Story last updated at 1/26/2011 - 12:35 pm
JUNEAU - The legislative session will take place whether you participate in it or not. But it's likely that you are a constituent who cares about at least one issue that will be discussed by your elected representatives during the next several weeks of legislation. In order for your representatives to properly represent you, they kindly request and welcome your input.
Rep. Cathy Muñoz (R-Juneau), said that speaking to her constituents directly was the most effective method for addressing and issue.
"I encourage all forms of communication, i.e. email, letters and personal visits," she said, "but I prefer meeting personally with constituents to discuss more complicated issues. I always come away with a more thorough understanding of the problem when I have the opportunity to sit down face to face with a group or individual. I make every effort to accommodate all meeting requests in a timely manner. For me, working to resolve individual problems is the most rewarding part of the job."
Constituents can participate in legislation in many ways. The process is designed to be accessible to constituents, whether they live blocks from the Capitol or hundreds of miles away.
A simple way to start the process of participation is to simply observe. For constituents who live in or visit Juneau, the Capitol's doors are open to visitors who may sit in on House and Senate floor sessions and committee hearings. For those who lack Capitol access, live video and audio streams are broadcast on 360 North and online at gavelalaska.org.
The official website of the Alaska State Legislature (www.legis.state.ak.us) offers a wealth of information about every aspect of the legislative process, including state history, bill information, contact information for representatives and links to legislative databases.
A number of Legislative Information Offices are located throughout the state to create points of access to the legislative process for those who aren't in close proximity to the Capitol. The offices provide information and teleconference facilities for constituents to become informed as well as let their voices be heard.
The idea for a bill may come from anyone, whether it is a legislator, the governor, a lobbyist or a concerned citizen. Whether you choose to support or fight an existing bill or create your own, your participation in legislation can have a direct impact on its outcome. Do your research, know who your representatives are, and gather the support of others who share similar concerns.
Advocacy can be successfully executed in several forms, including writing letters to newspaper editors and public officials, coordinating media campaigns or public awareness events, testifying at public meetings and informing family members and friends about legislative issues.
Legislators depend on constituents to make their opinions known about issues that are important to them. Most legislators prefer to hear from their constituents personally, whether in the form of a letter, e-mail or a personal visit.
Sen. Dennis Egan (D-Juneau), said the closeness of his staff and constituents as part of one community helps synergize the political process.
"I love the fact that my whole staff lives here in Juneau," he said. "We all make Juneau our home, just like all of you. Alida Bus, Chester Carson, Jesse Kiehl, and Dana Owen make up my office and they are a fantastic group. Call us anytime (465-4947), or just stop by. We're on the 5th floor of the Capitol Building, room 510."
The fear of public speaking will keep many people from testifying in committee hearings, but the opportunity is available to all constituents who have opinions to share. A message will be best received by the committee if it is to the point and well prepared. Remember to state your name and affiliation for the record, and don't be afraid to share personal stories as they relate to the issue at hand.
For first-time testifiers, it can be good to observe others to get a sense of the protocols for testifying in committee. The chair of the committee should be the person primarily addressed, rather than speaking freely to all members of the committee. When addressing another member of the committee, the common rule is to speak "through the chair" as they act as the gatekeeper of all discussions that take place at a hearing.
As constituents, you are an important ingredient in the legislative process. You incite change and have the potential to shape the future, but it can't be done if you don't show up.