Graig’s Advice for Visiting the General Assembly
I love that so many residents of House District 50 and other friends have been asking me how they can visit the General Assembly in order to speak out on issues that you care about. Here is some of my advice on how to plan a visit and make the most of it.
When to Visit
We are currently in the “Short Session” that happens in even-numbered years (2014). We began meetings in mid-May and should finish business around the end of June. There is no official date of the end of the session. We vote to adjourn after completing the budget and any other business before us.
The legislature generally meets each week beginning on Monday evenings and continuing through mid-day on Thursday. This Session there have been very few Monday meetings, perhaps because the Republican leadership is trying to avoid the Moral Monday pressure. So the best times to visit are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
What Happens During the Day?
No one day is like another at the General Assembly. But in general there are committee meetings in the morning and the House and Senate meet in full session in the late afternoon. We start sessions in the late morning on Thursdays. You can find an up-to date calendar for each day here.
Trying to plan ahead can be difficult, because each day’s calendar usually isn’t announced until the day before. So use this website to find out what’s scheduled, and check it regularly because things can change at a moment’s notice.
If there is a specific committee you are interested in visiting, each committee has a standing meeting time listed on its webpage, but I find that the times are not set in stone. Perhaps more helpful is an email service that will alert you to when the committee meeting is officially scheduled and to any changes in the schedule. But be forewarned that the meetings are often scheduled less than 24 hours in advance.
Throughout the day you’ll observe lots of other activities going on. There are lobbyists everywhere (there are more than 700 registered lobbyists). Most days there is some advocacy activity going on where a group brings their participants down. This can be fun if they have exhibits, food to share, or other interactive opportunities. They welcome the public stopping by to learn more about their cause.
When it’s time for the House to be in session, visitors are welcome to observe the proceedings by watching from the third floor gallery.
How to Talk with Legislators
You are welcome to visit the office of any legislator. If you want to schedule a time for a visit, contact their office in advance. But you can also just stop by. In either case, you are more likely to talk with their legislative assistant than with the legislator him or herself. We are often in meetings, and part of our legislative assistant’s job is to collect information from those who come by and share it with us.
Legislators are most interested in hearing from those people who live in the district we represent, but we also regularly talk with people from all over the state about issues they care about. If you visit a legislator who doesn’t represent you, be prepared to talk about a specific issue and to tell them how it impacts the residents of their district. Keep your visit brief (around 5 minutes is great), and keep any handouts or materials you bring to something that can be reviewed in a quick scan. If a legislator wants more in-depth information, I’m sure he or she will let you know.
The other great way to talk with legislators is to catch them in between things. Many lobbyists use the trick of waiting outside of a committee meeting that a legislator is in and then talking with that person as they leave the room and walk to their next appointment. One trick I recommend is to wait outside the front of the Legislative building after the day’s session has ended. Most nights there are industry-sponsored receptions across the street at the museums, and therefore you are likely to find dozens of legislators walking out of the building on their way to one of the events.
A Few more Tips:
- To prepare yourself for the visit, utilize the resources online at www.ncleg.net. Particularly the handy Citizen Guide and advice for Visiting the Legislative Complex.
- If you get hungry, the legislative building has a great cafeteria and a snack bar as well. I like the cafeteria quite a bit. Try the fried chicken on Tuesdays and the fried squash whenever they have it. Pro tip: a cashier rings up your tab and gives you a ticket when you get out of the cafeteria line, but you don’t pay until you visit another cashier on the way out the door after dining.
- For individualized assistance for your visit or to schedule an appointment with me, feel free to contact my office. My legislative assistant, Daphne Quinn, is available to greet you and help you get oriented. Feel free to call Daphne at 919-715-3019 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.