We still make change: Advocating in Alabama in the time of COVID-19

The voices and needs of people matter. And engaging those voices in the policymaking process is key to building the better, more inclusive Alabama that we envision.

Alabama Arise remains committed to informing and equipping our members to influence policies that affect their lives and communities. As we look toward the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 regular session, we’re prioritizing ways to keep constituent voices at the forefront of the policymaking process.

The legislative session beginning Feb. 2 will be the most constrained in decades due to COVID-19’s impacts. Access to traditional methods of contacting and monitoring legislators in person at the State House, including public hearings and floor debates, will be severely restricted for the general public.

The Alabama Legislature’s 2021 regular session will begin Feb. 2.

In fact, there is considerable uncertainty about how long and exactly which days the Legislature will be in session. While many bills will be introduced, the only constitutional requirement for lawmakers is to pass state budgets.

Lawmakers will meet for three days in each of the first two weeks before pausing until Feb. 23 for further assessment, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said last week. The full Legislature can gather for up to 30 meeting days in 15 calendar weeks.

Because of the session’s uncertain flow and the difficulty of meeting with legislators to discuss issues, we must use every method possible this year to inform and influence our legislators at the local level. Below are some of the key approaches you can take.

Methods of contact to use

Personal letters

Legislators may have significant breaks and limited contact from constituents during the session. An old-fashioned and powerful way to ensure they hear your voice is to write and mail them a letter. Be sure to make your case in your own words. (Information from Arise can help with explaining the issue and your stance.) Letters sent to lawmakers’ personal addresses or district offices are best, but letters to their Montgomery offices are important, too.

Phone calls

Give your local legislators a call on the issues that matter to you. To develop a connection with them, ask them for information and tell them about yourself in addition to asking them to support or oppose particular bills. When you reach out to lawmakers, ask for their preferred contact number. If they give you a cell phone number, ask if you can text them about important matters during the session.

Facebook

Most legislators have Facebook accounts. You often can use them to message lawmakers directly or provide critical information privately or publicly. Arise organizers are compiling an up-to-date list of Facebook accounts to share with you for your local legislative delegation.

Twitter

Twitter can be a quick, powerful and public way to contact legislators, even as they debate issues on the floor. Arise organizers are compiling an up-to-date list of Twitter accounts for you to use to contact your local delegation.

Texting

Text messages can be the most effective way to contact your legislator quickly at any time. Legislators invariably read text messages on the floor, during the session and at many other times. If you don’t already have a close relationship with the lawmaker, consider limiting your use of this method to critical moments when there isn’t time to use other approaches. Note: It’s important that you call and ask your legislator if you have permission to text them.

Email

Email is sometimes seen as an overused tool, but it remains an important and necessary one. When the session is underway, tons of emails come in to lawmakers. You should email them as well to ensure they hear from people who believe as you do. Emails sent while legislators are not in session have a better chance of getting read and influencing their position.

A few basic tips for speaking with legislators

  • Always be courteous and address lawmakers as “Senator” or “Representative.”
  • Remember to tell them where you live and that you vote in their district.
  • If you are asking them to support a certain position or bill, ask them for a response.
  • If they support your position, be sure to thank them.
  • If they oppose your position, ask them politely to explain why.
  • Share what you hear with Arise. (Find the organizer for your area here.)

Tips for visiting the Alabama State House

Thank you for advocating for a better Alabama for all! Here are some things you should know if you plan to visit the State House in Montgomery.

General information

The Alabama State House is located at 11 South Union Street, Montgomery, AL 36130. For House information, call 334-261-0500. For Senate information, call 334-261-0800.

Everyone must go through the front door of the State House and through the metal detector. Your personal belongings, such as a purse, wallet, cell phone, coins and anything metal, must be placed on the conveyor belt and X-rayed. Objects that are not allowed, such as knives, nail clippers, pepper spray, etc., will be confiscated.

