The Illinois General Assembly has implemented online witness slips for interested parties to communicate with legislative committees prior to committee votes to either kill bills or to forward them on to the entire Illinois House or Senate.

These are the latest way to influence the legislative process.  Below, John Naese writes a hypothetical conversation about the slips and their importance.  Remember, scarce few people are involved influencing politicians in Springfield – so when you participate, your input is magnified dramatically.

by John Naese

I’m Involved because I care.  What else do I need to do besides vote?  
Yes, you care.  That’s evident because you’ve made it to page 17 of GunNews.  But it’s not enough.  You’ve got to let the folks in Springfield know what you want.

Ok, I do that… sometimes.  
Call or write your legislators.  Those used to be your main avenues to make your voice heard in Springfield.

But what else can I do?  
A lot of the real work gets done is in committee hearings.  And that’s where witness slips come in.

What’s a Witness Slip?  
Committee hearings are where lawmakers call witnesses, including our lobbyists, to find out more about a bill.

Anyone can attend a hearing at the Capitol, and even if you’re not called on to talk, you can fill out a witness slip to let the lawmakers know where you stand on the bill they’re debating.  It’s a simple fill in the blank form that lets them know if you are a “proponnent”, “opponent”, or have no position on the bill.

But now you don’t have to be there; you can fill out a witness slip online.

Sounds like a lot of trouble.  I don’t do a lot online other than read my mail and check my Facebook.  
The first time you do it, it will take a couple minutes to set up your account.  It doesn’t cost anything, but you will need to write down your username and password.

After that first time, if you know what bill you’re looking for, it takes just a few seconds to fill one out and submit it.

It probably doesn’t matter if I do one or not; the politicians are not going to look at them.  
Au contraire!

They may not look at them, but they will count them, or some staffer will.

This can be important.  Most bills, and most details of bills, are not foremost in the mind of the average Senator or Representative.  It may be something they are not familiar with, or that they pay little attention to.  So when they go to a committee hearing about something like this, they will look at the support and opposition it’s generating.

If a bill comes up for a vote, and it has generated a lot of witness slips on one side, and only a few on the other, many legislators will vote with the side that will offer them the least static.

If a committee room is packed with supporters and only has a few opponents, that can have an immediate influence.

The same applies in the virtual world of online witness slips.

Where there’s a handful in opposition, but hundreds in support, those slips can sway legislators who don’t feel strongly one way or another.

But how will I know what bill number to put in a slip for?  
We’ll tell you.  (We’ll even give you links to click on to make it really easy!)  Your friends in the pro-gun world will keep you informed.  Go to Guns Save every time you’re online.  (You already do that, don’t you?)  We will pass on the most important alerts we receive from the NRA, ISRA, or other sources.  If you’re already online, it is only a matter of a few clicks to fill out the slip and submit it.  Trust us, we’ll make it easy for you.

But I don’t know what’s in all these bills.  
Neither do many of the politicians.  But we have people on our side whose job it is to read these bills, come up with talking points in support or opposition, and who are constantly on guard against a slippery Legislature that might try to run a bill in the dark of night, or anti-gun pols who will spread lies about what we support and oppose.

Does it really make a difference?
You bet it does!  If you’ve been around a few years, you may remember all the bad gun bills that used to sail through the Legislature.  Why do legislatures pass bad bills?  Because they can!

Unless we show up and support the good bills and oppose the bad ones, the good bills will go nowhere and the bad bills will pass.

With the advent of the online witness slip, hundreds or thousands of us can register our approval or disapproval of specific bills, in real time, at the committee meetings where it will probably do the most good.