WISE Legislative Guide

Click here for downloaded WISE LEGISLATIVE GUIDE – 2018


2018 Edition


The purpose of the WISE Legislative Guide is to assist WISE members in understanding when, where, and how to insert ourselves in the legislative process in order to support new or existing legislation or prevent passage of legislation we do not support.

  • There are a number of ways for this to be accomplished: Advocating for the development of new legislation by either amending current law or support/oppose legislation as it moves through the legislative process.
  • You can advocate in person or with coalitions with similar interests by contacting house members, committees, and leadership through:
  • Letters
  • Email – either directly or using the General Assembly website “Voice my Opinion” feature
  • Phone calls
  • One on One lobbying or meetings with legislators
  • WISE rapid response capability
  • Testifying at public hearings
  • Writing letters and opinion articles for publication
  • Working with or in other coalitions/groups that have similar goals and positions
  • Holding forums to engage elected officials


The WISE Legislative Guide begins with a summary of how legislation passes though the General Assembly and includes notes pertinent to our group as far as when and where we can insert ourselves. It also covers research resources and ways we can communicate our views to the General Assembly and the public.



The Beginning of a Bill


Throughout the year citizens can approach legislator(s) to develop new legislation or refile legislation that may have been introduced previously, but failed to become law. When citizens believe a law needs to be changed, we do the research and detail our ideas to members who are likely to sponsor our legislation.  Only one topic/issue PER BILL is allowed in Maryland.  Bills for the next legislative session can be requested after the current session ends in April.


What To Think about Before Submitting a Bill

  • Is it a viable idea/problem/issue? Demonstrate the issue is a problem that needs legislation and it is urgent.
  • Connect with NGOs to whose mission is related to the issue.
  • Understand who the key players are and speak to the people who are directly affected by the issue.
  • Look nationally at other legislatures, or the federal government, to see if there is similar action taking place elsewhere. Model legislation on the text of the existing bill found out of state/or at federal level, and take that edit to your prospective sponsor. The more detailed work done before, the better chance you have.
  • Start educating legislators early, right after session ends in April. Meet with them during the interim. Start with ALL committee members who will most likely handle the bill.
  • Is it applicable to a specific jurisdiction or statewide?
  • Can it be implemented in every county? What is current law? – sometimes the issue/ problem can be implementation.
  • Does it fit in Maryland Code?
  • Have data to support the legislation.
  • Identify who will oppose legislation. Follow the money interests.
  • What are objections? You want to work these out with those who will oppose legislation (pre-empt objections).  Also, help identify any unintended consequences.
  • Find a sponsor on the committee who will be assigned the bill. Get a member of your coalition to lives in the same district to meet with the prospective sponsor.
  • Pick a sponsor who is a hard worker, but don’t count on them to do all the work or work you can and should do. Try to get a legislator from the opposite chamber to sponsor it as a cross filed bill (see below, Cross Filed Bills).
  • Get co-sponsors. Try to get co-sponsors who are on the same committee as the primary sponsor.
  • Utilize the Legislative library in Annapolis run by DLS to help you with research. The librarians are excellent resources, it is a free resource.
  • Get people talking about the issue, using media (print and online).

 A good video by Vinny DeMarco is located at Healthcareforall.com/sixsteps. It goes over the steps to take to get the ball rolling toward successful advocacy. Vinny is also the subject of Michael Pertscuk’s 2010 book entitled, “The DeMarco Factor: Turning Public Will into Political Power.”


“Bills” Generally Speaking

Sponsors can choose whether the bill will be “Pre-filed” or “Regular”. Pre-filed bills are introduced on the first day of session. The deadline for the “Pre-filed” designation is December 1. 

Pre-Filed Bills

Bills for the next legislative session can be requested after the current session ends in April.  Pre-Filed Bills are drafted from the end of the session through December 1. Bills drafted after December 1st are not considered pre filed but can be introduced usually through the first week of February.  After that time, bills will go into rules and must be voted out by the Rules committee. 

