Legislators can seem a world away once the legislative session convenes.
They're not. They're as close as the phone, fax or e-mail. For those who prefer doing business eyeball-to-eyeball, Alaska Airlines is again offering discounted ''constituent'' fares to Juneau during the legislative session.
Keeping in touch with elected officials -- and elected officials keeping in touch with constituents -- is critical to good government. Legislators need to hear from the public in order to do their job well.
Internet technology makes staying in touch easier than ever. Messages can be sent to legislators via e-mail, and bills can be followed through the Bill Action and Status Inquiry System, which can be accessed through the Legislature's home page at www.legis.state.ak.us.
Novices to the legislative process might want to stop by their nearest Legislative Information Office for information on how best to keep in touch. The LIO will assist with copies of bills and resolutions and any backup materials available.
In addition, the office can direct interested persons to available materials on the Internet. The LIO staff also invites residents to call with their particular interests, so they can be contacted when pending legislation and upcoming committee hearings deal with those interests.
During the legislative session, the Legislative Information Office has extended hours -- from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office also remains open during the noon lunch hour.
Public opinion messages, popularly known as POMs, may be sent from the LIO to any legislator. POMs must be written in 50 words or less and must be signed. People may fax a signed message to their nearest LIO; the message then will be forwarded to the legislators of the sender's choice.
Legislators also welcome e-mails, letters, phone calls and faxes. It is most helpful when people seeking to influence legislation are specific about their concerns. For example, it's really not fair to tell legislators to ''cut the budget'' without offering ideas for cuts.
While about 700 miles separate Kenai Peninsula residents and their legislators at this time of year, there are lots of ways to bridge the distance to the Capital City without ever leaving town.
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