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Tracking state legislation.

Tracking State Legislation

Legislators in the 50 states are being forced to examine complex issues once considered national and reserved for Congress. However, in an era of federal budget cuts, states are called upon not only for funds but innovative solutions. This shift of focus to state legislatures creates special challenges for many associations. You may be one of those searching for a way to keep members informed of state legislative activity.

Significant resources include computerized bill-tracking services, networking, hired lobbyists, and publications.

Computerized Bill Tracking

State bill-tracking services report on bills introduced on subjects you designate. State Net, Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, California, and Commerce Clearing House, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., are two services that offer computer data bases organized by key words and state names. Associations with limited staff will find computer tracking quite valuable.

A bill-tracking service also may be a useful first step to test interest and activity in the states on particular issues. Using the data base is a simple process of calling the service via computer modem and screening through various menus. You can look at the latest on bills by topic and subtopic; for example, "advertising, beverage advertising."

Standard service cost is a flat fee plus a per-minute charge for extra time. You can also pay for timesaving features that maintain customized files on your issues.

Don't, however, depend strictly on bill-tracking services to keep up with events. Legislation can move quickly in state capitals. Most state legislatures meet for 60-120 days each year. Some meet for only 30 days, and a few convene only every other year. On this tight schedule, business must be conducted swiftly, and hearings may occur just days after a bill is introduced.

While the services receive daily updates, it takes three days under the best conditions for news on a bill to reach your computer screen.

The advertising industry, for example, recently faced a fast-moving legislative challenge in a western state. The bill was introduced on a Friday, and the hearing was to follow Monday. The sponsors intended to vote the bill out of committee with a house floor vote Wednesday. Bill-tracking services cannot keep up that pace.

In another instance in a northeastern state, legislators actually voted on a bill before it was written; new tax law existed before a tracking service could possibly have reported the proposed legislation. These examples show why I consider tracking services more of a safety net than an early warning system.

Many associations use tracking services as a basic reference and a source of information for newsletters and other reports to their membership.

Networking

National associations should coordinate state government relations with local members and allies, especially if the associations do not have state-level groups with lobbyists in state capitals. Networking with allies can be the key to success since their perspective of events will be most clearly focused. Remember, grass-roots plans reflect the composition of your member base.

The advertising industry has only a few state associations with lobbyists. But that doesn't stop us from tracking state legislation and regulation of concern. A network of allied state association executives representing broadcasters, retailers, and newspapers and other media lobby the state legislatures and provide our industry with early warnings of trouble.

Forming a casual group of government relations staff from other associations is another way to keep up with state developments. The Washington Area State Relations Group is an informal network based in Washington, D.C., that has monthly luncheon meetings.

Some organizations provide opportunities to work directly with state legislators. The State Governmental Affairs Council, Washington, D.C., is a vehicle for working with the National Conference of State Legislatures, Denver, SGAC is the only private-sector organization sanctioned to appoint liaisons to committees of NCSL. The Council of State Governments, Lexington, Kentucky, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, Washington, D.C., accepts private industry and elected officials as members.

Finally, join statewide business organizations. Newsletters, legislative bulletins, and selected meetings conducted in the state will make you knowledgeable.

Consulting and Lobbying Firms

State government relations consulting firms provide planning and strategy for dealing with legislative and regulatory issues. They also offer direct lobbying in the state capitals. Some companies maintain a network of full-time professional lobbyists who live and work in the state capitals.

Lobbyists in state capitals may be less effective if perceived as representing out-of-state clients. All elected officials attempt to respond to constituents before addressing the concerns of others. It may be most effective to provide the money for a lobbyist to a state association or member.

Consult with allies in the state capitals when looking for a lobbyist and consider these questions: * Does the lobbyist understand your issues? * Does he or she have access to political leaders? * Is he or she an old hand around the legislature or just breaking into the profession? * Is he or she very liberal or conservative? * Does he or she have a particular reputation or personal bias related to current or previous clients or from time spent as a legislator? * Will he or she work the entire legislative session or calendar year for a flat fee plus expenses? * Is there an extra charge for special sessions? * Will he or she involve your members when contacting legislators?

Hiring lobbyists is expensive. Instead, you may be able to work in concert with organizations that employ full-time professionals in the state capital. Then you can hire lobbyists during a legislative emergency when the outcome strongly affects your members. Dennis

Dennis Brown, CAE is executive director of the State Advertising Coalition, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
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Title Annotation:information system for various association on state legislative activity
Author:Brown, Dennis
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:932
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