Cross Filed Bills

 A “Cross-filed” bill is a bill that is introduced by both a Senator and a Delegate, meaning it is introduced in both the Senate and the House. By doing this, both chambers and committees of jurisdiction will give the bill full consideration.  Cross filing bills is a strategy to ensure bills have full hearings in each respective committee.  If not cross-filed, when that bill passes to other chamber, it will not usually be given a full hearing.  Of the total number of Bills introduced, 30% are cross-filed.

Bills in Draft Form

 Bills are drafted by the Department of Legislative Services (“DLS”).  They are issued Legislative Reference (“LR”) numbers.

Initializing the Bill

  • Bill numbers are assigned by either DLS, the House Clerk or the Secretary of the Senate.
  • Bills designated as pre-filed are given bill numbers by DLS. These are introduced on the first day of session.
  • After the first day of session, to introduce legislation the primary sponsor must drop the LR in the “Hopper”. Delegates drop their LRs with the House Clerk and Senators drop theirs with the Secretary of the Senate.
  • The House and Senate clerks assign Bill numbers and thereafter each piece of legislation is referred to by its Bill number. For research purposes it is best to know the Bill number as all offices, committees, and the website use the bill number to track and identify each piece of legislation.
  • The bills are given to the President’s office or the Speaker’s office to be assigned a Committee. The assignment of committee is usually based on the subject matter of the bill. Many times the bill will be assigned to more than one committee because the subject matter falls under the jurisdiction of two committees. The leadership has control of the committee assignment, but after introduction the bill can be reassigned to a different committee if there is cause. There are deadlines that must be met in order for the legislation to have the best chance of becoming law. The earlier legislation is introduced the better. If Bills are not dropped in the Hopper by the deadlines they are referred to that chamber’s Rules Committee. These committees review the legislation and determine of it should be furthered in the process.

Significant dates:

  • 27th Day of session – Deadline for Senate Bills to be introduced and guaranteed full consideration by a committee.
  • 31st Day of session – Deadline for House Bills to be introduced and guaranteed full consideration by a committee.

Calendar of Dates of Interest. http://mgaleg.maryland.go HYPERLINK “http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/Pubs-current/current-session-dates.pdf”v/Pubs-current/current-session-dates.pdf


Understanding the Text of a Bill

The text of most bills cites all specific sections of the Laws of Maryland that will be considered for change by the legislature.  Both old and new language is included. The following key explains the markup used to denote changes.

  • [Brackets indicate matter deleted from existing law.]
  • Underlining indicates amendments to bill.
  • Strike out indicates matter stricken from the bill by amendment or deleted from the law by amendment.
  • Italics indicate opposite chamber/conference committee amendments.

Bills not related to the Laws of Maryland (Bond bills, Budget Bills, etc) are marked up differently.


First Reading of the Bill

The first reading of the bill is the actual introduction of the bill in chamber of origin.  Introductions are ongoing throughout the session.

Committee Hearings

Committee Referral: After a Bill is introduced in either chamber, Bills are referred to one or more of the Standing Committees based on issue.

Each committee will have a hearing on the bills assigned. The hearings are advertised on the General Assembly website and the hearings are public. Anyone can sign-up to testify at hearings. The legislative staff who work for the Department of Legislative Services who have expertise in the committee’s subject areas are who review, analyze, and organize the process within the committee. Staff names are available on the website.

Generally bills are grouped into categories for the public hearing so that like bills can be heard on the same day. Public hearings are held throughout the session. The schedule of hearings for all committees is posted once a week on Wednesday afternoon. It lists all bills to be discussed in hearings for as far out in future as is known. The order listed in the schedule is not necessarily the order that the bills will be taken up during the hearing so witnesses should be available at the start of the hearing and plan to remain throughout the day. Hearings are generally held early afternoon, but as session progresses the time may vary.

Addendums to the Hearing Schedule are published but not all changes are formally posted for the public. It is best to contact the committee in the morning of the scheduled hearing to check the status because Bills may be dropped or added on the day of the hearing.

All Committee hearings are live streamed. They are indexed by date and are archived by session/year. For reintroductions of prior session bills it may be a good idea to review those videos.

The Senate President and House Speaker choose who chair committees.

Working sessions are where committee gets together and discusses the bill and any amendments that are requested. They may or may not be open to the public. This is where the sponsor has to advocate and you have to be in communication with them.

