Prerequisite: Legislature 101 & Lobbying 101
Now that you have a general understanding of how legislature works, and how the basics of lobbying works, you are ready to learn some of the more complicated aspects of the process.
In a general sense, lobbying is nothing more than getting information to a legislator prior to his/her vote. But unless you do it right, you will find your time being wasted – as well as that of the legislator.
The Right Time – The Right Place
The biggest mistake made by citizens that are trying to either support or oppose a bill is to waste their effort contacting the wrong person. Remembering that a bill will first be given a public hearing, the only legislators that need to be contacted immediately are those that are on the committee hearing the bill.
As an example, let’s assume that you are concerned about a bill that will require a special hunting license for shooting gophers. This bill is called HB121. It was introduced in the House by Representative Doe. Fours days after it was introduced, HB121 was scheduled to be given a public hearing. You obviously are pretty upset about this bill.
Realizing that the hearing on HB121 is going to be in four days, you begin planning to oppose it. The first thing you need to do is tell others about this bill. They need to help you fight it. And hopefully they will write letters or travel to the Capitol for the hearing. Next, you need to find out which committee the bill has been assigned to. The logical committee would be the Fish & Game Committee. Using badbills.com, find out who the committee members are on that committee.
It is this committee that will be the first to decide the fate of HB121. If you do not intend to testify at the hearing you should write letters to every committee member stating your opposition to this bill. Have your friends write letters also. Tell them the names of the committee members and address (not home addresses!). Write individual letters to each member (not one memo with all their names at the top).
At this point, you could still write a letter to your own legislator stating your concerns – but the most important people to contact are those on the committee. For anyone writing letters – it is absolutely critical to send them days prior to the hearing.
If you (and others) plan to attend the hearing, write down your testimony. Try to keep it to a single page. Be clear. Keep to your point. Count the number that are on the committee and make enough copies for everyone on the committee PLUS an extra copy for the secretary of the committee.
Attend the hearing. Sign in on the clipboard at the door. The chairman will open the hearing on HB121. He/she will ask the sponsor, Representative Doe to introduce the bill. After that, the chairman will ask for proponents to testify. When all the proponents are finished, the chairman will ask for opponents. You will then come forward and state your opposition to HB121. When finished, hand the copies of your testimony to the secretary and then sit down. The rest of the opponents will testify (hopefully your friends also came). The committee will then be given chance to ask questions to anyone that spoke. The chairman will then ask the sponsor to close. And then the chairman will close the hearing.
The decision by the committee on bills typically takes 2-3 days. If the bill is passed out of committee, it is sent back to the House. In passing it, the committee may make changes to parts of it to satisfy committee member concerns. At any rate, if HB121 makes it to the House, you need to follow it.
Logging on to the state legislative website, it is possible to keep close track of a bill’s progress. It is important to contact your legislator before it is heard in the House in 2nd Reading. When a bill is heard in 2nd Reading, this is the ONLY time that there will be full floor debate. You and others need to contact (or meet with) as many legislators as possible. It is these legislators that will be able speak against this bill.
To further our example, let’s assume that after the floor debate on HB121 is finished, the House votes 55-45 to pass the bill – bummer. Again, using the state website, you can easily call up the bill status and display the ‘floor vote’. This will tell you who voted – how. On this sheet you may find some familiar names that voted for the bill. Obviously they do not understand the issue as you do. Contact them quickly – since the 3rd Reading on the bill will be the next day. It is always possible to contact and convince legislators after 2nd Reading to vote opposite in 3rd Reading. Just because HB121 passed 55-45 in 2nd Reading, does not mean it will have the same votes in 3rd Reading. If only 6 people change their votes to “NO” (assuming the rest vote the same), HB121 could be killed with a 49-51 final vote.
If you do get enough legislators to change their votes on 3rd Reading to kill HB121 – DO NOT ASSUME IT IS OVER. There is a special rule called ‘Reconsideration’. What this rule allows is for the sponsoring legislator, with approval from the legislators, to bring the bill back to the floor for another attempt to pass it. Typically this does not happen, but it can. If this bill is important to you, you should come back the next day and watch the House in session. If the bill is reconsidered, you then need to continue your campaign.
If the bill fails in 2nd or 3rd Reading (and no reconsideration) it is dead. If it succeeds in the House, the bill is then ‘transmitted’ to the Senate. The bill then will be given the same actions as the House (public hearing, 2nd and 3rd Readings).
In summary, you can now see that it is important to understand the path of a bill. It made no sense to contact your Senator until HB121 made it to the Senate. And if this bill would have been killed in committee, it would have made no sense to contact legislators that were not on the committee. The bottomline is that it is vital that you know who to contact – and when. You are wasting your time, and legislator’s time by contacting them too early. And in the case of HB121, since the House approved it and transmitted it to the Senate – now you have another hearing to plan for (as well as more work). Find out the committee, it’s members, time of hearing and place. Attend. Testify. Follow the bill.
Returning to our example of HB121, let’s assume that the issue of gopher hunting licenses is a major issue for you and others. The most effective way to gain attention on this issue is to start an organization of like minds. Get others involved. Realizing that bills are requested months prior to the start of the session, you have time to let everyone know of what to prepare for.
And after the session has started, you can then keep track of the bill’s progress. Have as many people as possible write letters about the issue. You now know when to send them, and to whom. Tell others about the upcoming hearing. Develop a phone tree.
It is best to visit with your legislator prior to the start of the session so that he/she knows you and your concerns. It makes no sense to become angry with your legislator on how he/she voted – when you never bothered to contact them on this or any other issue.
One thing that many organizations do, is reserve the rotunda of the capitol. You would be surprised to see how many various groups use the rotunda (under the dome) to setup exhibits for dispensing information on their group (or issues) to passing legislators. EVERY DAY there is some group that has reserved the rotunda for their purpose. Reservations for the rotunda typically begin over a year before each session begins.
The most noticeable thing of any campaign are ‘NUMBERS’. The more that you have in your group that lobby for a cause – the more attention and respect you will receive.
Hopefully, the above information will help you further your effort in supporting or opposing introduced legislation. Sitting back in your comfortable sofa, does little to steer the process. Becoming involved does not take a great deal of effort – once you understand the process.
As you have learned, it is very important to know when to contact who. Always be treat the legislators with respect. They have many issues before them. But still, they are very interested in your view. Use the internet. Use the fax. Use the mail. Use the phone. Be involved.
Copyright (C) Steve White 2020