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The new state agenda.


What state legislatures must bite off and chew, associations nationwide must digest as well. Legislative and regulatory activity at the state level has boomed since the Reagan administration began to press a federalist agenda, deregulating industry, reducing funds for federal agencies, and passing the buck - if not the money - to the states.

The main course on legislative menus this year is fiscal austerity and taxes, according to a 50-state postelection survey of legislators and key staff conducted in November and December by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Denver. Along with education and the environment (the second and third priorities identified), fiscal necessities may cause some serious heartburn.

Are association government relations programs changing in response to what Michael J. Stanton, federal liaison director, Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association, Oklahoma City, says is "an explosion of state legislation and sophistication in the legislatures in the last five years"? Those that haven't soon may find they're missing opportunities to influence new laws, letting members suffer the consequences.

What has changed

The bottom line is that individual states now wield significantly more power in terms of regulating interests from education to employee benefits, intrastate banking to product liability, and solid waste management to land use - because they have to. "With the advent of federalism and Washington backing away from state problems, the responsibility shifted," remarks William K. Voit, senior policy analyst at the Council of State Governments (CSG), Lexington, Kentucky, an umbrella organization of associations for elected state officials.

Federal cuts. While in many regards the states are delighted to regain a degree of autonomy - and legislatures correspondingly have sprouted staffs, added sessions, and begun to study issues with new intensity - unlooked-for responsibility has trickled down in two forms: lost funding for needed programs and federal mandates for expansion or improvement by the state.

Martha J. Moores, CAE, executive vice president of the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, Jacksonville, says less funding for medicaid and indigent care stands out for her organization. The federal government cuts funds and looks to the state to pick up the cost, he says.

"Indigent health care is about those who fall through the cracks, who use hospitals for routine care, for example. The state was hit hard in medicaid. Florida doesn't have money, so the physician gets less reimbursement for care he provides, often because he feels he should make the contribution." The academy surveyed members on the extent of unbilled indigent care provided. "We haven't made a recommendation yet, but we are monitoring it," Moores says.

Endorsing taxes. Dennis Brown, CAE, executive director of the State Advertising Coalition, Washington, D.C., says, "Congress passes mandates without money. They get to say to constituents, |We're giving you better whatever,' but these are mandates to the state and they don't give a dime to pay for it."

Brown spent nine weeks in Frankfort, Kentucky, last year finessing a tax on advertising and other services proposed by the governor. "The state was under court order to raise money for education," Brown relates. "They wanted to tax business services to close a budget shortfall. As a responsible corporate citizen, I realize that the government has a need for money, even more so at the state level," Brown says. "The state has to endorse tax alternatives" to find funds.

The coalition's tactic was to fight the service taxes while offering no opposition to an increase in retail sales tax. "When we lobby in a state, we can't say, |Tax somebody else.' Instead we say, |Don't tax the process by which profit is made; tax the profit,'" Brown notes.

Environmental snowball. "The battle-ground for mandates is at the state level," agrees Wayne L. Campbell, CAE, principal of Multistate Associates in San Mateo, California. Campbell's perspective comes from 14 years running government relations programs for both state and national associations and now consulting to associations and corporations. "Associations are on the defensive to offset legislation," Campbell affirms. He reels off a short list of hot issues: health care, family leave, child care, solid waste, paper products - all fought at the state level. "States act because Congress is hung up in inactivity, at a stalemate. Public policy debate on taxes and infrastructure has shifted to the state.'

Campbell singles out environmental issues as big guns in the last five years. "The environmental movement had an excellent strategy to move to the states. Groups couldn't get anything done at the federal level, so they attacked in progressive states and got a snowball effect." Legislation at the state level, he notes, moves quickly and can leap from state to state.

State budgets. For the states, fiscal 1991 promise no relief. The National Governors' Association (NGA), Washington, D.C., reported in January that 28 states will cut spending or increase revenues to avert budget shortfalls. More expect budgets to fall out of balance before June 30 - to the tune of $9.6 billion. A report by NGA and the National Association of State Budget Officers, Washington, D.C., identifies two familiar causes. The national economic slowdown reduces state tax revenues while increasing demand for and cost of safety-net programs. And federal mandates, particularly for medicaid expansion, continue unabated.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) concurs. Its leaders survey notes, "Unfunded mandates allow the federal government to expand services without increasing federal expenditures, thus limiting the growth of the deficit." The 1991 federal budget imposes "some $17 billion in additional costs or revenue losses for the state over the next five years," NCSL reports.

