When bills make it to the floor, in front of the entire House or Senate body, it’s a big deal. (Read last week’s post to see all the hoops that bills have to jump through to get there!) To view the proceedings you can watch online or go up to the 5th floor and watch from the balcony. (View live streaming of the House and Senate)
If you want to influence the proceedings, stay on the 4th floor and go to the area I unofficially call the “lobbying lobby.” (I know, it sounds silly, but if you take yourself too seriously you won’t have any fun!)
This lobby area is right outside the doors of the chamber. There are two actually, one on the House side and another on the Senate side. You’ll know them by the velvet ropes, giant rugs, and presidential furniture. When the legislature is not in session, this area looks like the living room of a well-off grandparent, or a nice place to have coffee with a business acquaintance. When session is in, especially when controversial bills are expected to come up for a vote, this area morphs into a scaled-down version of the stock exchange floor.
There is a desk in the middle of the area attended by legislative staff. You’ll see pens and green notepads scattered on the desk. These notepads are for calling legislators off the floor to come speak with you during session. You simply write your name and the name of the legislator you wish to speak with on the green ticket. Then you wait for that legislator to come out. Sometimes It can take a while, so you may want to turn in a few tickets at a time if you wish to speak to several legislators.
At first, it is intimidating. I know what you’re thinking, “call an elected official off the floor… in the middle of session? You can do that?!” Yes, and here’s why you want to:
Often by the time a highly discussed bill makes it to the floor, most legislators have already made up their mind on how they will vote. Before your bill comes up, it is beneficial to call key legislators off the floor and simply ask them where they stand. If they give you a quick “yes” or “no” then great, now you know and can better predict how the vote will turn out. What you’re really looking for are those few who are still on the fence. This is the perfect opportunity to let those who are still undecided know your stance and why you think a particular bill is important. Your input at just the right moment may be what swings the vote.
Another reason you want to be in the “lobbying lobby” is to support those legislators who are on your side. Make sure to bring a talking points or key data about your position on an issue that a legislator can quickly scan and use. If the bill goes up for debate, this information will be beneficial to legislators in making the case for your position on a bill.
When calling legislators off the floor, I recommend downloading the OAEC 56th Legislature app on your smart phone. It hosts pictures of legislators in both the House and Senate, which helps you recognize the legislator you have called to the lobby. Although in some cases, it’s a little like trying to pick out someone you met online in a crowded restaurant. The profile pic doesn’t always match up with what comes out the gate.
Good luck on your advocacy efforts, and as always, feel free to contact me with questions or interest in joining me up at the Capitol! 405-532-3944 or LHabrock@oica.org
Lani Habrock is the director of KIDS COUNT at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. As a former contender for the State House of Representatives she believes legislative advocacy is an important work we must all take responsibility for in order to create positive change for all children in our state on a population-wide level.