listen and should be
prepared to be a vital part of the discussion.
Hint: Doors fly open when at least one person
in the visiting delegation is a constituent from their
State or Congressional District. This interest and
participation makes an immediate and important
+ Prepare appropriate fact sheets or other materials
to leave with the lawmaker. Place these items in a
folder identified with the discussion topic and the
date. Add a business card, or prepare an index card
containing your name, title, organization, email
address and phone number. This information is
important for future contacts. Remember that our
lawmakers do not have time to wade through a ton of
Be brief. Be concise. Be accurate.
+ Establish your message. What do you wish to convey?
Is there something you would like the legislator to
do? Put your thoughts together ahead of time - write
+ Learn something about the person you are meeting
with. (i.e. hobbies, committees they serve on,
information discovered on their web site) Talk with
staff in a district office.
+ Be prompt. Members' schedules are tightly packed. It
is important to be on time.
+ Be flexible. If interruptions occur during your
meeting, be patient.
+ Dress professionally. Don't let your appearance
detract from your message or impair your credibility.
+ When appropriate begin with a compliment. Thank the
member for his or her time. Express your appreciation
for the favorable position he or she recently took on
an issue you cared about.
+ Concisely state what issue you want to discuss, what
your position is and what action
you would like the member to take.
+ Tell how the issue affects the member's district and
state (if relevant). Make it personal. Discuss why you
care. Be helpful and willing to share your
+ Be a good listener. After you make your pitch, allow
the member to respond. Answer questions to the best of
your ability. If you do not know the answer - admit
it. Try to provide the requested information promptly
in a follow-up letter.
+ Ask direct questions to which the legislator can
respond yes or no.
+ Always thank the member for their time, even if he
or she did not agree with you, your position, or agree
to do what you asked. Wars were never won in one day.
+ Write a thank you note.
+ Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper
about the meeting, if meaningful.
+ Share information about the meeting with interested
groups that work on the same issue.
Ice Breakers: A plant or seeds of your state
flower, or wildflower; flowers from your garden; the
organization's calendar or publication; a written
invitation to a garden club luncheon meeting or
special club event like a dedication.
One legislator changed his position after a passionate
presentation - and his favorite cake.
Thoughtful gestures are remembered - especially by
that caring staff person that was so helpful.
* Download a pdf copy of this How To Tip on
Members of Congress
How To Series: Understanding
Roles of The Congressional Staff
Each Member of Congress has staff to assist him/her
during their term(s) in office. To be most effective
in communicating with Congress and a Member's staff,
it is helpful to know the titles and principal
functions of key staff. Many Members also have
Interns that answer the phones and record
constituents' positions on legislation before
Staff (CoS): The AA reports directly to the
Member of Congress. He/she usually has the overall
responsibility for evaluating the political outcomes
of various legislative proposals and constituent
requests. The AA is usually the person in charge of
overall office operations, including the assignment of
work and the supervision of key staff.
(Sr LA), or Legislative Counsel (LC): The LD is
usually the staff person who monitors the legislative
schedule and makes recommendations regarding the pros
and cons of particular issues. In some congressional
offices there are several LAs and responsibilities are
assigned to staff that has particular expertise in
specific areas. For example, depending on the
congressional responsibilities and personal interests
of the Member, an office may include a Legislative
Assistant (LA) for Energy plus an additional LA for
Natural Resources and Environmental issues.
(Press) or Communications Director (Comm Dir or CD):
The Press Secretary's responsibility is to build and
maintain open and effective lines of communication
between the Member, his/her constituency, and the
general public. The Press Secretary is expected to
know the benefits, demands, and special requirements
of both print and electronic media, and how to most
effectively promote the Member's views or position on
Scheduler (Sch): The appointment Secretary is
usually responsible for allocating a Member's time
among the many demands that arise from congressional
responsibilities, staff requirements, and constituent
requests. The Appointment Secretary may also be
responsible for making necessary travel arrangements,
arranging speaking dates, visits to the district or
The Caseworker is the staff members usually assigned
to help with constituent requests by preparing replies
for the Member's signature. Responsibilities may also
include helping resolve problems constituents present
in relation to federal agencies. For example, Social
Security and Medicare issues, passports, etc. There
are often several Caseworkers in a congressional
are additional titles used in a congressional office
that may include: Executive Secretary, Office Manager,
and Receptionist. The Directory for the 110th Congress
- 1st session Congressional Directory only lists four
staff positions which are: CoS, LD, Sch and Press.