Who's paying attention

"Most state legislation is spurred by the need to raise revenue," remarks James H. Ewalt, executive vice president of government affairs at the Community Antenna Television Association, Fairfax, Virginia. Ewalt first noticed a shift of initiative in the early 1980s.

"The regulation of franchise granted to cable systems by local authorities was suddenly high visibility," Ewalt recalls. "It was not addressed at the federal level, and as business grew, the state began to come up with their own schemes. We saw a patchwork of regulatory laws.'

While Ewalt is firmly committed to grass-roots change accomplished at the local level, his network showed that "every state was different. A company trying to operate on a national basis had a hard time." Ewalt took his campaign to the federal level and in two years achieved a preemption of state law in four areas: franchises, technical standard, rates, and permitted programming.

Growing grass-roots. At the Ohio Nurses Association (ONA), Columbus, Executive Director Carol A. Jenkins says, "A lot more legislation at the state level has increased our political focus in the last 10 years. We're more sophisticated and active." With 60-80 bills to track each biennium, ONA has a staff director of government affairs (who is required to be a nurse) and a lobbying firm hired three years ago. That firm's computer bill-tracking augments newsletter updates received daily in the association office.

"We're real proud of what we do," Jenkins remarks. ONA's grass-roots efforts - the core of its lobbying work - include a substantial network of nurses prepared to testify as needed at the statehouse. Members fill out a form to indicate area of work and special interests, and the form goes in ONA's data bank. "We try to keep a group ready to speak," notes Jenkins. "The association writes the testimony, and we usually call on people in the closest district."

A $2 checkoff on the annual membership renewal form generates $17,000 for ONA's political action committee. The PAC is about 10 years old and works only at the state level. "Nurses Day at the Statehouse" annually attracts about 300 nurse and student members to demonstrate their collective interest.

Jenkins notes that ONA tracks bills related to nursing, health care, women's issues, labor, and workplace advocacy. "We support bills that are generally beneficial to the public. We want the legislators to know that we're not just down there [lobbying] when it's to our benefit."

Computerizing. Of the drastic changes initiated at the California Building Industry Association, Sacramento, Executive Vice President and CEO Robert H. Rivinius, CAE says, "It's fun to be steering a ship going in the right direction." Rivinius led CBIA, a federation of 10 regional associations whose primary purpose is governmental affairs, for 10 years and then left for 2. When he returned in January 1990, Rivinius says, "The new board realized the building industry was in trouble and that we had to spend money to attack our problems proactively."

After 10 years of trying to get a $25 dues increase, Rivinius and Owen Waters, senior staff vice president, pushed for a new approach. "The board bought it all," he says happily. The far-reaching new strategic plan includes a nearly doubled budget of $2.5 million. New staff - two environmental lobbyists, two legal policy analysts, a member records technician, a computer network manager, and additional legal, lobbying, and publishing staff - were hired. Rivinius is even more excited about the new IBM 386 computer system: "This stuff is so incredible and so compact," he exults.

The additional staff and the computer will help address "a very large agenda," Rivinius says. CBIA represents home builders and developers and tracks bills on land use, the environment, fees and charges, and technical codes and standards. "Of 6,000 bills every two-year session, we're active on 300. The California legislature is very sophisticated, like a mini-Washington. Good lobbyists have relationships with staff and committees, but when it comes down to a vote, we still rely on members to get a bill passed or killed. You do need dedicated staff; you shouldn't count on members to do the spade work," he says.

CBIA is developing a computer network that will make bill information available to members via modem. The federation counts on members to supply expert testimony or advice. "A new phenomenon in the last few years is our need for a lot of specialists - people who know the kangaroo rat problem, for example. It's critical to have technical expertise," Rivinius says.

Meanwhile, back at the office, CBIA staff keep an ear to the wall - literally. "We have a |squawk box' that's linked to key committee rooms and two chambers at the capitol," Rivinius says. "You can listen to the proceedings and when they call up your bill, be there in five minutes."

Issues and strategies

Legislative issues that can thrill or kill an association's membership run the gamut. In Selected State Enactments 1990, the National Conference of State Legislatures selectively documents laws enacted in 19 major policy areas, from agriculture to transportation. Under banking and commerce issues, for example, new legislation on the safety and soundness of financial institutions was enacted in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

New consumer protection laws in 23 states covered buyer cooling off periods, charity solicitations regulation, consumer fraud protection, and homeowner and motor vehicle lemon laws.

