One of the biggest misconceptions about advocating in the Legislature is that you have to be a high-powered lobbyist or deep-pocketed campaign donor to make an impact. The truth is that everyday Louisianians can have an enormous influence on the decisions legislators make. Often, it’s the only thing that makes a difference. This guide is a toolkit that will help you engage with elected officials. Inside, you’ll learn how the Louisiana Legislature works, how to communicate effectively with your legislator and other key elected leadership, and additional resources to help you create effective change in your communities.
Table of Contents
Every year, the Legislature meets in Baton Rouge, our state capital, to participate in legislative sessions. A session is when lawmakers get together to debate each other's ideas. They write their ideas down, and we call these documents bills. If a bill gets the “okay” from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the Governor signs it, it becomes a law.
Legislators are responsible for:
- Drafting and introducing bills
- Debating the merits of bills
- Voting to pass or kill bills
In even-numbered years, we have a Regular Session in which all kinds of bills are introduced. During Regular Sessions, the Legislature cannot vote to introduce new taxes or increase existing taxes.
In odd-numbered years, we have Fiscal Sessions in which bills dealing with money matters may be introduced. During a Fiscal Session, each member may still file bills that are not about money matters, but they can only file five per legislator.
An extraordinary (special) session may be called by the governor or the Legislature. The governor or presiding officers must give at least five days notice before the special session is set to begin.
About the House of Representatives
There are 105 members in Louisiana’s House of Representatives.
All bills that have to do with money matters must start in the House of Representatives.
About the Senate
There are 39 members in Louisiana’s State Senate.
Senators also confirm appointments for state-level jobs. They review the qualifications and background of each applicant and then publicly vote on whether to confirm that applicant.
Each state legislator must:
Be at least 18 years old
Be a registered voter
Must have lived in Louisiana for at least two years
Live in the district they want to represent
Louisiana elects 105 state representatives and 39 state senators. State representatives and senators serve four year terms.
Here's what some of the most commonly used legislative jargon means.
- Amendment – A change to an existing bill or resolution. This takes the form of an addition or deletion of words. It can affect only a couple words, or it can look like an entire re-write. A “committee amendment” is an amendment adopted by a majority vote of the committee considering the bill or resolution. A “floor amendment” is an amendment offered by a member of the House or Senate while the bill or resolution is considered by the full legislative body.
- Author – The member of the Legislature who is sponsoring a bill or resolution.
- Committee – Committees are groups of legislators that must review and vote on bills before they can be considered by the full House or Senate. Committees must hold public meetings and receive public feedback on bills. Each committee is responsible for a specific area of law, like “Administration of Criminal Justice” or “Education.” The chair of a committee has the sole power to put a bill on the committee’s agenda, or refuse to put it on an agenda, and committees can send a bill to the full House or Senate by majority vote. When the Legislature is not in session, committees may hold meetings to monitor ongoing governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information, and recommend courses of action to the larger legislative houses.
- Concurrent Resolution – A legislative instrument that directs a state agency to take an action, proposes changes to the rules of the Legislature, or other acts that do not amend the law or Constitution.
- Fiscal Note – An estimate of the financial impact of a bill or resolution prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office.
- Joint Resolution – A legislative instrument that proposes a change to or repeal of a provision of the Louisiana Constitution.
- Task Force - Task forces are groups of legislators or other interested parties given the responsibility of studying a public policy issue and making recommendations. Task forces are often created for a limited period of time and meet outside of a legislative session.
- Veto – The governor’s disapproval of a bill that is finally passed by the Legislature. A veto kills the bill unless the House and the Senate both vote to override the veto by a two-thirds majority.
- Proponent - Someone who is supportive of a particular bill or resolution.
- Opponent - Someone who is against a particular bill or resolution.
- Fiscal Year (FY)
- Senate Bill (SB)
- House Bill (HB)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR)
- House Concurrent Resolution (HCR)
- Senate Resolution (SR)
- House Resolution (HR)
- Senator (Sen.)
- Representative (Rep.)
