Lobbying Your Legislators
Lobbying legislators in person is vital to gaining the support needed to pass important legislation. When a state legislator has a meeting with, or hears from several members of their legislative district about a particular issue, they take that information with them to committee meetings and when bills come up for a vote. Every contact with a legislator counts!
My first advocacy experience was during my service as Public Relations Chair in 2011 for the Mental Health Counselors of Greater Rochester, a local chapter of NYMHCA. I remember saying to myself, “I don’t know what I’m doing, this is scary and what do I say.” I think what’s most important is finding a couple of others to ally with when visiting these legislators. I’ve never had a bad experience yet! Legislators are very interested in what their constituents have to say, professionals and students alike.
A key part of advocating for the profession is teaming up with your local professional organizations like that of your local NYMHCA chapter. There is so much experience and wisdom among the practitioners that make up these groups.
Most importantly, it’s crucial that you know that you as a single person speak loudly and if everyone visited a legislator, wrote a letter or sent an email to their representatives, I believe this year we could solve several issues that have for many years restricted the profession of mental health counseling.
Joshua Maldonado, LMHC, NCC
Chapter President, Mental Health Counselors of Greater Rochester
Here are the experiences of some professionals who have lobbied legislators:
Taking on leadership roles.
The document below provides an overview of what to say when meeting with your legislators in regard to the diagnosis issue.
How to Lobby Your Legislators
The following are general guidelines for lobbying your legislators either in person, by letter/fax, call, or by email:
Tell a legislator that you are his/her constituent. Provide your home address so their staff can confirm that you reside within their district. When appropriate, include in your message (or in-person talk) personal facts such as your education, training and experience. If you are lobbying in person and the legislator does not know about the profession of mental health counseling, have info sheets about the profession ready for their review. In all forms of contact, explain how the passage of the bill (include the bill# and sponsors) will be beneficial to his/her constituents by expanding the pool of qualified mental health services providers. The bill (A4229/S1958) is a clarification of our scope of practice in regard to diagnosis and does not give LMHC’s any more authority than we already have in the law. Ask the legislator to co-sponsor or support our bill. We want them to co-sponsor if it is possible! Some legislators are already co-sponsors and others would be prohibited from becoming a co-sponsor due to the political structure in the state. When they make that decision, their name will appear on the bill as someone who supports this legislation. Be brief, polite and ask for a written response if you are sending a letter/ fax or email. If you meet with a legislator and they agree to co-sponsor the bill, ask for a letter to that effect. In the order of what impresses a legislator most, a visit would be first. The visit would be followed by: a letter, a fax, call, or an email. Email is considered the least respected means of contacting legislators....but emails DO have impact! When a legislator receives letters or other means of communication regarding a particular bill, a file is started on that topic. That file follows them to the floor of the legislature and helps to guide their voting. Even one letter can affect the way a legislator votes!! After your visit, or if you receive a response from your electronic contact with your legislator, please email us at: NYMHCA @optonline.net to tell us what you learned. Your experience will be helpful to others who will lobby the same and other legislators.