The 2020 Utah Legislature general session starts Monday, Jan. 27, and if you think you don't need to pay attention, think again.
Your state legislators could one day be U.S. senators or representatives. 46 of the current 100 senators, 198 representatives and close to half of all U.S. presidents previously served as state legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Additionally, laws that start in state legislatures sometimes make it to other states, or even Congress. For example, in 2015 Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said the health care plan he enacted during his time as governor of Massachusetts was a precursor to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, according to NPR.
Even though Utah's lawmakers have already been elected, there are still plenty of ways citizens can get involved in the legislative process, whether they have a whole day or only five minutes to spare.
If you have five minutes
Find out who your representatives are.
This is as easy as visiting the Utah State Legislature website and entering your street address and ZIP code. Once you know who represents you, you have someone to keep accountable.
Follow the Legislature on social media.
Both legislative bodies post updates to various social media channels.
This account auto-tweets official Utah Legislature actions, and the hashtags #utleg and #utpol are good to follow on Twitter for updates from legislative bodies, legislators and journalists alike.
Your own representatives may also post updates to individual social media accounts.
Get updates from credible news sources.
Some local news organizations offer frequent Legislature updates. Find a source that you like and sign up to get updates through whichever channel works best for you.
Do some studying.
Track the status of a bill.
If there's a current bill you're interested in, you can see where the bill is in the legislative process and see how your representatives voted on it under the "Status" tab. You can also use the Legislature's floor calendars and bill tracking service to keep tabs on bills.
If you have 20 minutes
Contact your representatives.
This former Congressional employee recommends calling your representatives, but if that’s too intimidating, just get in touch any way you can.
- Email them.
- Write them a letter.
- Visit their office.
- Tweet at them.
Remember, they work for you, so find a way to let them know what you think about what they’re doing, including which bills they support and sponsor.
Figure out which issues are important to you.
If you're not sure where to start, take some time to think about the issues in your community that matter to you.
You might find some ideas by sorting through legislative committees and bills by subject. For example, if you’re interested in education, you can keep track of the bills that address education, or the committees that address education and which topics they’re addressing in their meetings.
You can also calculate your taxpayer receipt to find out where your tax dollars are going. After that, you may have a few opinions on how tax money is allocated.
If you have an hour
Attend (or watch) committee meetings.
Because committee meetings are open to the public, you’re welcome to attend them at the Utah state capitol. If you can’t attend in person, the Legislature website streams live audio and keeps archived audio of committee meetings.
Attend a town hall meeting.
Town hall meetings are a great way to speak to your representatives in person, ask questions and tell them what you think. Sign up for your representatives' email lists to get notified about when they hold town halls.
If you have all day
Watch floor debates.
You can also watch live floor debates on the Legislature home page, or archived floor debates in the Hearings/Debate tab of the bill you're interested in.
Testify before a legislative committee.
Keep track of the committees that cover topics that are important to you. Those committees are required to post public notices of their meetings, as well as the agendas for those meetings. Once you find a meeting that's relevant to the issue you're interested in, attend it and testify, using this as your guide.