The abuse of eminent domain happens not only because of bad decisions, but also because of bad statutory law. Legal change through legislation can be very effective and provide lasting protection to people throughout your area or state. And in many states it can be less expensive and have a better chance of success than battling in court, so it’s important to explore this option. Be sure to check out our model legislative language in our Legislative Center at the Castle Coalition website.
There is a great deal of political interest among state and federal legislators in reforming eminent domain laws, so you should work to get a different eminent domain statute passed. Almost any restriction on eminent domain will be an improvement over the total discretion usually given to government agencies. As a voter, you can motivate your legislators to change your state’s laws to protect property owners in several different ways. While a one-on-one meeting can have the greatest impact, writing a letter, sending an email or making a phone call can also effectively move your legislator to action. In time-sensitive cases, such as the day of a vote, a phone call works best. At other times, a letter will get more attention.
Make an appointment
When contacting your legislator’s office, identify yourself as a constituent and immediately state your reason for wanting to meet with your legislator. Explain that you’d like to discuss the status of eminent domain laws in your state. Indicate how much time you think you’ll need and any other constituents you expect to attend the meeting. If the legislator is not available, politely ask to meet with a staff member who handles eminent domain issues. Have several dates and times to recommend. Be sure to thank the scheduler for his time. Since legislators’ schedules often change, you’ll want to call the legislator’s office to confirm the meeting time and place as it draws near.
Think about what you want to say to your legislator before your meeting. It’s best to use your own words because they are more personal and genuine. Remember that legislators often hear from lobbyists that are paid to walk the halls of the Capitol. Your story is real, so make sure they know that. Canned letters and form emails don’t go nearly as far as something that comes straight from you.
Learn if your state legislator has a stated position on eminent domain and if he has voted on this issue before. If your legislator does not share your views, you’ll want to educate him on the importance of stopping eminent domain abuse. You’ll want to explain how eminent domain affects you, your community and his constituency. Anticipate questions, and be prepared to discuss any pending legislation that concerns you. If you’re urging your legislator to introduce a bill, check our Legislative Center for model legislation (listed above).
Bring supporting information and materials, but choose them carefully; too many materials can overwhelm your legislator. If you have time, write a one-page bullet-point summary of the issues and points you plan to make during the meeting. You’ll want to leave this summary with your legislator at the end of the meeting or attach it to an email or enclose it with a letter (see page 24).
Coordinate and be on time
If other constituents are attending the meeting, coordinate beforehand to make sure that you understand each other’s position and to avoid any miscommunication during your meeting.
While your legislator might be late, it is important that you arrive on time. Be flexible. If your appointment is cancelled or interrupted, politely ask to speak with a staff member or reschedule for another day.
State your purpose and make your case
After introducing yourself (and other members of your group, as necessary) as a constituent to your legislator, state your reason for visiting and make your most important points first, especially since meetings often get cut short. Explain the personal effect of eminent domain abuse on you and the rest of his constituents. Educate your legislator on the importance of stopping it. If you have a position on a pending bill, tell your legislator the bill number, when it’s slated for a vote and the reasons you oppose or support it. If you are urging your legislator to introduce a bill, bring in your model legislation or articulate an alternative.
You should be concise and stick to the point. Whether you are meeting in person, speaking over the phone or writing a letter or email, try to say what you want in as few words as possible. If you have another issue you’d like to address, be sure to speak about that separately or at another time. Otherwise, you risk confusing the issues.
Always be polite and positive. Arguing or lecturing will not win your legislator’s support. Discuss the issues. Encourage questions. Be responsive. If you don’t have an answer, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I can get back to you.”
Don’t be afraid to ask your legislator to take action and support legislation that protects your home and community from eminent domain abuse. (If you don’t ask, you won’t get it.) But do not demand that your legislator support your views. If your legislator does not have a position or is non-committal, ask that he favorably consider your position. You must be sure to thank the legislator and any staff for their time.
After any personal meeting, immediately follow up with a thank you letter. State the reason for your visit and the important points you made. Include any additional information that your legislator requested. Encourage your legislator to contact you to further discuss the issue. If there are staff members who helped you schedule your appointment, be sure to kindly thank them as well. It never hurts to foster a good relationship with the staff.