Working With Iowa Legislature

Working with The Iowa Legislature

An effective way to get involved is to help your legislator understand what their constituents would like to achieve with their votes. Our team and our members have a great deal of experience reaching out to law makers. Here are effective ways to contact your representative, and things to consider during the process.

  1. Even though your legislator may not be sympathetic to your position, it is still important for them to hear from folks who are advocating for change. Support for some of our reforms has been bipartisan, so we shouldn’t give up on either party. 
  2. To many of you, this information may be “old hat”, since you have been in contact with them many times. I would welcome additional ideas and suggestions from any of you “old pros” who may be tuned in. 
  3. I want to start with advice on how to navigate the Iowa Legislature website, which is surprisingly user friendly, as such things go. You can reach the website, simply by googling “Iowa Legislature.” (
    a.  On the homepage, you will see a daily schedule.
    b.  However, you will probably most frequently be using the buttons at the top, or the bill directory on the left-hand side.
  4. To reach your legislator
    a.  Click on the “Legislator” button.
    b.  If you don’t know who your House or Senate representative is, you can click on the hotlink called “find your legislator.” By putting in your address and/or zip code, you will be directed to the proper persons.
    c.  If you do know, you can click on either the House or Senate link, where the members are listed in alphabetical order.
    d.  If you click on your House or Senate member’s name, a page will come up with a picture and information about them. This will include their legislative email but may also include their home address, home phone # and home email. Some legislators provide more information than others. It also shows what committees they serve on.
  5. Contacting your legislator about an issue
    a.  All the legislative emails include their first and last names with as the suffix.
    b.  This may seem like the quickest way to contact them, but be aware that a legislator may get dozens of emails per day at this address and yours may or may not be read promptly.
    c.  If they list their home email, they may read this more quickly than their official one. If they have listed it, they probably don’t mind being contacted there.
    d.  Phone calls may also work, but it can be hard to get hold of them during the session. State legislators have minimal staff to handle such things.
    e.  In person contact at the Capitol is also possible. Their desks are in the chambers, so you hand in a note at the desk outside the entrance to the chamber. They are often in committee meetings, so they may not be at their desk to receive it. You can also buttonhole them in the corridors, if you happened to know what they look like.
    f.  An old-fashioned snail mail letter can be a surprisingly good way to contact them. When a person takes the trouble to hand write a letter (always do this rather than typing) and spend 60 cents for a stamp, they may take that more seriously than an email.
    g.  Legislative forums are held in various communities around the state. Showing up to one of these can be a good way to speak in person with your representative or senator. They keep strict limits on the length of questions or statements so learn to be succinct.
  6. Committees
    a.  As most of you know, committees and subcommittees do most of the work in the legislature. Therefore, it is important to identify who sits on which committees.
    b.  Fortunately, the website makes that easy. Just hit the button labeled “Committees and Schedules” and you will find a complete list of House and Senate Committees and their members.
    c.  A mass mailing to committee members does often get their attention, especially on a controversial issue. However, members tend to pay the most attention to mail from their own constituents.
    d.  If a bill is not voted out of committee by the various “funnel” deadlines (usually late February or early March,) it cannot be considered by the whole body.
  7. Bills
    a.  The text from any bill that has been introduced during the session is available on the website.
    b.  If you know the bill number (for example, HF 203), you can simply type that in the box on the left of the webpage.
    c.  A complete text of the bill, indicating the proposed changes or additions to the statute should pop up.
    d.  Sometimes the exact changes and their impact is confusing, so at the end of each bill there is a section called “Explanation” in which the changes and their implications are clearly laid out.
    e.  If you don’t know the bill’s number, you can also search by keyword.
    f.  If you are really gung-ho, you can sign up under “Bills and Rules to be Watched” to be notified about any pending bill within a subject area, such as criminal justice. This will kind of clutter up your inbox, but it can alert you to mischief that they are getting up to that you weren’t aware of.
  8. Messaging
    a.  It’s best to write about specific bills, rather than sending messages of general support for change in an area.
    b.  Keep your messages short and to the point, as legislators have to read a lot of them.
    c.  Use your own words. Make it personal.
    d.  Personal stories are good, as long as they are not too long.
    e.  Try to be as positive as you can. You may want to call your legislator an idiot for supporting or opposing XYZ, but it is best to refrain from that, even if it is true.
  9. Template for message to a legislator [instructions in brackets]

    [Snail mail Des Moines address]

    Senator [or Representative] Joe Doaks
    1007 E.Grand Ave.
    Des Moines, IA 50319

    [Note – legislators don’t have individual offices so all mail goes to the same address.]
    [Can also use home address if provided]

    I strongly urge you to support SSB 1004 [or HSB 55 in the House] which will provide much needed reforms in Iowa’s probation system. By providing additional education credits to reduce time served on probation for those seeking to improve themselves, it encourages offenders to assume productive roles in society. It also addresses Iowa’s serious current workforce shortages by providing skilled employees.

    [Short personal story or experience as appropriate]

    I will appreciate your careful consideration of this important legislation.

    [Your Name]
    [also need your home address. It is important to clearly identify where you live.]

    [email message]
    From: [give name]
    Subject line – support for probation reform.
    You can use essentially the same message as above.

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