Important Note: If you are undertaking an effort to pass a municipal law to protect animals, please reach out to us! When writing bylaws and ordinances, it’s important to use the most current model language. Sometimes older bylaw language may no longer be considered the gold standard, and other cities and towns will look to yours as a template. We want to help you craft the strongest animal protection bylaw or ordinance possible!
Although the process varies from municipality to municipality, the guidelines in this publication can be used in almost every type of governmental process to introduce, lobby for, and pass bills or ordinances affecting animals.
Successful Legislative Campaigns
Many animal protection legislative efforts have never moved beyond the draft or introduction stage simply because the individual or organization that offered the bill to its elected officials failed to look at it as a campaign.
Although we can’t guarantee that everyone who follows these steps will succeed in having an ordinance passed, we can guarantee that you will reduce the amount of frustration and heartache you suffer when you don’t plan. You will also gain respect among the elected officials you worked with, which may lead to success the next time.
Before you even attempt to file a bill, it is imperative that you define and document the problem. Start by collecting data that illustrates the problem.
Contact us to learn which surrounding towns and cities already have a law on the issue. Elected officials sometimes shy away from being the “first” to try out a new concept. If you can document that other states or localities have already passed similar legislation, your elected officials may feel more comfortable filing or supporting your ordinance.
Determine who will be impacted by a new law. If there are other groups or organizations that might support your legislative endeavors, identify them early in the campaign. Broad-based coalitions not only impress sponsors and carry more weight; they help spread the work around. Even though you may not agree with other organizations on some issues, if you can find common ground in one area, work together toward that shared goal.
You need not only know who your allies are, but also who potential adversaries are on an issue. Knowing your opposition’s objections to your proposal in advance allows you time to counter their arguments. In some instances, you may be able to make small changes that will appease the opposition or negate their arguments.
Massachusetts has different forms of municipal government. Your strategy and timeline may vary based on whether you live in a city or a town (and, in a town, if you have an open or representative type of town meeting). Visit your municipality’s website or explore some of the links from our Summit at the end of this page.
Drafting an ordinance or bylaw
It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel when drafting legislation. Start by taking a look at statutes that are similar. Most humane organizations, including the MSPCA, are familiar with animal protection laws and will gladly share information with you.
Contact other humane societies or animal control facilities who sponsored similar laws. Ask them for their experience in lobbying for passage of the law. Who were their allies? Who were their opponents? How long did it take to pass the bill? How has the enforcement of the law worked so far? Have there been any legal challenges to the law? How much has it cost to administer the law? All of these questions are important but none more so than those relative to costs. Legislators are extremely reluctant to pass any new law which carries even a small fiscal note. And asking the state or town or city to pay for a new animal control or protection program is difficult, even if you have a dedicated revenue source built into the bill. Bills that have a fiscal note are also likely destined to be heard by an additional committee during the legislative process.
Once you have completed your homework on the details of the bill and the cost, if any, to implement it, share a draft of the bill and your findings with coalition members. Ask for their comments and make sure you include any agreed upon changes in the draft. For most animal-related ordinances, you will want to talk to the local animal control officer and get his or her input and opinion. As the local agency that will likely enforce the ordinance, it is important to include their thoughts and concerns as the bill is crafted.
Finding a Sponsor
Your sponsor is the one person who will walk the bill through every step in the legislative process. If he or she is not committed to the bill and/or is unwilling to do battle with opponents the first time any controversy arises, your bill won’t stand a chance.
Finding a sponsor and getting a commitment from him or her to work with you is one of the most important tasks you must undertake in your campaign to pass a law.
Make sure that your sponsor is well educated on the issue. Share with him or her any and all data you have secured in documenting the need for a new law. This includes keeping the sponsor informed of potential opposition and their reasons for opposing the bill. Don’t keep information − even negative information − from your sponsor in hopes that he or she won’t find out. You will not only lose support on your bill, you may also lose vital support from this individual in the future.
If your sponsor has staff, get to know them and develop a good working relationship. They will likely be responsible for conducting research on the issue and making recommendations to the elected official on what position to take on the bill. Because elected officials have hundreds of bills to review each session, they rely heavily on their staff people to brief them on the pros and cons of the bills, the costs to implement, and the politics of the issues.
Keep the sponsor or the staff member informed of press questions, opposition from other elected officials, and new supporters. Make sure that your sponsor is not caught off-guard by new revelations.
Education and Public Relations
Some issues are so important and so newsworthy, they warrant a story. If the research you have conducted on your issue generates data which is quite remarkable, consider holding a press conference to announce the findings. You can also use that opportunity to let the public know that you will be seeking legislation to address the problem. Make sure your sponsor is included in the planning of and participation in the actual press briefing if you have already identified a sponsor.
If a press conference is not called for or too difficult for you to coordinate, you should still send out a press release on your findings or your investigation. Getting information out to the broadest audience possible will aid you in your campaign to influence elected officials’ opinions on the issue. Newspaper articles and editorials can then be used in your lobbying material to demonstrate broad based support.
Your own supporters can be kept informed on the issue through legislative alerts, or articles in your newsletter, or social media. Include a good representative story that personalizes the issue. If you are attempting to pass a law that would prohibit something, focus on one specific case and demonstrate how. By personalizing an issue, your readers and members can more easily identify with the issue than if you simply gave them statistics.
Educational materials on your issue should be tailored to fit all age groups. Prepare something for school children that can involve them in a civics lesson as well as one on animal protection. Have hand-outs, such as fact sheets, available through your shelter or office. You want to encourage members and the general public to write on the issue. If you don’t already have a legislative team, create one and involve an organization, like the MSPCA, that has an existing network of advocates. A simple sign- up form should be displayed at your shelter or office and included in your newsletter. Give members a variety of participation options to choose from and then build teams within your group. Some may only commit to writing letters. Others may be willing to make phone calls. Some may volunteer to attend meetings or hearings. Be creative in the ways they can help.
How to encourage people to join your campaign:
- Send out a press release.
- Hold a press conference.
- Learn who your local paper’s contacts are and send them information on your efforts. Write op-ed pieces and letters to the editor.
- Put flyers/contact information in animal shelters, supermarkets, pet supply stores, libraries, etc.
- Contact your local animal control officer to obtain their support.
- Speak to children’s and other groups who will be sympathetic to the ordinance’s goals.
- Work with other local/state or national groups to tap into their membership; ask them to send out alerts, etc. to their members who live in your city or town.
- Hold an initial meeting at your home, library, or coffee shop to meet new people interested in this issue.
- Ask friends and neighbors to join.