State lawmakers meet in Albany for six months out of the year, from January through June. But typically, most of the work of passing laws, spending taxpayer money, and impacting the lives of New Yorkers gets done in a relatively small window of time.
The details of the state budget, about $170 billion, are typically hammered out at the end of March, the end of the fiscal calendar for New York. Think of a student of a term paper and a looming deadline: Most of the work gets done late at night right before the assignment is due. The same goes for the end of the legislative session in late June, when many laws are set to expire. Albany is a deadline-driven place.
So what are lawmakers doing the rest of the year? Often, they are meeting with voters who want to influence legislation and the state budget.
Here are a few tips for reaching your representative:
TALK TO LAWMAKERS ON A LOBBY DAY
When we think of lobbying in Albany, the immediate picture that comes to mind is a person in a suit, someone who hangs outside of the legislative chambers, maybe with a check made out to a campaign to be given out later that night at one of the town's many fundraisers held after hours. These people certainly exist, lobbying on behalf of major enterprises like real estate, health care, the technology industry, and anyone who has a vested interest before the state.
But average people can get a word in edgewise during the legislative session. The best days to do that are on Lobby Day. These are held once week, on Tuesdays, when people from around the state file into the state capital and the Legislative Office Building across the street for scheduled meetings with lawmakers.
These meetings with lawmakers or their staff are often in small group settings. Voters have the opportunity to discuss their key concerns, such as more money for schools, funding for bridge repairs, or any issue the district faces. It helps if these voters are actually from the district the lawmaker represents.
Many Lobby Day events are organized by large entities like the Farm Bureau or the teachers' union. But a small group can also work to schedule meetings with legislators and raise concerns. Just give yourself enough time to get from meeting to meeting. The banks of elevators in the Legislative Office Building can be quickly overtaxed on Tuesdays.
CALL OR WRITE YOUR REPRESENTATIVE
For those who can't make it to Albany, writing or calling your state legislator can be the next best thing. A written email or, yes, even a letter can help provide your representative in state government with an understanding of what's going on back home and what needs to change. Phones in legislative offices are often answered by interns, but they can get the message back to a lawmaker as well.
FIND YOUR LAWMAKER IN THEIR DISTRICT
Lastly, perhaps the best way to catch the ear of your representative in Albany is to meet them when they are back in the district. Unlike federally-elected representatives, state lawmakers do not really live in Albany year-round. They are often very eager to head back home once work at the Capitol is done for the week. Schedule an in-person meeting with your lawmaker, or catch them at an event around town.
This year will be a very different one than in previous years. Democrats control both chambers of the legislature for the first time in a decade. A flurry of long-bottled up legislation is expected to pass early in the new year, and the turnover in the state Senate and Assembly was unusually high this legislative session, so there are many new members looking to establish themselves.
Voters do have a say in state government long after Election Day ends, since another one is always just around the corner.