Fiscal and Policy Notes

The Department of Legislative Services prepares a Fiscal and Policy Note for each Bill and makes it available to the public prior to the bill’s hearing in committee—usually the night before the hearing. The Fiscal and Policy note explains (clearly) what the bill does, the background on why it was created or recreated, and how much it will cost state and local governments. These notes are very helpful.

When the hearing has taken place the committee is able to vote on whether to pass the bill out of committee back to the entire chamber or give it an unfavorable vote. Bills voted unfavorably do not leave the committee and effectively are dead. If changes are offered by legislators they may be incorporated into the bill as Amendments by a vote of the committee. Voting sessions are open to the public but they are not formally scheduled so it is difficult to know when a particular bill will be voted. Committee staff can give a general idea of when voting sessions typically take place. The public can only observe these sessions.

Second Reading of the Bill

After the committee has passed a bill with or without amendments, the Bill goes back to the entire chamber for a second reading. Members in that chamber usually go along with the recommendation of the Committee and through a voice vote move the bill on to its Third Reading. Members can offer Amendments before the voice vote. Each of these is discussed by the body and voted on individually. If the Bill passes it moves to Third Reading.

The chairman defends the bill in the chamber. This means the chair wants to see the bill moved in the form that it came out of the committee, without any amendments from other members on the floor.

Third Reading of the Bill

Each Bill is reprinted for a Third Reading. If there were amendments added they are interlineated into the text of the bill so that both the old and the changed language appear. In Maryland, you cannot amend a bill with something that has nothing to do with the bill.   The chamber then votes on the Bill and if passed it moves to the opposite chamber. The process begins again with the first reader in the opposite chamber. 


Opposite Chamber Steps

Bills coming to the opposite chamber receive the same treatment as in the house of origin, each must pass through First reading, Committee Assignment/hearing, Second Reading, and Third Reading before it can become law.

As opposite chamber bills (House bills moving through the Senate for example) come to the committee they have a second hearing in committee of jurisdiction. However, when a bill crosses over to the opposite chamber, the committee because time may be short, may only allow the sponsor of the bill to testify. If the bill was cross-filed it will have had a full hearing already. The schedule for these hearings is sometimes only published by Addendum as they occur on short notice.


Post Third Reading

If the Bill has passed through both chambers and has been amended in the opposite house then the changes must be approved by the original chamber. If there is no consensus, a number of things can happen.  To resolve the differences, the Chair of Committees of jurisdiction, may assign a Conference Committee made up of 3 members of each chamber. The members of the conference committee can be any member, not necessarily members who are close to the bill though that is generally what happens.


 Becoming Law

The Governor can choose to sign, veto, or allow the Bill to become law by not making one of the first two choices. Vetoed bills can be overridden by a vote of the General Assembly.


 Conducting Research

The Maryland General Assembly has a nice website showing: bills, calendars, committee schedules for both House and Senate , legislator listings by district, legislator voting records, legislator biographies (allows you to figure out connections and favorite topics), videos of hearing testimony, bill documents, bill amendments, information on study groups, etc.


Tracking the Progress of a Bill

The tracking feature, available on the General Assembly website, can send notifications such as when the bill has been scheduled for a hearing and when the Fiscal and Policy Note becomes publically available, etc.



Bill folders (this is an actual manila folder) contain all the information about a bill including all paper copies of testimony, notes, financial reports, and bill drafts.  These are made available in the DLS Library in Annapolis after the session.  They are also available on microfiche.



An effective presence in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill (working in tangent and as needed with others with similar interests), leading to passage of significant legislation, requires the following:

  • Educating members about the value of lobbying, the relevant issues, and how to approach legislators;
  • Educating legislators about what it means to be a member of AARP, or Moms Demand Action for Guns, or WISE. Pay particular attention to those on the relevant committees;
  • Seeking passage of legislation favorable to the group;
  • Providing testimony on legislation related to legislative priorities set by the group.
  • Great benefit to work on coalitions, since they can get everyone organized.
  • Almost every decision on a bill happens at the committee level – this is the place to focus your attention and these are the legislators to focus on.


 Forming Relationships

Use fund-raising events, ribbon cutting, school connections, invite legislators to visit to discuss a bill outside of legislative season, citizen lobby nights, etc.

