By Erin Miller, Missoula Field Manager

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, I was in Helena with the Montana Human Rights Network lobbying in the State Capitol. Lobbying is something that is very new to me so I was eager to learn as much as I could!

We started the day with a lobby training by Kelli Twoteeth from MHRN and learned the absolutely fundamental tips to lobbying:

  • Know yourself
  • Know your organization
  • Know your legislator
  • Know your issue
  • Know your opposition

We also learned all the Dos & Don’ts when lobbying–for example barging into an office and yelling, “as a citizen and taxpayer…” isn’t going to the best approach. Once we felt confident about the how-tos, we learned about the issues.

The Helena Youth Against Gun Violence is “a nonpartisan, student-yed organization dedicated to preventing gun violence in Montana schools and communities.” They told us about LC0599 or Enact Child Access Prevention Law. This would impose criminal negligence on firearm owners who fail to secure their firearm and a minor (under the age of 18) gains access and harms either themselves or someone else. Exceptions include hunting or sporting, self defense, and a minor breaking and stealing said firearm. This is necessary to reduce unintentional shootings in MT as well as teen suicides by firearm!

The Montana Budget & Policy Center (my personal fave) talked a whole heck of a lot about who pays what in Montana and the answers are not fun. Spoiler alert: Montana’s low- and middle-income families pay the highest tax rate at 7.9% and 7.1%! Meanwhile, the top 1% pay 6.5% tax rate.

We also learned about Medicaid Expansion (LC1088, Rep. Mary Caferro), the Montana Human Rights Act (LC 1521, Rep. Kim Abbott), and immigration i.e. a bill to establish laws regarding sanctuary cities in Montana (HB 146, Rep. Kenneth Holmlund).

After getting briefed on these important issues, we went to the Capitol to lobby!

Okay, okay: we sat in on the House session, had a Capitol tour, and THEN we lobbied. Who knew lobbying included a lot of waiting in hallways and outside committee rooms for legislators to walk by casually biting an apple so you can talk with them? That’s what it is (broadly defined)!

The most important takeaway I have from the day is this: contact your legislators, talk to your legislators, and then contact them again. Whether by email, phone call, in person, or at a committee hearing, legislators are WAITING to hear from you! Seriously, Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter is not receiving many emails from her constituents and she is pissed (again, broadly defined, actually not pissed but wants people to engage).

Know yourself. Know your legislator (and their committees). Know your issue. Then get to work!