Tips for visiting House members

The House of Representatives is on the 5th floor. Individual members’ offices are on the 4th and 5th floors. You may go by their office and leave notes or information. They may be on the House floor, and office doors may be locked. You can push information under their doors or tape it to their doors.

You can write a note to your representative if he or she is on the House floor. The note should be brief. Say you are with Alabama Arise, give your name and town, and ask that they come out and speak with you. Give the note to a page (young volunteer) at the front desk located on the 5th floor. You may be allowed to stay on the 5th floor behind the ropes or be asked to wait on the 6th floor.

The House Gallery is on the 6th floor, and you are welcome to go there to watch the proceedings. There is also a big lobby outside the gallery where legislators may come meet with you if you sent them a note.

Tips for visiting Senate members

The Senate Chamber and the senators’ offices are on the 7th floor. Please be mindful not to block the halls if you go to the offices. If your senator is not in the office, you may leave a note and information with the secretary.

If your senator is on the Senate floor, you may write a note asking him or her to come out and speak to you. Give the note to a page at the end of the lobby near the entrance to the chamber. Wait behind the roped-off walkway, and if possible, your senator will come out.

To observe the Senate, you must go to the 8th floor either by the steps or by a small elevator at the left side of the Senate lobby. Use the steps if possible.

How you can support Alabama Arise from an IRA or 401(k)

Alabama Arise members are generous, caring and resourceful people. That’s why I want to highlight a powerful giving opportunity for members who are at least 70½ years of age and drawing income from a tax-deferred savings account such as a traditional IRA, 401(k), 403(k), 403(b) or Thrift Savings Plan.

Whether you itemize or take the standard deduction, up to $100,000 of your required minimum distribution (RMD) can be tax-free when you give to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization like Arise through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD).

The check should be payable to Alabama Arise. You can ask your account custodian to mail it directly to us. Or if you prefer, you can have the check sent to you and then mail it yourself. Our address is Alabama Arise, P.O. Box 1188, Montgomery, AL 36101.

If you ask the custodian to send the check directly, call 334-832-9060 or email development director Brenda Boman at to notify us. That way we’ll know who to thank for the gift!

To ensure the tax benefit, apply for the QCD before you take your full RMD for the year. You’ll need our Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is 63-1186365.

We’re grateful for your support of our advocacy for better public policies. Together, we’re making life better for families across Alabama.

How to get involved in Alabama’s legislative process

Most people recognize the vital role that voting plays in a democracy – even if they don’t vote. But fewer understand the citizen’s role in lawmaking. Using your power as a constituent to influence legislators is called lobbying.

Alabama Arise promotes its interest – the well-being of Alabamians with low and moderate incomes – not by “wining and dining” lawmakers but by presenting well-researched policy analysis and lifting up the strong voices of Arise members who live in their districts. We hope you can use the information in this fact sheet to sharpen your skills as a citizen lobbyist.

How the legislative process works

Alabamians elect their state officers (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, etc.) and members of the Legislature every four years. These elections occur during the even-numbered years that don’t feature a presidential election. The Legislature’s four-year cycle is called a quadrennium.

The Alabama Legislature has two chambers:

  • The Senate has 35 members (senators) from the 35 Senate districts. The presiding officer is the Lieutenant Governor. In his or her absence, the role is filled by the President Pro Tempore (president “for a time”) – called President Pro Tem for short – who is elected from the Senate by its members at the start of the quadrennium.
  • The House of Representatives has 105 members (representatives) from the 105 House districts. The presiding officer is the Speaker of the House, elected from the chamber by its members at the start of each quadrennium. The Speaker Pro Tem presides in the Speaker’s absence.

Regular sessions and special sessions

The annual period when the Legislature meets is called the regular session.