Under solid and hazardous waste issues, enactments affected transportation and disposal, sources and recycling, and management and cleanup in bills on landfills, plastics, tires, education, procurement, packaging, lead acid batteries, emergency training, oil spills, liability, and much more. Ring any bells yet?

Association target. The Soap & Detergent Association, New York City, claims the distinction of being "one of the first trade associations to be involved at the state level," according to SDA President Theodore E. Brenner. "We were on the leading edge of the environmental movement in the late '50s and early '60s. Relating to detergents, the thrust was at the state and local level," Brenner says.

SDA tracks "a host of issues, primarily water, air quality, solid waste, environmental labeling, animal testing, and household hazardous waste." To state legislators and interest groups, "we're very obvious; we get identified. The impact of our products on water quality, for example, is really quite small, but it appears to the legislature as if a great piece of work has been accomplished" when it singles out detergents for regulation, Brenner asserts.

Detergent phosphates have been at issue for 20 years. "Phosphates are vital for life and great fertilizers - we couldn't live without them," Brenner notes. "They also fertilize aquatic plants and can produce an excess. Some 60 percent of phosphates that enter the water are from land runoff, and more comes from human and industrial waste. Soap accounts for 3 or 4 percent. But a phosphate ban is easy and looks effective. It's easier than adjusting our agricultural habits to prevent runoff."

Proactive prevention. Brenner adds, "With the beginning of the Reagan administration in 1980 we saw an upwelling of local involvement on many issues. A big one recently is the problem with solid waste management, particularly in the Northeast." SDA's history has been one of responsiveness. In the 1960s biodegradability was a "major issue that was resolved when the industry voluntarily converted to biodegradable materials. It was responsive action on the part of the industry that made legislation unnecessary," Brenner says.

To address the solid waste debate, SDA joined a group established by a coalition of nine northeastern governors. "They've brought in both industry and the environmentalists," he says. "That's the right approach."

Coalitions are the right approach, too, Brenner advises. "As state issues become a more generic, it's important to put together association coalitions because of the cost. The great challenge of the '90s for trade associations will be tackling legislation in all 50 states," he predicts.

"Legislation is introduced in one state, and the rapidity with which it shows up in others is uncanny. For an organization like mine, that means we can be bled dry; we can't have someone in every state." Brenner worries, "We try to anticipate problems, but that carries a degree of vulnerability: If something were to pop up in Mississippi, where we don't have a person, would I know in time?"

SDA encourages the development of councils in other region to help deal with issues tracking. "Our greatest vulnerability, though, is lower than the state level," Brenner says with some foreboding. "The counties are getting much more proactive."

Prestige and credibility. Every association government relations program relies substantially on member involvement. At the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, Martha Moores describes the "Family Physician Involvement Program," one product of a strategic plan developed three years ago.

"We felt we should be more involved," Moores remarks. "Family physicians have a very positive image with legislators, somewhat in contrast to the image of the medical profession in general. You can hire lobbyists who work effectively, but you can't put the mantle of prestige and credibility on them that members carry."

To take advantage of that, two member physicians are brought to the capital every day. The academy's legislative coordinator briefs them in the morning on the day's agenda and escorts them to appointments with representatives, committee meetings, and floor discussions. Usually, one physician spends the day "working the floor," Moores says. "They really like to be in on discussions and votes."

Service to legislators. The other physician often acts as "doctor of the day" in a special clinic at the statehouse. The free clinic was established 20 years ago in cooperation with the Florida Medical Association, Jacksonville. It is staffed by a full-time nurse and a clerical person, and during a session any legislator or staff member may use the free service. "It gets lots of use," Moores adds. Doctors are not permitted to lobby while working in the clinic.

"In the two years of our program, the academy's visibility in the state has increased dramatically," she says. "Moore people are aware of family physicians and practice. Members are participating in campaigns and knocking on doors." And even though members must close down their offices for the day and pay all costs except hotel expenses, "our programs are full," Moores says with pleasure. "We have a waiting list."

Looking for resources

Members may provide testimony, data, and sheer physical presence to effectively lobby state representatives. The association may take a different route to the same end. Coalitions are one vehicle. Another, while not new, may provide an answer to Brenner's plaint: public policy groups, where you can find out what all 50 states are considering for a given issue by being there when they talk.

