Dear CATA Members:

With the advent of term limits and the increased turnover of legislative staff, "grassroots" lobbying efforts have become critical to the success of any legislative program of activities. In an effort to increase our members' knowledge and awareness of the legislative process, the Executive Committee of the California Agricultural Teachers' Association has compiled this material for member use.

This information is intended to serve as a guideline for making personal contact with your hometown legislator. It is important to remember that the best time to get to know your legislator is before you need their help on a critical issue. There is no substitute for personal relationships - invite your legislator to activities that showcase your program and students. You can make a difference - the most effective legislative activity begins at home!


  • Make sure your letter is timely. Your letter won't have much impact if it is received after the issue has been voted on.
  • Write to your own legislator and to the appropriate committee chairs or members. Understand the structure of the legislature and whom to target.
  • Address your letter properly:

The Honorable John Doe
California State Senate
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator ________________     


The Honorable Jane Doe 
California State Assembly
State Capitol   
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Assembly Member _________________

  • Use your own words. Form letters don't have much impact.
  • Keep your letter short and clear. Try to limit it to one page.
  • Identify bills by title and number.
  • State reasons for your position. Relate the issue to your personal well-being or the well-being of your community.
  • Be courteous. Legislators and their staffers, like other people, don't respond very positively to threats.
  • Contact the CATA office if you require assistance or information. We're here to help.


  • Realize that many legislators rely heavily on their staff members for information and advice regarding issues. Getting to know their key staffers in the district can be as helpful as spending time with the legislator.
  • Call in advance for an appointment to visit your legislators' district office. If you feel the need to visit personally with your legislator, remember that Friday is usually the only day that they spend in their local community. The legislative schedule is set up so that legislators can usually depart Sacramento and be available to constituents on Fridays.
  • If you are visiting to "just get acquainted", limit your visit to a few minutes. If you are meeting to discuss specific legislation or a critical issue, prepare thyself! Know the specific bill numbers of pending legislation and be prepared to educate your legislator or their staff on how this proposed legislation impacts you, your students, and your community.
  • Maintain a professional appearance. That doesn't mean that you need to shop for new clothes prior to your visit - just keep in mind that your appearance says a lot about your status as a professional educator. Follow the advice we give to our students - Dress neatly and appropriately for the occasion.
  • Leave any written materials that you have prepared with the legislator or staffers. These materials should contain useful facts and other information that remind them of the reason for your visit.
  • Ask the legislator for his/her position on the issue and how he/she will vote. Don't take up their valuable time by "preaching to the choir". Express your sincere appreciation for their support and let them know that you intend to let other constituents know of your positive feelings.
  • If your position differs from your legislator's, politely express disappointment and offer factual information supporting your views. Avoid getting overly emotional, but don't be afraid to let your legislator know that this is an important issue to you and other constituents.
  • Always follow up with a thank-you letter. A short, sincere note of appreciation recognizing their time and attention can pay dividends.



  • Expect to wait. It is nearly impossible to know exactly when a bill will be heard in committee. Most committee chairs operate on a “sign in” basis, which means they try to accommodate bill authors as they show up in the hearing room. If you’re lucky, your author shows up early. If you’re unlucky, they wait until the last minute to show up. Typically, once an author is at the podium, all of their bills will be heard in succession.
  • Introduce yourself when you testify. “Madame Chair, I am Joe Gotvotes, head of the Agricultural Education Department at Jefferson High School.”
  • State your position at the beginning. “I am here to speak in opposition to SB 1795.”
  • Be brief and concise. State the reasons why you support or oppose the bill. Make certain your information is accurate and use local examples when possible. If you have written information, give it to the sergeant-at-arms to distribute – never hand out materials directly to members.
  • Be polite. This is especially important when you are opposing a bill. Use terms like “problematic” and “concerned”, rather than “moronic” or “simple-minded”. Polite and professional – the best way to go.
  • If your member is on the committee, let them know that you intend to testify. Committee members tend to wander in and out of committee hearings. It’s always a good idea to meet your member ahead of time (call for an appointment) to let them know what your position is on a bill up in committee, and to give them an opportunity to support your testimony. Most members will make a special attempt to be there if they know a constituent is speaking.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. Most of the time, members will ask questions in order to support your position, so don’t panic. If they appear to be argumentative, it’s okay to disagree – just do it politely. “With all respect, Senator Smith, I disagree with your assessment. From my perspective, the issue involves……..”
  • Be smart. If 17 people have already testified and have covered all of the pertinent points, just introduce yourself and say, “I support the bill for the reasons already stated….”
  • Be prepared to just say your name and then sit down. Due to time constraints, some chairs will limit statements to two speakers for and two speakers against a bill. As an alternative, they will usually allow all witnesses to at least come forward to state their name, affiliation, and position on the bill. It doesn’t seem fair if you traveled hours to get there and waited for several hours to speak, but it is the chair’s sandbox, and they make the rules.
  • Remember that, in some cases, it’s best to keep quiet. If the testimony is all going in your favor and the committee seems posed to vote the way you want, don’t open another can of worms by bringing up new issues or responding to points that the opposition made during their testimony. Shut up and collect the votes while you have them.


  • Read your testimony. It’s the most common mistake made by witnesses. Never, ever, under any circumstances, come to a committee hearing and read a speech. If it can’t fit on a recipe card, don’t say it. If you have detailed information or data, state that you have written testimony to submit, and then quickly cover the key points.
  • Be rude. It never helps. Even if you experience rude behavior on the part of members, remain polite and professional.
  • Argue unnecessarily or inappropriately. Occasionally, members will engage witnesses in a back-and-forth discussion, which is perfectly okay. Just recognize that when you are probably not going to change their mind, back off before the discussion gets out of hand. Sometimes, the member you are debating is not the most popular person on the committee and you will have won over other members by remaining professional and polite.
  • Insist on giving lengthy testimony if time is short. Some committee meetings, especially those late in the session, will have very long agendas. If it’s 7:30 in the evening and the committee has already heard 184 bills, don’t get windy – nobody will be in the mood to hear lengthy testimony.
  • Be the lone ranger if working with other organizations. If your testimony is part of a larger “package” of information that is being made available by a group, do your part and then shut up. Rely on others to cover some of the other points of view – it shows that a coalition has been created to deal with this issue and makes your input part of a much larger effort.
  • Get up and distribute written material to committee members. Indicate that you have handout material and give it to the sergeant-at-arms.
  • Challenge the chair’s authority to limit debate. The legislature operates by its’ own rules, not Roberts Rules of Order. If the chair cuts you off after 20 seconds, say thank you and then sit down. Most chairs will be polite at first, just catch a clue that they are the ones in charge.
  • Ever get too “informal”. Even if you went to high school with Senator Smith, never refer to them as anything but “Senator Smith”. Calling him “Bob” during testimony won’t impress anyone and will probably end up costing you a vote. Don’t ever cross that line.
  • Ever get too intimidated. It’s perfectly okay to be nervous – most witnesses are to some extent. Just focus on providing a real-world perspective on issues that you care about – the result will be just fine. Your opinion is important, and most committee chairs and members will be much more accommodating to “rookie” witnesses than they are to professional lobbyists. Show the members some respect, understand the limitations of the process, and go with the flow.