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The 1993 state legislative sessions: preparing for action.

Within the month, 49 of the 50 state legislatures will convene for their 1993 legislative sessions. They will enact laws that will impact upon our daily personal and professional lives. During the 1992 legislative sessions, a number of states substantially amended their accountancy laws and several enacted entirely new laws. Hopefully, the pace of amending accountancy laws will slow down during 1993.

What is discouraging about the 1992 sessions is that most of the amendments to accountancy laws were detrimental to the unlicensed accountant. Only in one or two instances did unlicensed accountants possess sufficient legislative clout to prevent the enactment of laws that were especially disadvantageous and threatening to their practices.

As the 1993 legislative sessions approach, it is essential that affiliated state organizations get their legislative act together. The ASO legislative committee should be ready to go, familiar with the issues, knowledgeable about the key players in the legislature and particularly the members of committees to which accounting legislation is usually referred. The ASO legislative committee should consist of members who are inspired to serve and imbued with a spirit of enthusiasm and dedication.

The "let George do it" syndrome has no place in the ASO legislative committee. With due respect for all ASO legislative committee people named George, it is unfair for the committee to transfer its responsibility to the Georges. An ASO legislative committee works best when there are a sufficient number of dedicated members to assign the work load to and, importantly, who are able to identify and discuss the issues.

To ensure success in the legislature, it is essential the ASOs have a legislative strategy plan based on actions that will strengthen the ASO's position by communicating its views to the legislators. What are some of the actions basic to success when dealing with the legislature?

To begin, the ASO should consider hiring a lobbyist. If the ASO is serious about sponsoring or opposing a bill, a lobbyist is a good investment. Moreover, legislators appreciate the lobbyist's efforts because lobbyists can clarify and explain the issues involved and express the client's cause with candor. In general, a good lobbyist enjoys a good image with the legislators. Otherwise, a lobbyist won't stay in business very long. Further, legislators recognize that lobbyists represent strength and legislators respect strength.

A lobbyist can't do the job by himself or herself. A lobbyist is not a superman or a superwoman. A lobbyists can't pull chestnuts out of the fire. Members of the ASO must work diligently with the lobbyist. It is a serious mistake for the ASO to think all will be well and now they can relax because they've hired a lobbyist. If lobbyists are to be effective spokespersons, the ASO legislative committee must work with them and follow their instructions.

Even with an effective lobbyist there is still the matter of communication between the legislators and their constituents, that is, the people who vote for them. Remember that lobbyists who do an excellent job communicating with the legislators are not generally the legislator's constituents. Legislators are interested in the people who vote for them. Accordingly, it is essential for ASO members, in addition to the members of the ASO legislative committee, to communicate with their legislators.

Personal contact is the highest form of communication. "Eyeball to eyeball" is the best approach when the ASO members can discuss issues that affect them and their small business clients. Individual written communication between the ASO member and the legislators is also effective provided the issues are delineated and succinctly explained.

Another strategy is to form alliances and coalitions. Legislators pay attention to coalitions because the coalition represents power, influence, resources and votes. A common issue is the glue that holds the coalition together. ASO members have thousands of small business clients who are members of hundreds of trade associations. Those trade associations representing the interests of small business entities can be especially helpful to the ASO's legislative action plan.

If the ASO does not have a state political action committee, serious consideration should be given to forming one. At the state level, a PAC possesses numerous advantages. A PAC creates presence, involvement and visibility. It shows the ASO has a mechanism by which to remember its friends. Contributions to state candidates are smaller and more deeply appreciated than the PAC contributions to candidates for federal office.

If the ASO does not have a state PAC there are alternatives to accomplish essentially the same objectives, i.e., presence, involvement and visibility. The ASO might consider sponsoring a cocktail party, reception or dinner for members of the legislature. These social functions serve to enhance visibility, renew acquaintances and make new friendships.

Another excellent alternative is for the ASO to sponsor a short session or program on income taxes as they especially affect a member of the legislature. Several of NSPA's affiliated state organizations have sponsored tax sessions for state legislators and the results are uniformly excellent. This is a useful service that the ASO renders to the legislators who not only benefit from it but will remember it. Sponsoring a tax session for legislators has an additional advantage--it requires only a minimum of the ASO's resources.

Since personal contact with the state legislator is the highest form of communication, the ASO legislative committee may wish to consider the following types of personal contacts:

* Invite the state legislator to the ASO convention or to a chapter meeting. Ask the legislator to discuss issues confronting small business, state and local taxes or any issue affecting the accounting profession.

* Sponsor a dinner in honor of the state legislator.

* If you are a member of a service organization such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, etc., and a legislator shows up, see that one of the ASO members is there to greet the legislator.

* Volunteer your services to work in the legislator's election campaign. Volunteer the services of your office to do the tasks required to run a political campaign.

* Assist the legislator in raising money for the campaign.

All of the foregoing are forms of "eyeball to eyeball" contacts. These are direct approaches, the most effective form of communication.

There are two necessary ingredients to every legislative battle. They are (1) troops and (2) money.

The ASO legislative committee are the shock troops in any legislative battle. The ASO members are the standing army that backs up the organization. Each ASO member should be familiar with the ASO's legislative objectives and program and how the legislature works. Knowledge of how the legislature works through the committee process is a prerequisite to successful ASO legislative action.

The techniques and strategies of legislative action require the expenditure of money. The ASO needs money for lobbyists, the PAC and all the other activities and strategies mentioned in this article. Those activities explain the ASO's legislative position on a specific piece of legislation. Money is an essential ingredient for legislative success.

Finally, there is a by-product of intense legislative activity most ASOs overlook. A strong, well-publicized legislative action plan is a valuable aid to build up ASO membership. When the ASO is threatened by hostile legislation, non-members and former members who are also threatened will tend to join together to seek the defeat of hostile legislation. As the old saying goes: "In unity there is strength." With strength and dedication of effort, there is success.

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Title Annotation:Washington Comment
Author:Sager, William H.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:1224
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