Choosing a Bill Sponsor:
It will be important to identify connections potential sponsors may have to your legislation. Are they the lawmaker who represents you or a coalition partner? Do they have an eating disorder treatment center in their district? Have they proposed legislation in this arena before? Do they have a connection to mental health, online safely/digital citizenship, health education, consumer safety, or the adolescent or adult population you are trying to protect? Make a list of potential lawmakers to consider before jumping at the first option.
Ideal criteria for your dream sponsor
- Has a strong and friendly relationship with legislative leadership
- Has a strong and positive relationship with lawmakers on the committee most likely to hear your bill
- Has a track record of being able to work in a bipartisan fashion
- Has previously sponsored bills that have passed to become law
- Chooses a select number of bills to sponsor each year so they can concentrate on moving them through the process (does not say yes to all requests to sponsor)
- Has a reputation for being reliable and responsive to the advocate community and will keep you informed
- Has good staff that are known to be easy to work with (in states where lawmakers have paid staff)
- Has a personal or professional connection to your issue
- Is a champion for issues concerning children
- Is a champion for issues concerning health (including mental health)
You may also be lucky to know a professional lobbyist who works for an organization you are friendly with or one in your coalition. People in these positions can provide you with incredible amount of unofficial information about elected officials and decision-makers because they are working directly with lawmakers each day. They can offer thoughts about personality type, how to approach certain lawmakers’ offices, and who has great staff. They can let you know who gets along with whom and dynamics between lawmakers. This may sound silly but knowing who gets along with legislative leadership and who does not will influence your chances of success. The last thing you want is to find out that an important Committee Chair or the Speaker of the House cannot stand the person you sought out to be your bill sponsor.
Securing Bill Co-Sponsors:
Oftentimes, bills can have co-sponsors and the list of co-sponsors can be an important information about the insider support for your bill.
A few things to keep in mind when enlisting co-sponsors
- When speaking to potential co-sponsors about this issue, it is important to use tested messages about this issue. These decision makers may not become sponsors, but this is still an opportunity to educate them about your issue. You should highlight how different it is to grow up these days with the internet. The pressure to meet beauty and body standards is greatly amplified by social media and influencers across many digital platforms. It is also important to acknowledge that you do not expect to solve the entire problem with one standalone policy. The legislation you are asking them to sponsor is just a first step and part of a bigger policy package that can address both the cause and effect of this urgent problem.
- Co-sponsors will not usually make or break your bill, but you will want to have a strong back-up to your lead sponsor in case they leave office early or fall out of favor with leadership.
- Strive for bi-partisanship. The opposition party is less likely to kill your bill if there is some support for it within their ranks.
- Aim to have co-sponsors from each region of the city or state. You want to demonstrate broad support.
- Because these issues impact many communities, seek a co-sponsorship list that is inclusive by race/ethnicity, gender, and other important identity groups in your local area.
- Recruit unlikely bedfellows. Of course, you will be able to win the support of the health advocates in the legislative body, but what about the fiscal watchdogs, economic development, or criminal justice champions?
- If you know which committee your bill will likely be assigned to, try to get a few members of that committee signed on as co-sponsors to give you inside information about its status.
If you are brand new to the process and don’t have access to the info listed above, there’s still hope! The state lawmakers who represent the district where you live and vote might be willing to file the bill on your behalf. It’s not a perfect solution and there’s no guarantee that they will do any work to advance the bill, but at least it starts the process which will give you a reason to meet with many other lawmakers so you can find a better sponsor for the next session.