  • The regular session begins on the first Tuesday in March in the first year of a quadrennium. In the second and third years, it begins on the first Tuesday in February. And in the fourth and final year, it begins on the first Tuesday in January.
  • The Legislature meets, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for a maximum of 30 meeting days within a period of 105 calendar days. Committees most often meet on Wednesdays.
  • The Governor may call a special session, indicating in a written “call” the subjects to be considered. No legislation on other subjects may be enacted during a special session without a two-thirds vote in both houses. A special session may last for up to 12 meeting days within a 30-day calendar span.

The Legislature’s main work is passing laws. Around 3,000 bills and resolutions are introduced each year. Some 40% of these are purely local in nature. About 180 to 200 general bills pass each year. Of these, only a small share affect the entire state. It often takes four years or more to pass a bill on a new subject.

How a bill becomes a law in Alabama

The process of proposing and passing laws is similar in the House and the Senate. Every new law must pass in both chambers.

  • A member of either chamber introduces a bill, which is a proposed new law. Sometimes members introduce identical bills in both chambers at the same time.
  • The bill gets a first reading (usually by title only) and is referred to a committee by the presiding officer.
  • The committee considers the bill – in a public hearing, if the committee chairman receives a written request for one. A bill that wins committee approval is “reported out” to the full chamber in a second reading (usually by number only) and placed on the General Calendar for the next meeting day.
  • On the next meeting day, the bill becomes eligible for its third reading and debate. The volume of bills, however, prevents most from being considered The Rules Committee places high-priority bills on the Special Order Calendar.
  • The bill gets its third reading (by number only unless a member requests a full reading, usually as a delaying tactic) when its number comes up in the assigned sequence on the Special Order Calendar or General Calendar. Debate in the full chamber begins at this time. When debate ends, the members vote on the bill.
  • After the bill passes one chamber, it goes to the other chamber and repeats the process.
  • Once a bill passes both chambers, it goes to the Governor to be signed (approved) or vetoed (rejected).
  • If vetoed, it goes back to the Legislature, where a simple majority vote can override (reverse) the veto.
  • If the Governor signs the bill or the Legislature overrides a veto, the bill becomes an act, or law.

How you can influence the process

Before a bill is introduced:

  • Stay informed about issues that are important to your group or community.
  • Work with organizations that research issues and recommend policy changes.
  • Talk to your legislators about introducing bills on issues important to your group or community.
  • Write a letter to your local newspaper concerning issues that are important to your group or community.

When a bill is in committee:

  • Contact committee members and ask them to support, reject or amend the bill – especially if your legislator serves on the committee.
  • Ask others to contact committee members.
  • Find out about and attend public hearings.
  • Testify for or against the bill. Arise lines up people to show a range of support or opposition.

When the bill is being debated on the floor:

  • Ask your legislators to support, reject or amend it.
  • Ask family and friends to contact their legislators and request that they support, reject or amend the bill.

When a bill awaits the Governor’s signature:

  • Call or write, urging the Governor to sign or veto.
  • Ask family and friends to contact the Governor.

Make your influence more effective

Plan your call. Before contacting your legislators by phone, prepare an informal “script”:

  • Give your name and where you live.
  • Identify the general reason for your call – for example, “I’d like to talk with you about Medicaid.”
  • Mention that you’re a member of Alabama Arise and that our members are interested in the issue. (To the legislator, this means voters!)
  • Refer to a specific piece of pending legislation, if there is one, including the bill number.
  • Make it personal. Tell a brief story or say why the issue matters to you.
  • Ask them to vote for the bill and where. (Mentioning a particular committee or floor vote suggests you may even be there to watch!)
  • Thank them in advance.

Try for direct contact

Legislators like to talk to voters. You can look up your lawmakers here, or get their contact information by calling 334-242-7600 (House) or 334-242-7800 (Senate). If you get a legislator’s secretary or answering machine, that’s OK! Your message still will get through. In this case, though, you must be even briefer: Leave out the story. No matter what kind of response you get, remain courteous. Anger doesn’t persuade.

