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A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Own Legislation

A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Own Legislation

A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Own Legislation

by Sydney Uhlman

If you’ve been following WTP on our social media lately, you may have seen that I’ve been working on legislation that would lower Iowa’s voter registration age from 17.5 to 16 years of age. As my bill works its way through the House, I thought it would be helpful to create a step-by-step guide so that you, too, can work with your legislators to introduce a bill that you’re passionate about.

1. Finding a topic you care about

This is the most important part of the entire process! Without a strong idea, you won’t have a viable bill. Identify some of the issues you care about and how your state can improve upon them. Make sure your state doesn’t already have something similar in place and that your idea is reasonable.

The idea for my bill came about after I learned that Massachusetts recently began allowing 16 year olds to register to vote. As someone who’s been passionate about voting rights since middle school, I wondered why Iowa didn’t have the same thing. After learning that ten states and the District of Columbia allowed preregistration at 16, I conducted some light research about voter preregistration and learned of its many benefits, inspiring me to further pursue it.

 

Sydney being interviewed for TV

Sydney being interviewed for TV

3. Drafting papers

There are two main papers you’ll want to prepare before you meet with a legislator: a white paper and a policy proposal. They both present an overview of your proposed idea and summarize the research you’ve conducted, but they differ slightly. I will be going more in-depth about both of these papers in a future podcast episode, however, I’ve included a brief overview that highlights the main components.

A policy proposal, also called a position statement, is a brief, one-page paper highlighting your position, rationale (the logic behind your position), and your recommended action.

A white paper is longer, typically a few pages, allowing for more information, reasoning, and clarification. Both the white paper and the policy proposal include a list of sources utilized.

 

Sydney ready to go get her legislation passed.

Sydney ready to go get her legislation passed.

Sydney talking to local press about her legislation.

Sydney talking to local press about her legislation.

2. Research, research, research!

Before I even began to draft my white paper and policy proposal (discussed in more detail below), I conducted about three months of in-depth research. While it sounds overwhelming, it won’t feel like it if you’re truly passionate about the issue you’re working on.You want to be thoroughly prepared when you meet with your legislator and have a well-rounded knowledge of your topic.

A great start to the research process is identifying what states, if any, have legislation similar to yours. If you can find other states that have enacted similar laws,  it will help strengthen your case and give your idea more credibility. It also helps to understand the political makeup of those states. For instance, the Iowa House and Senate both have a Republican majority, and we have a Republican governor. When I put together my arguments for my bill, it helped that I was able to emphasize that very politically diverse states, from Utah to Florida to California, all had enacted a voter preregistration age of 16.

After doing some preliminary research,  I found it helpful to identify some key arguments for my legislation. I thoroughly researched each one of my proposed benefits - increased voter turnout, more points of contact for young people to register, and increased youth participation in the political process - and recorded any pertinent facts. I also identified some concerns legislators may have about my ideas - such as funding and political party advantage - and gathered facts against those arguments. Being able to refute potential concerns regarding my bill with credible facts was invaluable when I met with my legislator and later when my bill advanced to subcommittee.

 

Sydney at the subcommittee meeting.

Sydney at the subcommittee meeting.

4. Meeting with a legislator

The last step is finding a legislator who will introduce the legislation you’ve proposed. Most bills are introduced in the House, as was the case for mine. To find a legislator to work with, you’ll first want to identify someone who you think will be in support of your bill. This can be your own representative, one you’ve worked with, or someone you admire. I chose to meet with a representative from another district who belongs to a different political party. While we differ politically, I have an immense amount of respect for him, and I had job-shadowed him the previous year.

After you set up a meeting with a state representative or state senator of your choice, you’ll want to do some preparation! Print multiple copies of your policy proposal and white paper to bring with you, and bring a pen and legal pad to jot down any notes/ideas.

Remember to remain respectful throughout your meeting, and, most importantly, keep an open mind! Most legislators are enthusiastic about working with young people, and they can provide some great insights that you hadn’t previously thought of. If the legislator decides to support your policy proposal, they will have it drafted into an initial bill and introduce it to the House or Senate, and it will be assigned to sub-committee.

For more information about introducing legislation and how to lobby, be on the lookout for a future episode of WTP that goes into more detail about the process!

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