Known variously as the "big seven" or "seven sisters," these organizations of elected state and local officials are where their members learn about the issues they go home to legislate. Multistate's Wayne Campbell emphasizes, "The public policy groups like NCSL have really come to the fore. Associations have not really considered them, and they should pay attention."

The major players are the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors' Association, Council of State Governments, National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, and the International City Management Association (all in Washington, D.C., except NCSL and CSG). Marcie McNelis, at Multistate's Alexandria, Virginia, office, suggest that NCSL, NGA, and CSG are most influential.

Supplying the source. What are these groups? Membership comes with election to office and is paid for by the state. NCSL's membership, for example, is the body of 7,634 state legislators and more than 20,000 staffers; although not every one participates, each state nominates various representatives to work on each of NCSL's issue committees. CSG, on the other hand, represents the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government, serving as secretariat for numerous affiliated associations.

The point? "These groups have become increasingly important as a source of information to legislators and elected officials," spells out Constance Campanella, president of Stateside Associates, an issues management and information service in Arlington, Virginia. "They are looked to for analysis, perspective, and data. They have well-attended meetings; they sell books and other publications. To the extent that they are framing a perspective for legislators, it's to an association's advantage to wholesale its view. These ideas will be presented nationally, and if the issue hurts you, you'll be dealing with it in a lot of states," Campanella says.

NCSL has a semiofficial relationship with another group, the State Governmental Affairs Council, Washington, D.C., whose private-sector members serve as liaisons to NCSL committees, providing data and points of view from industry and business. Several associations belong to SGAC. In addition, NCSL, NGA, and CSG have established forums for private sector participation (see sidebar, "The Big Three").

Suggested policy. None of the public policy groups sets policy; they provide information to members who do. As William T. Pound, NCSL's executive director, notes, "We don't lobby. We do make recommendations. At the state level we rarely adopt a policy; we develop information for an issue brief or guide so we can offer alternatives."

Or, as Campbell sees it, "Once NCSL takes a position on an issue, it spreads like wildfire." Dennis Brown, at the State Advertising Coalition, agrees. "You have 50 states to lobby, and few people can hop around like that. If you can go to one meeting, it's much easier. I've never seen more lobbying [than at an NCSL meeting]," Brown says.

Campanella advises, "Meet with the leadership, go to meetings, contact staff, mail correspondence - do the same as you would with the legislature. Host a special event to raise the profile of the association. Call and say, |I know you respond to thousands of resource requests. Here is some new information. We have people you can talk to.' If you're a member of NCSL's foundation, you can put your documents on LegisNet [NCSL's subscription computer data base]."

Pound concurs. "Frequently when the industry pointof view is needed, we'll ask an association for input. They can provide an expert perspective. All meetings are open. Associations can speak up in any committee; we don't discourage that."

Looking ahead

"The state legislative arena has changed," Pound pronounces. "There are more issues, and they are more complex. There has been a transfer of function from the national level."

Legislatures themselves have changed to accommodate the shift. "The trend in the last 10-15 years has been to a different type of legislator," Campbell says. "They are much younger, coming out of staff positions. They get the bug and run. That hitchhikes on the fact that more legislatures are full time, run longer, and have more staff." The new legislators are not "caucus glue," Campbell says. "It used to be if you knew the chair of the committee and the house speaker, you didn't need to know anyone else. There's a new, professional attitude. Legislators want more sophisticated information, and lobbying must be more sophisticated."

Campbell thinks that's good, "though there is a downside from the business view. You can get hurt more because you have more liberal, progressive legislators who have never worked in the private sector."

More activity. Some bemoan the change. "Virginia still has a citizen legislature" that meets for 45 or 60 days every year, says Mark W. Saurs, CAE, president of the Virginia League of Savings Institutions, Richmond. "But they used to meet every two years. It was just wonderful. Now committees and special studies run all year long. Our study [on savings and loan regulation] will bring them in two or three times this year," Saurs says.

Michael Stanton, at the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association, says he's "amazed at the number of associations looking to set up manageable systems for state legislation and regulation." He predicts "much more activity in the next 10 years - a continuation of Reagan's deregulation that will produce more fair game for the states."

Kristin Satroba is senior editor of Association Management.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:state legislatures
Author:Staroba, Kristin
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Don't catch the bug.
Next Article:Doing the right thing.

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