Enlist other people to call with a similar message. Legislators know every phone call is the “tip of an iceberg.” For every person who takes the time to call, there are many others who share the caller’s concerns. Think of the number of voters you will represent if 10 or 20 people – or 50 or 100 – call on the same issue.

Take time to write a letter or email. Legislators do read their mail! Most legislators use email, and many are active on Facebook or Twitter as well. Keep your email subject line is simple and informative so it won’t resemble junk mail. You can write any legislator here: Alabama State House, Montgomery, AL 36130. Remember these tips:

  • Use your own words. Form letters are easy to recognize and less effective than personal statements.
  • Both handwritten and typed letters are fine.
  • Include the same information you would cover in a phone call, as noted above.
  • Limit your letter to one page in most cases.
  • Put letter-writing on your group’s agenda. Keep paper, envelopes, pens, stamps and addresses handy.

As long as you’re writing, remember your local newspaper. A letter to the editor will put your issue in the minds of many people. Some may be inspired to write their own letters, supporting your points. Legislators regularly read opinions sections to find out what their constituents are thinking.

Get to know your legislators personally

Make your voice more “real” with a face and a handshake:

  • Arrange a time to introduce your group as active constituents. Don’t wait until you have an issue to press.
  • Make a point to speak to them whenever you see them in public – at ballgames, the grocery store, etc.
  • Attend events where they are speaking.
  • Wear a name tag to every meeting.
  • Always tell them your name clearly and add a quick memory tag – for example, “My daughter goes to your child’s school,” or “I enjoyed your speech at the Kiwanis Club last Thursday.”
  • Invite them to your meeting – but remember how busy they are during the legislative session!
  • Help your group arrange a legislative reception.
  • Visit the State House during the legislative session.
  • Praise them when they deserve it, and respectfully express disapproval when they don’t.

For more information

Click here for an extensive, easy-to-use guide prepared by the Secretary of State. And please contact Alabama Arise at 334-832-9060 or to learn more about speaking out and being heard on policies to make life better for Alabamians of all races, genders and incomes.

2020 Alabama Arise issue priorities brochure

Alabama Arise members have chosen the following issues as policy priorities for 2020. The first two are permanent priorities. The remaining five reflect this year’s member voting. The Arise board also may approve action on other emerging issues during the year. To view our full 2020 issue priorities brochure, click here or click the Download button above.

Alabama Arise member Lawton Higgs speaks with Gabrielle Daniels of the Equal Justice Initiative during Arise's 2019 annual meeting in Montgomery.
Alabama Arise is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of congregations, organizations and individuals. Arise educates the public on how state and federal policies affect Alabamians living in or near poverty. Contributions to Alabama Arise are tax-deductible.

Adequate state budgets

Everyone deserves a chance to get ahead in life, and public investments in education, health care and child care help people do just that. Adequate state funding for Medicaid and other services is vital to remove barriers to opportunity for struggling Alabamians. Arise will make the case for Medicaid expansion and other public investments and oppose harmful cuts to vital services.

Tax reform

It’s hard for Alabamians with low incomes to make ends meet when they’re taxed deeper into poverty. These families pay twice as big a share of their incomes in state and local taxes as top earners do. And Alabama is one of three states with no tax break on groceries. Arise will seek to untax groceries and rebalance our upside-down tax system.

Criminal justice debt reform

High cash bail, court fees and fines take a heavy toll on many families in poverty. And civil asset forfeiture allows police to seize property from people who have not been convicted of a crime – or even charged. Arise will support policies to prevent abuses of civil asset forfeiture and reduce the burden that court fees and fines place on Alabamians with low incomes.

Death penalty reform

Capital punishment is literally a life-or-death issue. Arise will support several reforms of Alabama’s death penalty process, including more indigent defense funding, a moratorium on executions, and laws to bring the state in line with federal rulings regarding juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities. Arise will urge greater transparency and reforms to Alabama’s death penalty laws.

