How to Get a Law Changed
Laws are the cornerstone of any society. They protect our rights and help us define right from wrong. But if the legislation is unfair or outdated, our laws must evolve to ensure that justice prevails. You don’t need to be a politician to effect policy change. The process of changing a bad law allows people to actively engage in creating the future they want to see. You can help citizens create changes in laws at the local, state, and federal levels by supporting a petition or starting one of your own. So whether you’re a concerned citizen working on a local problem or a devoted activist aiming to target larger societal issues, here are a few simple steps you can take on how to change a law.
In this Guide:
- Find a issue your passionate about
- Understand what part of government is responsible
- Create a peition to change the law
- Build Support for change
Find an issue you’re passionate about
Finding a problem to solve can be as easy as looking at the things that matter to you. Do you see the effects of an unjust law in your community, state, or country? Start with a broad area that interests you, such as animal welfare, then focus on a specific problem with an actionable solution.
Understand what part of government is responsible
Who created the law you want to change? Is it a local, state, or national government? For example, a local ordinance on tethering pets outdoors can be changed through your city or town council. In the US, state laws will need to be changed through your state legislature, while federal laws are changed through Congress.
Do some research on where the law you’re interested in belongs. For example, federal tax-related laws can only be introduced in the House of Representatives. Check out any pending legislation that might cover the same issue or be related to your topic.
Research lawmakers. Your elected representatives are the best ones to introduce new laws or changes on your behalf. Remember, they work for you! Research who represents you and where they stand on your issue to find the best person to work with to get the law changed. In the US, you can find your Senators and Representatives here.
Create a petition to change the law
You may be asking yourself, how do I start a petition to change a law? We make it easy to build support for your change by starting a petition. Follow the steps below.
Choose a catchy headline. Be clear and concise. Focus on what the law should be. If this is a local or state issue, make sure to put the relevant location in the headline to catch locals’ attention and engage them.
This headline highlights the law they want to change, and the state it is in.
Write about the change you want to make. The body of your petition is where you can explain who is impacted, what the law is now, and how you want to see it changed. Emphasize why now is the time to make this happen.
Let’s face it – laws can be boring. If there’s a personal reason you want this change, tell your story. Making people feel emotion and the real impact of the law is more effective in getting them to support you in your journey to change it.
This petition shown below uses a personal story of a pet that had been mistreated before being adopted by the petition starter. She’s advocating for an animal’s best interest to be considered in pet custody cases. Legally, Kano was considered property, and had to be returned to his former owner.
This petition uses a personal story to make the case for a change in the law.
Choose an image that speaks to your change. The image and headline are the first things people will see on your petition. If you want to strengthen a law about animal cruelty, a picture of the Capitol might let them know it’s about a law, but it doesn’t tell people what the law is about or why they should care. In that case, more people would respond to a picture of a cute, sad-eyed dog.
On an animal cruelty law campaign, the image of the dog would outperform the one of the Capitol.
A simple, striking image will perform better than a mash-up of many images. Look for color contrast, close-ups of people and pets that portray emotion, and avoid text in the image. Use images that you are allowed to distribute. That can be either one created by you or a stock image with a creative commons license that allows for reuse. Images that are at least 1600 x 900 pixels look the best on any screen.
Build support for the change
Collect signatures. The more people you get to sign your petition, the more likely it is that the government will listen and make the change you want to see. Put your petition on social media, on local bulletin boards, your local radio station, wherever it makes sense to find other people who care about this issue too.
Get media attention. Help build your signatures and momentum for your cause by getting the word out. You can craft a press release, get interviews with journalists, and tell your story.
Work directly with lawmakers
Once you’ve got some support behind your idea, engage the lawmakers you researched. If you’re having trouble getting a meeting, you can organize your supporters in a letter-writing campaign, to call their representatives, or to take to social media to get politicians’ attention on the law you want changed.
You can work with lawmakers to write a new bill that includes the changes you want to make. There are many bill writing guides and templates available online to help you too.
Getting a new bill to become law takes time. When working with state, local, or national government it can be hard to know the steps and approvals needed to move your bill forward. The sponsor is the lawmaker who helps write the bill and/or introduces it to the legislature. Follow up with that sponsor to know when your bill gets introduced, goes to committee, and gets voted on. Once a state or federal bill passes one chamber (e.g. House or Senate), it goes to the other. Keep your signers updated so they can show up and support when it comes to the floor for a vote, and when it gets signed into law.