  • Be sure to make eye contact for particular points.   


What to Research and Assemble in Order to Advocate

  • KNOW YOUR HISTORY: This can be done for in large part with web research.  Look at existing laws, attempts to pass bills in previous years, and people interested in topic.
  • IDENTIFY YOUR ENEMIES (PUSHBACK):  Identify the common arguments and misconceptions and prepare to fight against them.
  • FIND YOUR COALITION: create email lists, try to have conference calls, rallies, meetings to hammer out strategies, events to inform public. Work with NGOs already promoting the legislation, they have staff resources that can help.
  • CREATE YOUR STRATEGY: create a set of talking points, create a list of allies in the legislature, reach out to supporters in legislature, gather groups to speak to legislators on the fence and train them in talking points and interests of legislators.


Creating the Message

A message is designed to create the impression or thought you want an audience to walk away with.  Messages should be clear, consistent, and concise.  A message and a slogan are not the same.  A slogan is just one way of packaging a message to make it accessible to the audience.  Slogans fall into the same category as a theme line for a campaign, a headline for a brochure, or a sound bite from a presentation or news clip.


What does it take for a message to be effective?

First, the context for the message must reflect an understanding of, and empathy for, the audience’s current feelings on an issue.  If you expect an audience to listen, they need to believe that their concerns and feelings are respected.

Your advocates, or those individuals meeting with elected officials, must have credibility. Importantly, this credibility is not limited just to the advocates, but with adults of all ages associated with your group.  It is a powerful position from which to begin, and an advantage that must never be placed in jeopardy.

Second, a message needs to be built on an understanding of what barriers might potentially prevent legislators from making the behavior change that is being encouraged.  The barriers can be anything from political beliefs, to a lack of understanding of a particular policy option, to a lack of interest in the issue, or lobbying efforts by the opposition.

Third, and probably most important, a successful message must link the thought or feeling being evoked to something personally beneficial.  If a message is presented in a way demonstrating the benefits outweighing the barriers, this message has a good chance of getting people to change their behavior and take action.


Who to Talk to

  •  Your representative, someone who has shown prior interest in your cause, legislators who have power, heads of committee, leader of senate (president) and leader of house (speaker), ask sponsor of bill who to speak to, 
  • Research the common ground on the person, figure out how to connect with them, what colleges, what spouses, social media mutual friends
  • Meeting Request from Constituent” should be subject of email; if you leave a voice mail, leave both phone number and email address, good to also include address in both email and voice mail.
  • Practice ahead of time with the talking points (and which order to speak)
  • Prepare a folder with a sheet for person (who are you, how do you feel about issue)
  • With a partner take turns, practice your pitch.  Talk about how you craft the pitch depending on the legislator?
  • When advocating always have the Bill number.



  •  Focus on meeting with every single member of the committee(s) assigned the bill. Try to take a person from their district with you to the meeting. They have little interest in talking to people who are not from their district and some will even walk out when no one is from their district. Have person from their district start the meeting with introduction of why you are both there and why it is important to them and then introduce you to conclude meeting.
  • Monday evenings before Session begins at 8 PM are times designated for meetings with legislators, but they cannot be in depth meetings as many people try to talk to legislators at this time.
  • In each county’s Senate and House Delegation, a chair is chosen from the majority party. Every Friday morning during session, for example, the Anne Arundel County Delegation meets in one room and the Montgomery County delegation will meet in another room.  These Friday Delegation Meetings are held every Friday morning and are open to the public and is a good opportunity to meet with sponsors of a bill.
  • Noon on Fridays is the best time during the legislative session to schedule a meeting with a legislator.
  • The best way to meet with a legislator is to meet them in your district.
  • When scheduling, tell them how many people will be attending the meeting. “Educate” meetings should be 2-3 people at most, “pin down” meetings can be 3-5 people.
  • Designate a “Pinner” person who will get the positive “Yes” from the member that they will advocate for the bill in committee and on the floor.
  • When meeting, have the member not sit behind the desk, rather have them join your group on your side of the desk, on the sofa. Makes it easier for them to “be on your side”.
  • Don’t waste time with chit-chat. Some members will do this. Be pointed, ask them “Are you going to vote for this bill in committee and on the floor?” If not, find out what problems they have with the bill. Be prepared to counter.
  • Never leave a meeting without action items set for the legislator, and for you.
  • Set up the follow-up meeting before you leave the office, leave no room for them to ignore you in the future.
  • Meetings will take about 10-15 minutes.


