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A primer for lobbying bills in legislative committees

The state Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo: Always Wanderlust, via Shutterstock)

 (Editor’s Note: This is the first part of two parts on the logistics of lobbying the California Legislature, a sort of instructional how-to for students and potential lobbyists. The first part targets committees, the second examines the floor action of each house.)

When preparing to lobby legislative committees, the focus is on the legislative staff and then on the legislators themselves. There are two types of staff for our purposes: committee and member.

Committee staff, referred to as committee consultants, are those who work directly for the legislative policy or fiscal committees. The legislators’ staff, known as the “member staff,” are those who work directly for a member of the Assembly or Senate.

Beginning with the committee staff, each committee has majority and minority party consultants.

The Assembly and Senate Republican Caucuses have staff who support their members on policy and fiscal matters.

Theoretically, the consultants who staff the policy and fiscal committees do work for all of the members who sit on that particular committee. However, those consultants must answer to the chair, who is a key member of the majority party and the majority party controls what passes and what fails in those committees.

Because of this potential majority control of committee staff (currently the Democratic party), the Assembly and Senate Republican Caucuses have staff who support their members on policy and fiscal matters. Therefore, it is important to discuss as early as possible your client’s support, opposition or concerns with legislation that will be referred to, or is pending with, staffers for both the committee itself and the minority caucus.

Because these committee consultants represent the legislative members of these committees as a group, they will prepare a written analysis of each bill that is heard by the committee and will brief the members who sit on these particular committees.

For the majority party, the consultation begins with the chair of the committee so that the chair’s recommendation on how to vote on a particular measure can be passed along to the remaining committee members.

Be sure to bring any letters in support or opposition to the bill, press reports, or any studies or other information relied upon for the bill.

Ideally, you will want to meet with committee staff before they complete these recommendations.

Although the committee will often publish a deadline for submission of position letters on bills, that deadline may not allow the consultant enough time to consider your concerns and incorporate them into their own analysis.  As a result, it is a good idea to speak to a committee consultant early and, if you are not equipped to provide evidence in support of your position at the time, ask when they will need your materials in order to fully consider them.

Meeting with the committee consultants early, with follow-up visits as appropriate or necessary, will ensure that you are aware of any concerns from members or staff, as well as proposed committee amendments and the lobbying efforts by the other side of your bill.

Be sure to bring copies of all relevant materials to any meetings with the committee consultants. For example, be sure to bring any letters in support or opposition to the bill, press reports, or any studies or other information relied upon for the bill.

Do not make assumptions and skip a member.

As the committee hearing nears, you will hope to find out what the recommendation of both the committee chair and vice chair are to their respective colleagues on the committee. You will also want to determine whether the consultants are recommending any amendments to the bill and the basis for those suggested amendments.

For meetings with the members who sit on the committee, be sure to meet in advance of the hearing on the bill. But keep in mind that members and staff are extremely busy, so you do not want to approach them too early because the information will not be relevant to them until the bill is scheduled and that hearing date is approaching.

For example, if a bill that your client supports or opposes is scheduled to be heard by a committee that meets every week, then you probably want to schedule a meeting with the legislator the week before the bill will be heard. Otherwise, the member and his or her staff are focused on the bills being heard at earlier dates.

Due to compressed timelines and very full calendars, many members do not get briefed by their staff about bills coming before them until a few days before the hearing.

You will ultimately want to meet with all of the members who sit on the committee so that you have an accurate vote count prior to the hearing. Do not make assumptions and skip a member. Do your best to learn the position of each legislator on the particular measure.

In many instances, the members and their staff will have considerable knowledge about the subject matter of their committee and will have familiarity with many of the bills that come before them for a vote. Other members may not have as much background, but it is important to educate these Members so that they are equally familiar with the topic of your bill.

You will want to follow-up with legislators’ offices prior to the vote, particularly those who had questions or indicated they needed additional time or information before they decided their position. In this way, you should have a pretty clear idea of how each member will be voting on the bill. Be sure to respond quickly and appropriately to those members or staff who posed questions or asked for additional information.

Due to compressed timelines and very full calendars, many members do not get briefed by their staff about bills coming before them until a few days before the hearing, and sometimes just a day or two before. In these instances, you may not know the votes of some Members until the day before or the day of the scheduled hearing on your bill. This can complicate your lobbying efforts. But be prepared for such a scenario.

If you cannot resolve the other side’s concerns, at least you will be aware of their lobbying messages.

In terms of dealing with those who represent the other side of the bill, be sure to meet with them early in the process so that you can understand the basis for their position and their key areas of concerns, and whether amendments may address any of those concerns. Be sure to apprise the other side about any amendments that you are promoting and whether they change the position of anyone.

If you cannot resolve the other side’s concerns, at least you will be aware of their lobbying messages and you will need to have counter-arguments available for your lobbying visits and testimony on the bill.  This is also important so that, in meetings with staff and members, you can show your good faith effort to resolve issues with the proposed legislation and give them a full picture of both your position and the opposition’s position.

You want to be a source of information such that staff and members find you useful and will want to reach out to you in the future.  It is also critical to keep your bill’s author and his or her staff aware of these conversations and what the author should expect at the bill’s hearing.

Because most committees operate somewhat differently, be sure that you have talked with the committee staff and secretary regarding how time is allocated among witnesses

At the hearing, you will either have a witness prepared to testify or you will provide testimony in support or opposition to the measure. If you have done your work properly before the hearing, then the public hearing is a foregone conclusion because you will know the outcome of the vote prior to it taking place.

Nonetheless, it is important to have testimony prepared to support your key arguments, as well as address those that will be made by the other side of the issue.

Also, you should be aware of any likely questions that committee members will pose to you at the time of the hearing. A legislative committee limits public testimony, so be sure that you take this into account in preparing your talking points for yourself or any witness(es).

Because most committees operate somewhat differently, be sure that you have talked with the committee staff and secretary regarding how time is allocated among witnesses. This also needs to be coordinated with the author’s office so that the member is aware who will be speaking in support of or in opposition to his or her bill. If there are multiple witnesses, be sure to have them provide different talking points so that there is no repetition in the testimony.

You may also be called upon to prepare the bill’s author for public testimony if you are sponsoring the bill. This may include, drafting an opening statement, preparing questions and answers, and reviewing counter arguments or any proposed amendments. Be prepared to answer questions as you will most likely be the resident expert or at least the one who is expected to answer questions and address concerns that committee members may express at the hearing.

There are quite a few considerations that need to be taken into account when lobbying legislative committees. These are general guidelines that will hopefully increase your chances of success in the legislative process.

Editor’s Note: Laura Curtis, Robert Moutrie and Chris Micheli are attorneys and lobbyists in Sacramento. They can be reached at laura.curtis8@gmail.com, robert.moutrie@calchamber.com, and cmicheli@apreamicheli.com.

 


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