How to Pass an Ordinance in Your City
A Step-by-Step Guide
What Is an Ordinance?
An ordinance is a local law enacted by a town, city or county. You can pass an ordinance to get something banned, or require something to be done in your town or county. For example, an ordinance could be a ban on smoking, or building certain structures like slaughterhouses, or in this case, a ban on selling fur.
Anyone can be involved in the legislative process. You don’t have to be a professional or know all there is to know, you just have to be passionate and knowledgeable about something, committed to making it happen, and a resident in the area.
Familiarize Yourself With the Legislative Process in Your area
Most towns, cities and counties have different schedules that they operate on, so it is important to understand when your town or county council meets and what their process is for passing legislation. You can find this information by visiting your town or city’s website, making a call to the town hall, or just stopping by to ask questions in person. Make sure to look for the meeting calendar!
Form a Coalition
First, it is important to focus on what is important to you and what, specifically, you would like to accomplish. For example, are you looking to ban the sale of fur, or does your community still have fur farms in operation that you would like to outlaw?
Secondly, are there other people in your community who share your values and goals? Get them involved and make sure they are all on the same page.
Also, think strategically! Who would it be important for you to have on your side? For example, if you are looking to pass a fur sale ban, are there local retailers in support of your ordinance who could get involved?
Draft Your Ordinance
Make sure your ordinance is as specific as possible and focuses on what you want accomplished, i.e. banning the sale of fur in your town. Your ordinance should state the goal (to ban the sale of fur or the operation of fur farms), list processes and repercussions for violating the new ordinance in accordance with your state’s laws, and have a definitions section that adds clarity and specificity to the topic.
It is always a good idea to research your town’s existing laws and ordinances first so that you can accurately reference them when writing up your own ordinance.
Here are some example ordinances for reference:
- Ordinance as passed: Berkeley
Berkeley Fur Ban Ordinance
- Ordinance as proposed: Portland
Portland Fur Ban Ordinance Draft
Reach Out to Your Local Representatives!
First, find out who represents you. These will be elected officials on your town council or board, or your mayor. You can find them by searching your town or community’s website, or making a call to your town hall. You can also find your local county-level representatives by going to www.idausa.org/findmyrep. Enter your address and scroll down to your county officials.
Read their online profiles and attend or watch a council meeting. It’s important to know their general views and find which representative is most likely to support your effort. You will need at least one ardent supporter of your legislation. Often, legislators form alliances and tend to support each other's measures. Prepare a list from the most likely to the least likely person to support your legislation.
Then, get connected to your local officials, even in the off season. Give your representatives a call or email and introduce yourself as one of their constituents and ask to set up a meeting.
If you cannot set up a meeting, explain what you are interested in and what you care about. Share your contact card and include a photo of yourself too! If your representative seems supportive, give them periodic but brief updates about your initiative.
It is most effective to meet in person, so make the effort to meet with your most likely candidate and work down from there. Once one representative agrees to meet, don’t contact anyone else until after your meeting. Once one representative agrees to meet, don’t contact anyone else until after your meeting.
It’s ideal to dress relatively conservatively and be prepared with a folder with some information when you arrive at your meeting. Include information about why fur should be banned, and sample legislation to share with the city or county attorney. Offer to email follow-up information so they have easy access, and do so promptly after your meeting.
If the representative seems positive about your proposal, ask:
- Would it be helpful to arrange meetings with any other representatives who are likely to support this legislation?
- When can it be added to the agenda for discussion? During busy periods, you may need to wait for a few months or until summer.
Watch for the posted agendas. Find your topic. If it does not appear when promised, politely follow up to ask when it will appear. If, after a reasonable amount of time, it appears you’re being blown off, start with your next most likely candidate. Be candid when you meet, saying who else you’ve met with, and give them the benefit of the doubt by saying that they must have been too busy, but you’re hoping this new candidate can help with your issue.
Until your item is officially added to the agenda by the mayor or one of the council members, it can’t be discussed or voted on. If you find yourself in this position, you can still influence decision-makers using public comment periods to speak directly with several decision-makers at once, which will also enter your comment into the public record. You must find a backer to advance your ordinance.
Your council member will need your articulate support. It’s their job to be responsive to the community, so they will count on you to show up and represent your cause, especially if hecklers deride the legislation which “regulars” at city council meetings often do.
Be sure to have a convincing speech prepared. Practice until you’re comfortable and can complete it within the required time limit. You can read your speech or make bullet points to keep yourself on track while looking at the audience or into the camera.
Try not to be discouraged if your item gets bumped and does not come up. Once it is actually on the agenda, some discussion on it must happen, even if it keeps getting pushed back until the next meeting. Being on the agenda also means they have to vote to adopt it or reject it at some point, so plan to keep showing up. You may also check in with your council member to say you’ll be there and ask if it’ll come up.
After possible reschedules, the council will eventually discuss your item and a public discussion will take place.
Votes will always happen at a future meeting to give everyone in the community an opportunity to weigh in. Once your item has been officially discussed at least once, it will likely move faster and go through the next meetings to an outcome. Sometimes there will be more discussion until there is an agreement that an item is ready for a vote, so plan for at least two and likely three meetings to see your legislation through.
Be ready to speak at every meeting you attend and try to alter your speech each time you present. Be persuasive. Be passionate.
If your ordinance passed, congratulate yourself on a job well done. Get the word out about your success and be an example for similar fur ban ordinances. Let us know so that we can publish your story! Maybe now you want to help activists in neighboring cities or counties to pass a similar ordinance, or you would like to work on introducing a bill at the state level.
If your ordinance did not pass, don't give up! Reach out to your representatives and have a polite, constructive conversation about why there was not enough support, or why they voted no. Then, regroup with your coalition, make amendments to the ordinance accordingly and try again! Persistence is what pays off!