by Belinda Judson
Executive Director, Mid-States NATO
The new year inevitably brings new challenges
in the state legislative arena. Many states will reconvene
sessions in January as legislators tackle issues new and
2006 is an election year for many state
representatives and governors, and election years always
legislative agendas. And, of course, the movie industry’s
high profile continues to make cinemas attractive targets
for legislators determined to get their names out in front
As a result, a good number of cinema operators
remain ready and willing – anxious even – to
lobby their lawmakers. Others, however, have heretofore
leaping into the legislative fray.
Most often the reluctance seems to stem
from a fear of the process itself. Many have expressed
about how to contact or speak to legislators, or what
to do when called upon to testify at legislative committee
|Don’t be intimidated when meeting with your
representatives. Legislators work for you and want
to hear your opinions and concerns. Talk to them as
you would anyone.
Perhaps a few answers to some frequently
asked questions could help theatremen feel more comfortable
concerns to representatives.
E-mail. Often a regional association
officer will ask an exhibitor to weigh in on a specific
piece of legislation.
So what is the best way to contact a legislator, and get
that legislator’s attention once contact is made?
Representatives have stated that it is now
most effective to contact them by e-mail. Every member
of a legislature
has an e-mail address that is checked regularly.
Representatives are inundated with hundreds
of messages a day. They have stated that that the best
way to get their
attention is with a short, well-reasoned and heartfelt
letter. Here are a few dos and don’ts that may be
Address lawmakers as “Representative Smith” or “Senator
Be brief; don’t write more than one page.
• Make your e-mail easy to read.
• Identify the issue at the beginning of your letter and
cover only one issue.
• Make your letter informative; remember that you are the
expert on your issue.
• Identify yourself and the reason for your expertise.
• Get right to the point. For example, you may start by asking
the legislator to support/oppose House or Senate Bill
9999. Give your reasons for supporting or opposing the legislation.
Let them know how the bill could help or hurt you, your
business or your community. Explain what it means to
• Use terms lawmakers will understand. They are not necessarily
familiar with the exhibition industry.
• Offer to be of assistance. Offer to testify at committee
hearings on the issue.
• Be polite and reasonable.
• Include your contact information.
• Be sure to thank the representative for his or her consideration.
Don’t use a “form letter.” Lawmakers
respond more readily to short, simple, personal missives.
If you are using “suggested” language
from a sample letter be sure to add your own personal
Don’t use threats or insults. You should be respectful
of lawmakers’ views even if they are different
than your own.
Don’t raise the issue of your financial or other
support for the legislator’s campaign.
it is more advantageous to meet with legislators. What
are some things to keep in mind when
visiting with them in person?
While general principles are the same as
far as keeping things brief, getting to the point, being
the issue, being respectful of the legislators and avoiding
reference to support of the legislator’s election
campaign, there are a few other helpful things to keep
in mind for face-to-face meetings.
Make an appointment and be on time. Legislators are busy
so don’t assume that you can just drop
in and they will have time to meet with you.
• Summarize the information on the issue that brought you
there. Lawmakers deal with a myriad of issues
every day. You cannot assume that they know you personally or why
you are meeting with them. Again, do so briefly
Don’t forget to listen. It is as important to hear
what the legislator has to say to you as it is for them
to hear your side of the issue. Don’t be so intent
on delivering your message that you don’t
hear their position.
• Be sure to thank them. Let the legislators know that you
appreciate their time and assistance.
Don’t be intimidated when meeting with your representatives.
Legislators work for you and want to hear
your opinions and concerns. Talk to them as you would
Don’t be upset if the legislators are a bit tardy
for their appointments. Their calendars
are full and they have many time constraints.
Don’t be angry if you are asked to meet with a
legislative aide rather than your representative. Again,
with busy schedules it frequently becomes impossible
to meet with constituents personally. Keep
in mind that staffers have the ear of the representative
as important to make your point to them.
Don’t show disappointment or anger if the lawmaker’s
position is different than your own. Never
make threats or insult the legislator. Always maintain
Don’t keep talking if the legislator has given you
the response you sought on the issue. You don’t
want to talk yourself out of getting the
support you were seeking
in the first place!
Testimony. What’s to be done if you are asked to
testify before a legislative committee? This is perhaps
the most daunting task of all for volunteers. Some simple
suggestions may help you understand what’s
involved in the process.
• Arrive early. This
gives you a chance to survey the room, identify committee
and make any last-minute
changes to your testimony.
• Identify yourself and your organization when speaking to
• Clearly state your position on the bill.
Speak through the committee chairs. All questions and answers
during committee hearings are routed through the committee
chair. They should be addressed as “Madame Chair” or “Mr.
Don’t be intimidated. Remember, again, that these
representatives work for you and need to hear
what you have to say. Many are your friends and neighbors,
to them as you would anyone.
• State your case in clear and simple terms.
• Be brief. State your points concisely.
• Know your issue and be prepared to answer questions. Often
legislators will want to know things like:
. What, if anything, has been done in other states?
. What groups support or oppose this issue?
. What will be the cost to the state?
. Why might your position be in the best interest
of the state?
• Keep your answers straightforward; this is
always the best way to make your case.
If you don’t know the answer, say so. Offer to
find the answer and pass it on to a committee member.
Have a written summary. It is helpful to have copies of
a concise summary of your key points to pass out to committee
members and staff. Legislators often say that an “issue
sheet” is the most effective way of gaining
• Offer to help. Ask if there is anything you can do to help
get the bill approved or defeated.
• Show respect. Your views are important to the legislators
and they respect your position. Likewise legislators
respond to polite treatment rather than discourteous constituents.
While there are many sides to every issue each
one has merits. Understand that legislators have difficult decisions
• Thank the committee for hearing your testimony.
Hopefully exhibitors will
find these tips helpful and feel more prepared when called upon
to get involved with
their legislators. Regional associations can
be helpful in educating cinema operators on issues, preparing
letters and testimony, and even attending meetings
with exhibitors. Still, theatre operators should always remember
that, as constituents, they are the most important
people a lawmaker can hear from – and they can truly make
a difference in shaping policy.