The law making process in the Connecticut Legislature is an exhilarating, exhausting yearlong activity. The process involves not only the legislators and their professional staffs, but also the participation of individuals and groups of individuals with particular interests. The following is a brief guide to the legislative process, including suggestions for active and effective participation. This guide is not exhaustive however, and therefore members should always feel free to contact CABE at (860) 571-7446.
How A Bill Becomes A Law
A member or members of the General Assembly file a proposed bill in the house to which he/she was elected. Ideas for bills may come from the legislator or may be brought to the legislator by an individual, a group or organization. Bills may also be raised by committees. All proposed bills are referred to committee(s) depending on the subject matter of the bill.
In committee the bill is prepared in statutory language by the Legislative Commissioner's Office. The proposed bill is returned to the committee for consideration, at which time public hearings are held. The committee can issue a favorable or unfavorable report on the bill, or take no action. Bills often must travel to several committees before reaching the House or Senate. For example, a bill dealing with funding for an education program must be approved by both the Education and Appropriations Committees.
Amendments may be made to the bill in the House or Senate. Once the bill has passed one house it goes to the other. If the bill passes both houses it is submitted to the Governor, who signs or vetoes the bill. If vetoed, the bill needs two thirds vote of both houses to become a law.
If the two houses cannot agree on the bill it is sent to a special joint conference committee which sends a compromise report to both houses. If either house rejects the joint committee's proposal the bill dies; if both houses agree to the compromise the bill it is sent to the Governor.
There are many ways in which an individual or a group may participate in or affect the legislative process.
Determine which issues are a priority for you and your board of education. Be sure all information is factual and accurate. Your legislator will lose confidence in you, and your issue maybe lost, if you provide inaccurate information.
Know Your Local Legislator
Know your legislators' interests and committee assignments. Study their past record on related issues, and identify any prior commitment to your cause. Ask your legislators to promote support among colleagues. Contact legislators who are members of the committees that deal with education issues.
Especially during the session read newsletters, newspapers, memorandum and any other information you receive. If you have a question call CABE and find out the details so that you can be better informed when you talk to your legislators or their aides. Also, stay informed in between legislative sessions. Although the General Assembly is not in session issues continue to be discussed, opinions continue to be formed, and your input can have an impact.
Communicating With Your Legislator
- Letter Writing -
One of the best indicators of what constituents are thinking about is letters the legislator receives. When writing to your legislator be brief and to the point, discussing only one issue in each letter. Write early in the session if you have ideas about some issue you would like to see incorporated in legislation. Write each legislator individually using your own words and stationery. If your legislator is "on your side," write notes of appreciation, supporting the legislator's position or action on an issue.
- Telephoning -
The telephone can be a powerful means of political communication. Messages should be direct. Identify yourself and your board of education, get right into the issue and get your main points across. Follow up your conversation with a note emphasizing the important points.
- Lobbying -
Effective lobbying requires being acquainted with staff members, secretaries and committee staff with whom you'll be working. Always identify yourself and remind people of your special interest. Be familiar with each issue and update yourself so you know where your bill is at all times.
Be brief. Work with your legislators. Remember, they get to vote you don't! Do not overstay your visit; they are busy people. If you can not see the legislator be sure to meet with the legislator's aide and explain your case.
Follow up periodically either by phone or by letter. A reminder to the legislator is appreciated since thousands of bills are considered each session.
- Testifying -
Letter writing, telephoning and lobbying can be done both during and in between sessions. During the session when a bill in which you or your organization has a special interest is being considered, a public hearing will be held by a committee about your bill and you may want to testify.
- Sign up early. Early testimony is effective.
- Have written copies of your testimony or position.
- Identify who you are, indicate if you are testifying as an individual board member, a representative of your board of education and/or a representative of CABE.
- State your position early in your testimony.
- Don't be redundant.
- Indicate agreement or disagreement with previous speakers and state why.
- If facts are given, indicate source.
- If facts are given, indicate source.
- If in conflict with other witnesses or committee members always remember there are two sides to every issue.
- Talk directly to the committee. They vote the audience does not.
- When possible, end on a positive note with the committee.
Once your bill passes out of committee numerous other things can happen: it may never be placed on the agenda for action in the Senate or House; it could be assigned to go to so many committees that time will never permit it to pass; it can be tied up in Rules, pulled off the floor by a "point of order", reassigned, amended to say the exact opposite of what you want, given an appropriations figure and die from lack of funds, etc. Following a bill is a difficult and time consuming process.
Commend legislators for a favorable position or action. A phone call or a note is most effective. Be slow to criticize, because criticism of positions or actions is seldom beneficial unless it is constructive.
What To Do If You Don't Get What You Want
Even if the attitude of a particular legislator appears to be negative, many times a legislator will change positions after learning more facts and information on a subject. Remember to talk to your adversaries as well as your advocates. Never take any vote for granted.