* Download a pdf copy of this How To Tip on
Understanding Roles of
How To Series: Writing
to Congress - Elected Officials
have become so dependent on using convenient e-mail
that we tend to no longer use other methods of
communication.. With the rise in electronic
communication, many special interest groups have used
e-mail to bombard elected official with form bulk
messages. As such, bulk or blast e-mails, generally
have lost their effectiveness with elected officials.
2002 survey of Minnesota legislators stated e-mail is
effective under certain circumstances. When an e-mail
is personally written by a constituent, it can be as
effective as sending a letter.
we write an effective and powerful letter?
Letters and faxes are reported to be the most
effective and persuasive way of communicating our
views. One letter from a concerned constituent will
carry more weight than hundreds of form e-mails. Hand
written letters are so rare they are even more
suggestions will help you write an effective and
letter short. Limit it to one page and only one
yourself and the issue.
In the first paragraph of your letter state who you
are and what issue you are writing about. If you are
referring to a specific bill, identify it by number
(e.g. H.R.1234 or S. 1357) and the name of the bill.
your main points or concerns.
There may be many reasons you support, or oppose,
saving the habitat of the Bald Eagle. Select no more
than three of the strongest points and develop them
Tell your legislator why the issue matters to you,
your family, your community.
Make a connection to the legislator. Did you attend
his/her town meeting?
Include your name and address on both your letter and
Be polite, courteous and confident in your
understanding of the issue. It is very possible that
the legislator may know less than you.
officials when they vote the way you requested.
|To a Senator:
||To a Representative:
|The Honorable (Full Name)
||The Honorable (Full Name)
|United States Senate
||United States House of Representatives
|Washington, DC 20510
||Washington, DC 20515
writing to the Chair of a Committee, or the Speaker of
the House, it is proper to address them as: Dear Mr.
or Madam Chairman, or Dear Mr. or Madam Speaker
Download a pdf copy of this How To Tip on Writing
How To Series: Understanding the Legislative Process
A simplified version of how a bill becomes a law
There are two basic types of legislation: bills and
resolutions. Anyone may draft a bill; however, only
members of Congress can introduce a bill. Bills are
used to create public policy.
There are three types of resolutions - joint,
concurrent, and simple - that can be used to
appropriate money or express a sentiment of Congress.
Constitutional amendments originate in Congress as
are assigned an identifying number, are referred to a
committee, or committees that have jurisdiction over
its subject and is printed by the Government Printing
Office. Those in the House begin with H.R., and those
in the Senate begin S. All legislation appropriating
money must originate in the House.
When a bill reaches a committee it is placed on its
agenda. It is at this point that a bill is examined
carefully and may be sent to a subcommittee. If a
committee does not act on a bill, it is the equivalent
of killing it. Committees therefore have a great deal
of power to decide which bills will receive attention.
The more support a bill receives from congressional or
committee leadership or from the president, the
greater its chances are for getting committee
Subcommittees have a more narrow focus than
There usually are three steps taken: Hearings, Mark Up
and Reporting Out.
supporters and opponents are called to testify and
put on the record their views about the merits or
shortcomings of the legislation.
Mark Up: When all hearings are completed the
subcommittee may meet to mark up the bill, that is,
make changes and amendments prior to recommending
the bill to the full committee. Committee members
may offer their own views on a bill and suggest
amendments. Amendments do not have to be related to
the subject of the overall bill at this stage. If a
subcommittee votes not to report the bill dies.
is complete, a final draft of the legislation is
voted on for approval. If a majority supports the
bill, it is reported out. If the legislation does
not receive majority support, the bill dies.
After a subcommittee reports out legislation, the full
committee will go through the same consideration
process. If the committee approves a bill, it is
reported out to the full House or Senate.
of a Written Report
After a committee votes to report a bill, the
committee chair instructs the committee staff to
prepare a report on the bill. This report describes
the intent of the legislation, its impact on existing
laws and programs, position of the executive branch,
and views of dissenting members.
After a bill is reported back to the chamber where it
originated, it is placed in chronological order on the
calendar. In the House there are several different
legislative calendars, and the Speaker and majority
leader largely determine if, when, and in what order
bills come up. There is only one legislative calendar
in the Senate.
When a bill reaches the floor of the House or Senate,
there are rules or procedures governing the debate on
legislation. In the House, the Rules Committee sets
the terms of debate.