Public Bill Hearings

*Note the witness section in this DLS publication for tips on testifying at a hearing.

http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs HYPERLINK “http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs-current/current-visit-us.pdf”-current/current-visit-us.pdf


Do’s and Don’ts of Messaging

  • Stay on message.
  • Further the chances of getting your key messages repeated.
  • Obtain the public action you want.
  • Play offense, not defense. Get your message points out to the public.
  • Speak in simple, clear, concise, and easy to understand terms.
  • State your main point first. Then state back up with facts or examples.
  • Use facts and figures when appropriate and possible to demonstrate your credibility.
  • “Humanize” your message with illustrations and personal experiences.
  • Repeat key messages.
  • To be credible, be yourself.
  • Don’t be on the defensive and fixated by the question being asked that you forget to make your own points.
  • Don’t over answer. When you’re satisfied with your reply, stop.
  • Don’t be afraid to pause.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be provoked. Keep cool.
  • Don’t fake an answer. If need be, assure your questioner that you will provide the needed facts in a timely manner or refer the questioner to another source.


What to do the Day of the Hearing

Be aware of what the deadlines are to sign up to testify.  Each committee has a different time to sign up and each requires a different amount of copies of testimony. Instructions for Committee rules are listed on the General Assembly web site under Committees.  

  • Sponsor speaks first, followed by testimony by Proponents – often a lead advocacy organization organizes the witnesses, followed by Opponents.
  • Bills can appear in an unpredictable order, so be prepared to stay for the entire duration (could go until 7 p.m.)
  • You are on camera, look professional and friendly.
  • Don’t get exasperated (loud sigh) even from the audience.
  • A well-organized coalition will plant some questions with the sponsor and committee members, and can extend your time to talk up to 10 minutes.  If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t make up an answer, say you can find out and get information to them (credibility issue).
  • A well-organized coalition will try to get different points made by different people speaking.  Try to get people who represent different interest groups telling individual stories—research where the Committee members represent, if possible, those testifying should represent the same areas where the members are from. Remember “All Politics is Local”. Members hearing from their constituents are more inclined to listen and possibly vote favorably for that particular issue. Personal stories (e.g. personal abuse recovery, girl-scout with life changing event, etc.).   But some people are very data driven, if you can, show both.
  • You can submit things in writing instead of speaking.
  • The support with amendments could be formally drafted with a committee member already having agreed to sponsor the amendment, or it could be more casual.
  • A video presentation can be arranged ahead of time with staffers. The bill sponsor should give the presentation.
  • Don’t spend time on details which won’t help your point.
  • Be prepared to testify 2-3 minutes. Your written testimony can be longer, but your oral testimony must be summarized.
  • Organize delivery. Have different people present different aspects of the need for the legislation. Stack the bases with players and finish with clean-up batter.
  • Have a person give a personal story. Stories go a long way to moving the legislators minds.


Odds and Ends

  • After 4:30 or 5pm senators and delegates answer their own phones.
  • When you need a volume of emails, don’t use a form. Encourage individually drafted emails.  Telling a story is always good.
  • Be very polite to office workers, and all powerful people you meet, so that they will to talk to you.
  • Final votes – to get a veto proof majority it takes 85 Delegates and 29 Senators to vote yes. To override a veto it takes 2/3 majority in each chamber.



The effectiveness of outreach falls into this order.

  1. One-on-one meetings (best option)
  2. Personal letters (snail mail)
  3. Phone calls
  4. Post cards
  5. Emails
  6. Petitions




Sharon New, Women’s Issues Huddle, PAC

Janice Hendra, PAC

Tammy Bresnahan, PAC

Jenny Zito, Justice Reform Huddle

Jen Haber, Steering Committee

Monica O’Connor, Steering Committee

Janice Holbrook, Healthcare Huddle

Jess Gorski, Media Relations


MLAW Legislative Summit