Over the past few months, I’ve received a ton of correspondence, messages and phone calls for legislative agenda this or that. Sure, the legislative season in Oregon and much of the country is in full-effect, but it surprises me how many miss the mark, misunderstand the legislative process and underestimate the importance of pre-planning and key players.
Why? A legislative agenda goes far beyond bland emails with superficial thoughts, its very specific. It outlines those house, senate bills, resolutions or memorials that you’re a proponent of, in many cases those that you or your organization have developed, including the language, co-sponsors, etc. On the flip side, if you don’t own any, your legislative agenda means helping advance or derail a legislative measure.
A Legislative Agenda. For starters, there are executive branch-backed measures (ex. on behalf of agency x, task force x, agency leader x) or legislator-backed (ex. on behalf of citizen x or organization/group, agency x, task force x, interim committee x). This means your legislative agenda is tied to either of these two sides.
Prior to formulating any written policy thought process, you develop what’s wrong. Why is it wrong and what needs to change. That said, you speak with your boss and legislative director, and share those concerns. Prior to the legislative session you might get notice from higher that you need to review this proposal or that, or if necessary start from scratch on a proposed measure that will enhance the department/office.
At the business or organizational level, you might have a board member (legislative chair), CEO or President, even a client/customer shape the discussion. Those discussions are channeled through the association that you belong to. For instance, if you are based in Oregon and your a small, mid-size business this might mean the Oregon Business Association or small business coalition; a nursery, Oregon Association of Nurseries; a safety net clinic, Oregon Primary Care Association. Each of these types of membership groups has a legislative director or any combination Director of State/Federal Affairs, Director of Legislative Affair but in each instance this persons primary objective is to advance a specific bill(s), or ensure they are dead on arrival (DOA). In addition to being a member of one of these groups, or not, you might feel you need extra support and that’s where you bring in a lobbyist. In Oregon it helps that they are in the Capitol Club Book.
At the citizen level, you’ll need to put together a committee comprised of local residents, stakeholders, and local legislators. At this level, you’ll more likely succeed if you bring in a lobbyist who will quarterback hand in hand w/ the legislator(s) and legislative council to draft the measure, put together the fact sheets, audio/visual presentations and other relevant, supporting documentation for informing legislators all while keeping the whole group informed.
On the ground. Once the legislative session starts it doesn’t end until sine die–until they gavel out of that years session. That means the first few months is critical to get your legislative agenda, your bills being heard and passed (the latter portion is often focused on the budget). This means convincing the chair or co-chairs to schedule a public hearing, or public hearing/work session and successfully gaveling your piece of legislation out of committee. This first piece is no easy feat, because if you can’t get the chair to schedule your bill you have a bigger problem. Obviously it can go to another committee, ie Judiciary, or Joint Ways & Means, etc. DOA means your bill started here and ended here and never got the light of day. If the chair or co-chairs & committee aren’t going to schedule your bill your going to have to elevate it to their leadership, and caucus members. Some groups have rally’s outside the capitol and invite key legislators to speak before their group, some grill steaks or salmon and have an open picnic, some hold displays in the galleria, others invite hundreds to swarm committee rooms to testify. On the ground matters.
Its not nearly enough to just have hope, lollygag in the capitol hallway, elevators or cafeteria or blast emails it means constantly keeping your eye on where your shining star is in the midst of the building maze, knowing and shaping the political landscape and creating momentum behind it. Thus, the vital importance of having your legislative director, public affairs and/or lobbyist on the ground daily being of resource to the chair/co-chairs, leadership offices and their aides, and working w/ the committee administrator is critical and will determine the likeliness of your success. Having a legislator or a group of legislators on both sides of the aisle supporting and amplifying your cause day-in and day-out is awesome. Anything less, any email in the inbox is just wishful thinking.