The Senate places fewer restriction and terms of
debate are often set by a Unanimous Consent Agreement.
These rules determine the conditions and the amount of
time allocated for general debate.
After the debate and the approval of any amendments,
the bill is passed or defeated by the members present
to Other Chamber
When a bill is passed by the House or the Senate it is
referred to the other chamber where it usually follows
the same route through committee and floor action.
This chamber may approve the bill as received, reject
it, ignore it, or change it.
If only minor changes are made to a bill by the other
chamber, it is common for the legislation to go back
to the first chamber for concurrence. However, when
the actions of the other chamber significantly alter
the bill, a conference committee is formed to
reconcile the differences between the House and Senate
If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the
legislation dies. If agreement is reached, a
conference report is prepared describing the committee
members' recommendations for changes. Both the House
and the Senate must approve the conference report.
After a bill has been approved by both the House and
the Senate in identical form, it is sent to the
President. If the President approves of the
legislation he/she signs it and it becomes law. Or,
the President can take no action for ten days, while
Congress is in sessions, and it automatically becomes
law. If the President opposes the bill he/she can veto
it; or if he/she takes no action after the Congress
has adjourned its second session, it is a pocket veto
and the legislation dies.
If the President vetoes a bill, Congress may attempt
to override the veto.
This requires a two thirds roll call vote of the
members who are present in sufficient numbers for a
Procedures in State Legislatures may differ from the
Congress receive proposed drafts of bills from
constituents, academics, interest groups, lobbyists,
any state legislature, a department of the executive
branch, federal agencies and the President of the
Congress who embrace the concept can introduce it as
the sponsor. Or, if they wish to keep some distance
from the proposal, can introduce it by request, but
having introduced the bill does not mean they are
necessarily embracing its ideas.
Members of Congress may seek support by asking other
members to sign-on to the proposed legislation and
co-sponsor the bill.
amend proposed legislation may drastically alter the
bill as originally submitted if approved.
Download a pdf copy of this How To Tip on How a Bill Becomes a
SERIES: SURVIVING “THOMAS” – THE LIBRARY OF
CONGRESS FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION CENTER
launched in January of 1995, at the inception of the
leadership of the 104th Congress directed the Library of
Congress to make federal legislative information freely
available to the public. Since that time THOMAS has expanded
the scope of its offerings to include the features and
content listed below.·
Activity in Congress
· Congressional Record
· Schedules, Calendars
· Committee Information
· Presidential nominations
· Government Resources
· For Teachers
· Help and Contact
THOMAS – Legislative Information
on the Internet, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/abt_thom.html
What You Can Find on
A provided summary on each
THOMAS feature briefly states what information is
available. Accessing each subcategory of the
feature will provide a huge amount of information from
which you and pick and choose.
Novices, or newcomers to
surfing (using) THOMAS may want to start their learning
process by accessing the feature “Government Resources”
which contains basic information and details about the
current Congressional House of Representatives and the
This home page feature searches
the text of legislation for the current Congress by
word/phrase or bill number. This is a “quick and
dirty” search for those who do not want the advanced
features found on the Advanced Bill Text Search
page. A link, Search Bill Summary & Status,
contains information that includes the sponsor(s), the
official, short and popular titles, bill summary, a link
to the full text, the committees of referral
(committee(s) the bill was referred to) and legislative
The link, Yesterday in
Congress, provides a list of floor activity for
the previous legislative day of the current
Congress. It also provides The Daily Digest, which
is a summary of a day’s activities in both chambers of
Congress and provides a link to search Congressional
Records from the 101st (1989) through the current
If interested in learning more about
the Congressional Calendars access Days-In-Session
Calendars. The link House Floor This
Week provides dates and time of the House
session, along with bills that are likely to be passed
or expected to receive floor action. This feature is updated
throughout the week when the House is in session.
Committee Reports from the 104th
(1995) through the current Congress can be obtained by
accessing Search Committee Reports. Generally,
reports can be searched by word/phrase, report number,
bill number and committee. Fortunately searches
can be limited by type of report (House, Senate,
Conference, Joint). Searching only by word or
phrase usually produces a huge number of results.
SEARCH TREATIES provides
information from the 90th (1967) through the current
Congress. This feature does not contain the actual
text. The full text of treaties can be searched at
GPO (Government Printing Office) Access.
THOMAS resources for teachers
include classroom activities, lesson plans, guides to
congressional information and more.
TO SERIES: SURVIVING THOMAS