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General Legislative Info

Contacting Your Legislators
and the Legislative Process

How to contact members of Pennsylvania's General Assembly

        It is important to contact your legislators regularly so that your voice can be heard. It is best, however, to limit each correspondence to only one issue or piece of legislation. If you have more than one concern for your legislators, it is best to send more than one letter. This makes their filing process easier, and it avoids having your legislator respond to only one issue and ignore responding to other issues or points with which he/she is not in agreement.

        For concerns of an immediate nature, it is best to contact your legislators by phone or fax. In this situation, ringing phones are heard all over the office which alerts everyone working for the legislator that this issue needs the legislator's attention. Typically, a dozen phone calls from constituents is considered "ringing off the hooks" at the state capitol. More calls are needed at the federal level. You can make a difference!

        For concerns that are not as immediate in nature, a letter or fax is sufficient or preferred. Handling and processing piles of mail on an issue also can influence the legislators.

        E-mails are appropriate as well. However, especially if office personnel get overloaded with e-mails at a busy time, they could easily hit the delete button or respond with an automatic form message without noting your position. If sending an email, we recommend that you put "vote in favor of [bill number]" or "please oppose/support [bill number]" in the subject heading. This will get the most important part of your message across if office staff or legislators are unusually busy.

        Legislators prefer and highly recommend that callers identify themselves by name and address so that they can respond to them. Identifying yourself also adds credibility to both your issue and yourself as a caller. Otherwise, legislators have no way of knowing if they are receiving repeated calls from the same caller or from a lobbying organization rather than a number of different constituents. However, during periods of high volumes of response to impending legislative votes, aides may be too busy to process identifying information on telephone respondents.

In all contacts with legislators and their aides:

  1. Be courteous and professional.
  2. Do not mention that you are a home educator if it is not pertinent to the issue.
  3. Be brief. You do not need to explain in detail why you oppose or support a particular bill.
  4. Be very clear about your point of view on the issue.
  5. Mention whether you want the legislator to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ the issue at hand. If you are unsure how to articulate your position on the issue, at least mention whether you 'support' or 'oppose' the bill and that you would like the legislator to do the same.
  6. Mention both the bill number and the title or topic of the bill so that it will be clear which piece of information you are addressing. Sometimes there are numerous bills dealing with the same issue. You will want the legislator’s office to know which specific bill or version of the bill you are addressing, and that you carry the same opinion on any similar bills dealing with that issue in that particular manner.
  7. Be very careful to give the accurate bill number. Be careful not to transpose numbers or refer to a bill as “HB101” if it is “HR101.”
  8. Ask for the legislator to respond to you in writing whenever possible so that you have a record of his/her position.

How bills get passed:

  1. Bills begin in the chamber (House or Senate) where it is assigned a bill number and will only travel to the other chamber after passage where it originated. [For example, House Bill 101 (a/k/a HB101) would have originated in the House of Representatives and must pass the vote there first before proceeding to the Senate.
  2. If a bill has passed in its chamber of origination and proceeded to the other chamber, then this is the last vote that it needs before being vetoed or signed into law by the Governor (state legislation) or President (federal legislation).
  3. However, before bills can be voted on in either chamber (the House or the Senate), it must be “read” or “considered” three times AND it must be referred to and approved by any appropriate committees. For instance, a bill dealing with home education would have to be referred to, discussed, and passed in the Education Committee of that chamber before it can be voted on in that chamber. While in the House, bills go through the House’s Committees; and while in the Senate, bills go through the Senate’s Committees.

Special circumstances:

  1. A bill can pass in one chamber and then be amended in the other chamber. If this occurs and the bill is passed in the second chamber, it must be returned to the chamber where it originated for approval of these changes. For instance, a Senate Bill that was amended and passed as amended in the House would need to have it's amendments approved by the Senate since the Senate approved the bill under the prior wording.
  2. If the House passes a bill that is similar to another bill passed in the Senate (or visa versa), then a Conference Committee made up of selected members of the House and Senate would meet to “iron out the differences” between the two bills and determine which provisions of each bill will be included in the final version or if one of the bills will be brought before both chambers in its entirety for a final revote. Bills that reach this stage typically pass without much difficulty. If a bill "goes to Conference Committee", time is of the essense in contacting both your senator and representative with your latest opinion on that bill.

Problems passing a bill:

  1. Sometimes similar bills will be brought up in each chamber, but the one that doesn’t have support in the legislature or with the lobbying groups may get stalled or die because of lack of action or may be voted against in committee. If you support a stalled bill, action must be taken to contact the legislators on that committee to “get it out of committee.” If you are opposed to such a bill, then you would still want to let your legislators know that you oppose the bill so they “should not bring it out of committee.”
  2. If the bill is amended in the committee, contact the committee members requesting that they “strike” any specific amendments or language to which you are opposed. You legislator may or may not be a member of that committee. However, anyone on a committee is representing you on matters before that committee. Amendments before a committee or either chamber (House or Senate) are not available to the general public via the Electronic Bill Room unless and until they are voted to be added to the bill. Therefore, you may need to contact your legislator to confirm the content of any amendments that are under consideration.
  3. If the bill is amended in the chamber (House or Senate), then you need to contact your legislator in that chamber (representative in the House or senator in the Senate) and any other influential members of that chamber to “strike” any specific language or amendments that you oppose.
  4. If there is desirable language or an amendment that you would like added to a bill (the opposite of that mentioned in #2 and #3 above), then you would contact your legislator with a specific or general request of the type of language you would like added. Your request for language does not have to be for specific wording. For instance, you could request that the legislator support the inclusion of language in a bill that would “respect parental rights” or that the legislator “not support any attempts to undermine parental authority or parental rights.”

Always let your voice be heard. If you speak up and your legislator responds to your requests properly, then you will feel more confident supporting that person again on election day. However, if he/she does not support your views, then you will be able to confidently withhold your support or vote for his/her opponent on election day.

For more detailed information on the legislative process, see PA's site Making Law in Pennsylvania.

Webmaster: Timothy Kramer -- E-mail: webmaster@catholichomeschoolpa.org
© Copyright 2001, 2004 Ellen Kramer or Catholic Homeschoolers of Pennsylvania unless otherwise noted.
This page was updated on July 17, 2004.