Writing Elected Officials

Too often we throw up our hands and say, “I don’t like politics” in discussions of law and elected officials. Who can blame us? It feels like the entire system ticks along the same way no matter what we do or who we turn to. The law is confusing and sometimes even scary for most of us.

That said, from time to time, court reporter issues come up in politics, and it is important for us to fight on the right side of those issues. Sometimes this is done through group lobbying, like the NYSCRA. In recent memory we have had a defeat or two. There is nothing saying that we cannot try again. There are other laws that have passed for the betterment of New York that also included us tangentially. Then there are laws which benefit us directly, like the General Business Law 399-cc. The summary of it is it puts the attorney of record on the hook for transcripts that he or she orders. 

What about when something is not done through group lobbying, or what about if an individual wants to propose a law, or write in support of a proposed law? In New York State, laws must pass through the State Senate and the State Assembly. They are then signed by the governor. Every New Yorker has a State Senator and State Assemblyperson that they can write to talk about laws they feel should pass. The New York State Senate site has tools for finding your state senator. The New York State Assembly site has a tool called “Who Is My Assembly Member”.

Now that we have the tools to know who our elected officials are for New York State laws, and can find their website or their webform to write them an email, what do we say? It isn’t my business to tell anyone what to say, but below, I give some useful tips from my experiences in writing state legislators. These are the things that have gotten me the best responses. 

  1. Be polite. The time to be mean is in the voting booth. The person you are writing won an election and you are dependent on them to help you. Even if you do not like their policies or political party, you should not be insulting or rude.
  2. Be simple. As court reporters, we deal with words all day at 225 words per minute. We can write out a book in the amount of time it takes others to write a sentence. Remember that your state legislator is probably not a court reporter. Your state legislator may not even be a lawyer. Use simple words and simple language to describe how you’re feeling. Stay away from using terms of art. For example, let’s say a legislator wanted to add an extra tax to scopist services and you didn’t want that. If you tell them it’ll make scoping 25 cents more a page, they won’t understand very well. If you tell them it’ll increase the costs of your business by 25 percent, it’ll help them understand very well.
  3. Be succinct. A staff member of your legislator or your legislator is going to sit down with your message. If it is nine pages long they are more likely to skim it. If it is only a paragraph or two they will probably read the whole thing.
  4. Start with something nice. “Good morning to you and your staff” is a really nice way to start a message because it acknowledges the staff who are probably reading the message. 
  5. If you have something nice to say, say it. Take a second to look at things your state senator had voted yes on. If you agree with what he or she did, tell them. Simple things like “thank you and your staff for all your hard work and voting yes on law XYZ.” Be brief but stay positive. 
  6. Talk about how the law might affect you personally, or how you believe it will affect people in your state. I wrote in support of the court reporter law that would mandate the use of court reporters in NYC courts. I was a deposition reporter at that time. I wrote to my legislator, very honestly, that it would not benefit me personally but I felt that there were dozens of hardworking professionals maintaining the record, and dozens more training to maintain the record, and that a record maintained by a court reporter was important to New Yorkers because court reporters have been maintaining records for decades. We are the best for the job because it is all we basically train to do. I told my legislator it was important to have records made and maintained by court reporters because these records could change the case of lawyers and litigants in New York State, and could decide somebody’s fate or cost someone a lot of money. 

Those are my best tips. I’ll end this all rather unceremoniously by saying I have only gone into state law because that’s where we see a lot of the action for our field. There is also federal law. Every United States Citizen has two federal senators and a representative in the House of Representatives. You can write your congresspeople for help with federal agencies and/or proposals/comments with regard to federal law. 

 Most actions start out as ideas. Your ideas are valuable, but if you do not share them with the appropriate people, then they can never happen. Don’t be disappointed if a state senator disagrees with you, just be more active. Encourage them to keep their mind open and tell them you will keep your mind open. If all else fails, in the next election, you can always vote against them or donate to a different candidate.

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