On May 9, several hundred animal advocates from throughout the state, including the Berkshires, traveled to the State House in Boston for Lobby Day for Animals. We networked, met with our representatives, enjoyed a delicious feast catered by the acclaimed restaurant the Red Lentil, and celebrated awards given to the legislators who are most active on behalf of animals.
Back home in western Massachusetts, members of Berkshire Voters for Animals (BVA) have been holding additional meetings with our representatives, educating them about the many bills that affect the welfare of animals throughout the state.
In preparation for all of this activity, BVA recently hosted a Lobby 101 webinar provided by the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). Participants learned about how bills become law and how we can use our voices most effectively.
How a Bill Becomes Law
Deciding which bills to support during the legislative session is no small task for Massachusetts representatives. More than 6,000 bills are filed each session. Each bill has a legislator who acts as a sponsor and the bill is filed in both the House and the Senate.
Massachusetts residents have many opportunities to build support for certain bills throughout the legislative process. In the earliest stages, we can ask our representatives to co-sponsor certain bills, providing additional support and visibility. Once a new bill is assigned to a committee within the House and Senate, it is given a public hearing. Anyone can go to the hearing and present testimony. For example, some of our members went to a hearing several weeks ago for a bill aimed at ending the use of animals in circuses throughout Massachusetts – similar to the one we passed in Pittsfield last year.
If the bill is passed favorably out of this first committee, it begins a journey through a series of additional committees. Our goal is to keep the bill moving favorably through these committees until it finally reaches the floor of either the Senate or the House for a vote. A favorable vote sends it to the other branch and then finally to the governor’s desk. Needless to say, with so many steps in a bill’s journey, there are many, many opportunities for animal advocates to make our voices heard. With the help of the MSPCA and other organizations, we follow the process closely and contact our members at crucial points, requesting that they contact their own legislators or the committee chairs.
Your Voice Makes a Difference
We look to the MSPCA for guidance on which bills to focus on. Their experts consider things like the potential costs associated with a new law, how many animals are likely to be impacted, and how much support a bill is likely to garner.
With this kind of careful consideration, we feel confident that we can make a difference for animals by lobbying for certain bills. We also encourage our members to maximize their impact by adhering to best practices for lobbying.
For example, signing a petition is better than nothing, but not by much. While a long list of names on a petition may move businesses to change their practices, it just doesn’t have much effect on how legislators vote. They are looking for input from voters who care enough about an issue to give it a little bit of effort.
So, for the biggest impact, pick up the phone. A call to your legislator’s office is by far the most effective way to be heard. And it’s not as scary as it sounds. Your call will go to either voicemail or to a legislative aide. You can simply state that you are asking your representative to vote “yes” (or sometimes, we are asking for a “no” vote, depending on the issue) on a bill. Give the number and name of the bill. You’ll also be asked for your address. And that is pretty much it. If you wish to share a little detail about why the bill matters to you, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary. Your legislator really just wants to know if a bill has support among his or her constituents.
If you can’t call, the next best approach is to send a personal email. If the MSPCA or BVA has sent you a suggested template for the letter, personalize it by changing a few words. Your representative will know that you are truly engaged with the issue. And of course, it goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway!) – be polite. And use your spell checker.
Finally, if you want to be a power lobbyist for the animals, consider making a phone call and then following it up with an email. Once you get in the swing of making these calls and sending emails you’ll realize that it takes just a minute or two out of your day. It’s hard to believe that such a small effort could have an impact on the treatment of animals. But as we watch animal welfare laws changing all over the country, we realize that it can. And it does.
For more information on how to lobby effectively for animals or to get involved with the efforts of Berkshire Voters for Animals, please contact us at BerkshireVotersforAnimals@gmail.com. You can also follow us at facebook.com/berkshirevotersforanimals.
Ginny Messina is member of Berkshire Voters for Animals