Payday/title lending reform

When low wages fail to cover the cost of  living, many desperate borrowers turn to  payday or auto title loans. But with Alabama law allowing annual percentage rates of up to 456% for payday loans and 300% for title loans, these loans leave far too many families and communities trapped in deep debt. Arise will pursue tighter state and federal regulations on payday and title lending and other high-cost loans in Alabama.

Public transportation

Alabama provides no state funding for public transportation, and its shortage of transit  options keeps many people from meeting basic needs. State investment in public transit would create jobs and increase mobility and opportunity for many seniors, people with disabilities, and people who can’t afford cars. Arise will seek dedicated state revenue for the Public Transportation Trust Fund, as well as legislation to allow Alabamians to make voluntary contributions to the fund through their tax refunds.

Voting rights

Voting is the most fundamental way people can make their voices heard in the democratic process. Alabama could expand participation by streamlining voting rights restoration for people disenfranchised after a conviction. The state also could follow Georgia’s lead by automatically registering eligible people to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or interact in other ways with public agencies. Arise will back efforts to remove barriers to voting rights restoration and to adopt automatic universal voter registration.

 

How you can influence the legislative process

You can use your power as a constituent to influence legislators all year long. You can call them, write them or make personal contact with them. Arise’s Legislative Days are great, but it’s even better to contact lawmakers in their home districts. Find contact information by calling 334-261-0500 (House) or 334-261-0800 (Senate).

  1. Make a call. Before contacting your legislator by phone, prepare for the call. Here’s how you can create an informal “script” to guide your call:
    • Give your name and where you live.
    • Identify the general reason for your call – for example, “I’d like to talk with you about Medicaid.”
    • Mention that you’re a member of Arise and that our members are interested in the issue. (To the legislator, this means voters!)
    • Refer to a specific piece of legislation, if there is one, including the bill number.
    • Make it personal. Tell a brief story or say why it matters to you.
    • Ask them to vote for the bill and where (in committee, on the floor, etc.).
    • Thank them in advance.
    • If you get a legislator’s secretary or voicemail, that’s OK – your message still will get through.
  2. Write a letter or email. Most legislators read their mail. You can write to any legislator by using the following address: Alabama State House, 11 South Union Street, Montgomery, AL 36130. Remember:
    • Use your own words. Form letters are easy to recognize and less effective than personal statements.
    • Both handwritten and typed letters are fine.
    • Include the same information you would cover in a phone call, as noted above.
    • Limit your letter to one page, in most cases. Shorter is better.
    • Put letter-writing on your group’s agenda. Keep paper, envelopes, pens, stamps and addresses handy.
    • Many legislators also use email, and many legislative web pages list an address. Be sure your subject line is simple and informative so it won’t resemble junk mail.
    • Follow your legislators on Twitter or contact them via Facebook if these options are available.
  3. Make face-to-face contact. Legislators like to talk to voters. Make it a point to greet them when you see them in public.
    • It’s good to meet with them to introduce your group as active constituents.
    • Invite them to your meeting – but remember how busy they are.
    • Praise them when they deserve it, and respectfully express disapproval when they don’t.

2019 Alabama Arise issue priorities brochure

Arise members have chosen the following issues as policy priorities for 2019. The first two are permanent priorities. The remaining five reflect this year’s member voting. The Arise board also may approve action on other emerging issues during the year.

  • Adequate state budgets
  • Tax reform
  • Public transportation
  • Payday/title lending reform
  • Automatic universal voter registration
  • Criminal justice debt reform
  • Death penalty reform

Electronic Funds Transfer agreement

When you choose electronic fund transfers, your tax-deductible gift will be paid automatically each month by your bank, and you will never have to write us another check (unless you want to!). A record of your contribution will appear on your monthly bank statement, making it easy to track your annual contributions for tax purposes. You can change your pledge or cancel at any time.