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California Treatment Advocacy Coalition Fact Sheet: Meeting with Legislators

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CALIFORNIA TREATMENT ADVOCACY COALITION

 

A personal visit to explain the importance of reforming LPS is by far the most effective means of communicating with a legislator.

These visits should allow you to "read" your representative’s reaction to your request to support LPS reform. Be sure to follow your visit with a "thank you" letter and, perhaps, some more materials on the need to provide care for those who suffer most from mental illness. In the letter reiterate your hope that he/she will support this vital, life-saving legislation.

During the legislative session, most legislators are in their home offices on Fridays so this is the best day to make an appointment because you will have a chance to meet personally with your representative.

Legislative staff may ask how long you think you will need to discuss the issue. In that case, request a half-hour. Remember: we are competing for each legislator’s time so we must be considerate. In some cases, a member of your representative’s legislative staff will tell you how much time you may have. Always take what you can get but be prepared to be succinct.

If your visit ends up being with a legislative staff person, be as pleased as if you visited with the Senator or assemblymember. The staff member will make sure that your concerns are conveyed to the legislator. In many cases the staff member assigned to a particular bill will be the person who determines his or her boss’ policy on it. Again, follow up with a personal letter of thanks for making his or her staff available to you. Copy the staff person on the letter.

The following guidelines will help make your visit a productive one.

Introduce yourself. Give your name, address, and the organization you represent or with which your are affiliated, if that is the case. Do not overdo your comments about the worthiness (or clout) of your organization. That is not why you are there. Even if you think it obvious, make sure to mention that he or she is your representative.

Remain Focused. Although you probably gave a reason for your visit with him/her when you scheduled your appointment, make sure it is clear that you are visiting on LPS reform. Discuss only that issue (unless the legislator asks your opinion on something else).

Explain Why You Support LPS Reform. You may use either objective information or personal anecdotes-or both. This means you should take and use fact sheets about the need for rational treatment laws or share a personal story as to how the current LPS Act prevented you or someone you love from receiving timely treatment. If you are visiting with another person(s) make sure your time is well spent by not repeating each other. Decide in advance of the visit who will say what. For example, one person could present the objective need for reform and the other their personal story. It is particularly helpful if you can relate how the new criteria or the provision for outpatient commitment (called Community Assisted Outpatient Treatment) would have prevented the problems you and those close to you have faced. You might also want to bring a few of the editorials favoring your position, either from papers in your area or from major ones like the LA Times or San Francisco Chronicle (these are available on our website).

Allow Time for Questions and be prepared to respond. Never bluff. If you do not know the answer, say so. You can then follow-up with the answer in a letter or phone call to the staff person. You can put the question to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you have trouble finding the answer.

Ask the Legislator Whether or Not He/She Supports LPS Reform. Although you may be hesitant to do this, you need to do so to determine your representative’s position. Tell those in favor how much you appreciate their compassionate stand. Opponents need to know that, although you disagree with them, you thank them for being open-minded. Perhaps later you or others will be able to provide additional information which will help change the legislator’s mind. For those who won’t give their position, ask whether you can provide more materials that will help them make a decision. Whatever you do, don’t burn bridges. Today’s supporter may be next week’s opponent and vice versa. Please give us your take on your legislator’s position.

Extend Your Appreciation for the opportunity to visit. No matter what the outcome of the visit, leave on friendly terms.

Write a Follow-Up Thank-You Letter. Include responses to any questions that were asked during the visit for which you did not have an answer at the time.

Learn About your Legislator. Before your meeting, educate yourself about your legislator. This can help you shape your message. What issues does he or she feel strongest about? To what party does he or she belong? What organizations is he or she a member of? You can find out about your Representative at Project Vote Smart:

http://www.vote-smart.org

You can become your Representative’s informal advisor on LPS reform.

***This document was compiled by the California Treatment Advocacy Coalition***

 
 
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