Before a Bill is Introduced
- Research the issues and your legislators
- Connect with local organizations that analyze policy (like the ACLU!) to learn about the bills they are supporting or opposing
- Encourage your legislators to introduce bills on issues you care about
- Tell others why legislators should take action by sharing information in person, online, and in the news
NOTE: Check the Louisiana Legislature's website often: https://legis.la.gov/legis/home.aspx. This includes information about all bills and the calendar for the day.
When the Bill is in Committee
- Contact committee members and ask them to support, reject, or amend the bill. Ask your friends to do the same.
- Attend public hearings. Testify for or against the bill, particularly if you have a personal story.
NOTE: If you don't feel comfortable attending meetings in-person, you can email your public comments. For instructions, click the agenda link next to the meeting link. Public comments are typically due at noon the day before the committee meeting.
When a Bill is on the Floor
- Contact your legislator to support, reject, or amend the bill. Ask your friends to do the same.
- Tell people why you think the bill should or should not pass by posting on social media or writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
When a Bill is on the Governor's Desk
- Contact the Governor's office to encourage signing or vetoing the bill.
- Identify other people or groups who may have special influence with the Governor and contact them.
NOTE: If you don't get the outcome you were hoping for, stay positive. Passing quality legislation takes time.
Below is a list of committees that handles issues most relevant to the work of the ACLU of Louisiana. The chairperson is the most powerful committee member. The chairperson decides whether a bill is calendared for consideration and can call special meetings at their discretion.
House of Representatives
Administration of Criminal Justice
Chair: Edward “Ted” James
House and Government Affairs
Senate and Government Affairs
Chair: Sharon Hewitt
Common issues: Voting rights
Chair: Raymond Garofalo
Common issues: Discrimination in schools, school discipline
Chair: Cleo Fields
Common issues: Discrimination in schools, school discipline
When is the 2021 legislative session?
- The 2021 Regular Legislative Session will convene at noon on Monday, April 12, 2021. The session will end no later than 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 10, 2021.
Can I participate in a committee meeting?
- Yes! If you’re attending a committee meeting in person, you can use a witness card to show your position on a bill and to indicate if you’d like to give public testimony.
- Green witness cards are used to show that you support a bill and red cards are used show that you oppose a bill. Carefully read, fill out, and sign the back of the witness card. If you want to give public testimony, check the appropriate box on the witness card. If you don’t want to give public testimony but still want to signal your support or opposition, leave the box unchecked. Return all completed cards to the designated staff member or sergeant-at-arms.
- If you’re not attending a committee meeting in person, you can watch live and on-demand recordings of House committee meetings here and Senate committee meetings here. For instructions on submitting public comments online, click the agenda icon next to the meeting. For people who do not feel comfortable giving in-person testimony, public comments are typically due at noon the day before the committee meeting, but deadlines can change rapidly and without much notice.
Where can I find information about committee meetings?
- Because things change and move so quickly, it’s a good idea to sign up for notifications:
- Access the calendar.
- If you want to receive email notices of upcoming committee hearings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can also create a MyLegis account and set up committee notifications here.
- The Legislature also provides a free public update phone line. You can call 342-2456 if you’re in the Baton Rouge area or toll free 800-256-3793 if you’re outside Baton Rouge. The phone line operates Monday through Thursday, 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM, and Friday, 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM each day the Legislature is in session. When the Legislature is not meeting, the line operates Monday through Friday, 9:30 AM - 4:00 PM.
What is lobbying?
- Lobbying is a form of advocacy with the intention of influencing decisions made by the government on behalf of individuals or groups. The ACLU of Louisiana lobbies to protect and expand the constitutional rights of all Louisianans. Most people think of lobbyists only as paid professionals, but anyone who petitions the government or contacts their legislators to voice an opinion is functioning as a lobbyist.
Who is my legislator and how do I contact them?
- Click here to find your legislator and their contact information.
How can I get involved with the Louisiana Legislature?
- The ACLU of Louisiana will be hosting virtual events so you can learn more about the legislative process, how to advocate, and hear from experts about important civil liberties bills.
Where can I sign up for ACLU-LA’s legislative updates?
- Make sure to sign up for our email list, follow us on social media, and join our Rapid Response Text Team.