Lobbying in An Alternate Reality

By Mary Lau

The Thirty-First and Thirty-Second Special Sessions were surreal to say the least and most everyone was grateful when they Sine-Died. The then upcoming Eighty-First Legislative Session loomed during that time and our elected officials, the business community and other politically active groups grappled with how to proceed and what would be possible to achieve during a continued pandemic crisis. Suggestions were varied: Open session as constitutionally required and Sine-Die or open as required but only take up budget. There was also discussion to open the building (the people’s house) but socially distant, determine capacity as Governor directives indicated, appointments, and on and on. In the end, just like the Special Sessions the building is locked down and various platforms from Zoom to conference calls are in use.

Most all the sixty-three legislators are in the building to vote on the upcoming issues and conduct meetings. As of this writing there are 1017 bill draft requests. Not all are available as bills yet as the Legislative Counsel staff had various COVID-19 concerns to deal with too. Your RAN team is currently following 129 of these requests that have the bill language available and will continue to add our thoughts to the legislative session. But here is the conundrum: Legislators interested in working with you to discuss their language are not as readily available. When you couple that with the committee chairs allowing only 20 minutes each for opposition, support or neutral and add a two-minute restriction for each person there is no real discussion on bills. The chairs have a difficult time determining the direction of the caller and if they are in the wrong queue the time is not adjusted. This throws the whole bill into turmoil and all the mess lands in the lap of each house to clean up. With all of this over the internet and the new You Tube channels the public, RAN’s members are paying closer attention than ever to what is going on in the building. RAN’s staff have never had so many contacts over legislative issues and many of these are voices of concern.

Prior to COVID-19 there had been growing concerns about the unintended consequences that resulted with the passage of “Term Limits”, and as we face this legislative session from an alternate reality, we’re seeing the true extent of what it means to face challenging times without a steady hand on the wheel. As predicted, we have watched as legislators with historical perspective depart only because of term limits; and the pool of experienced candidates has also gotten thinner. It takes several sessions for a legislator to learn the ropes. The same can be said for advocates, lobbyists and special interest groups. All people involved in the process and, when given the opportunity, can bring history, logic, thoughtful comments and express concerns to the process. Unfortunately, some of those abilities and conversations were getting stifled and under COVID-19 can become non-existent. In this vacuum of cohesive meetings and testimony, the staff of the Legislative Counsel Bureau continue to hold more sway in the writing and outcomes of legislation and the rules and procedures that govern this legislative session.

In this alternative reality, the limited expertise plus unwillingness to work with all sides is creating a groundswell that will prove to be interesting as time progresses. The business community has commented on this phenomenon. In the meetings, which continued during the interim, have made their various communication adjustments in their memberships too. The narrowing of access coupled with apparent censorship on the national stage has created a real element of concern for the public. Your company is a valued member of RAN and we thank you for your comments. We represent you and your company with pride and care. We appreciate your willingness to step up. You elected your representatives to consider your views carefully and constructively and as their constituent those views should be respected and heard. There are reasons people join their chambers, their trade association and other organizations of like-minded philosophies. The legislature needs to remember this.