Melissa Biggs, Esquire, DePino, Nunez and Biggs
What Does It Mean To Lobby? And how YOU can influence the Legislative Process.
“ Those of us who are lobbyists recognize that many people perceive that we are sneaky individuals who unfairly hinder the legislative process, lurking in every dark corner of the Capitol.
But do you want to know the truth?
Everyone actually practices the art of lobbying in their everyday life. Yes, even you. ”
Think about it: You lobby to reduce the fee of a service, or you lobby your significant other to take over more household chores. Or you lobby with your toddler to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
While lobbying most often refers to trying to alter legislation, people often use the same negotiation tactics in their everyday lives.
To effectively lobby, one needs to apply their negotiating ability within the rules of the General Assembly. A lobbyist already knows how to ascertain important deadlines, monitor revolving bill negotiations, identify what large interest groups are working on and how those priorities may affect the overall tone of a session.
At your house, you might listen to a conversation, gather your research, and make your own case for a change. For these reasons, it’s a similar process when working to influence the legislative process at the General Assembly.
The bottom line: context is everything.
The Connecticut Legislature operates on a two-year cycle, and we’re currently in the second year of the cycle. When the legislature is sworn in, they vote on the session rules, which dictate the process in which legislative committees must abide by. The main goal of the first session in the cycle is to pass a two-year budget.
The deadlines are altered between sessions to accommodate the short session, which occurs every even numbered year and it only lasts three months. Even numbered years mean elections and short session, and the total number of legislative proposals will be drastically reduced.
Originally, the intent of the short session was to make adjustments to the two-year budget cycle. Over the years, the legislature has passed an increasing amount of bills during short session. However, the office of the Legislative Commissioner is very strict during a short session and will not allow for a legislator to file a bill that does not have a fiscal impact to the state.
A way to circumvent this restriction is to have a concept raised as a committee proposal, which requires the leaders of the committee of cognizance to agree to raise it. Due to the extremely short turnaround during the short session, you should never wait until the legislature convenes to discuss topics of importance. In fact, many legislators spend months in advance of session preparing legislation, often hosting coffee hours or other community engagement events to hear from constituents.
If a member of the public has a bill they would like to see raised, they should start meeting with legislators early. We typically urge our clients to start conducting meetings in the fall, allowing for plenty of time to reach out to all the relevant stakeholders.
Think about it, would you want your spouse waiting until you are doing a million things to ask for a favor? Or would you prefer they reach out when you have some down time?
So, what does one do if they wish to see a bill raised?
Identify the legislators you should speak to, including who represents you, who represents your employees, and who sits on the committee of cognizance for the topic you would like to discuss. These legislators will be your core group of advocates as session moves forward.
Prior to a bill being raised, you should also identify what other interest groups may have an opinion on your proposal. Consider if there is an opportunity to develop a group of advocates within the community, and if you suspect there may be a group that has concerns, reach out to them and see if any language changes could help them get on board. Regardless if a proposal has a lot of support from Democrats or Republicans, it’s far easier to pass legislation if it’s bipartisan. And, amending a bill to address the concerns of other organizations will make it far more likely to see passage.
Once session has begun, a committee will raise concepts, which are often just titles with very little details available. They are then drafted by the Legislative Commissioners’ Office (LCO) as proscribed by Committee Chairs. Joint session rules dictate that a public hearing must be noticed five days in advance in the CGA Bulletin, which sometimes means the bill is released in the morning and scheduled for a hearing five days later.
During this time, it’s extremely important to stay diligent. The public hearing process is the most difficult (but necessary!) stage in the legislative process. It’s your opportunity to get on record—either in support or in opposition—but everyone who submits or testifies in person will be included in the public record.
Each Committee can establish its own rules on how/when to sign up for a public hearing, and those rules as specified in the CGA Bulletin. For instance, some have a full lottery, some choose to go by the order in which you sign up, and others will hear all the speakers on a given bill before moving to the next topic. Testifiers for committees are limited to three minutes. You also can submit a written testimony.
Generally, it is best to not read your statement. Reading off a statement removes the opportunity for the legislators to connect with you while you testify. Use testimony time to clarify any statements made from the opposition or to highlight specific pieces of the legislation.
Developing advocates for legislation you are seeking will enhance your opportunity for success. So, always let your legislator know when you are coming up to the Capitol and what you are speaking on.
After the public hearing, a committee must take action on a bill before the Joint Favorable Deadline (JF Deadline), which is also prescribed in the Joint Rules. If a committee fails to act on a bill, the bill dies. Most often, if a committee does not want to see a proposal move forward, they will take no action—it is very rare to actually vote a bill down.
On the other side, if a bill has had a positive committee vote, it’s reviewed by the Office of Fiscal Analysis, where it’s determined if the proposal will have any fiscal impact on the state budget—which is often the kiss of death.
As the proposal moves to the floor of the House or the Senate, the screening committee will review the proposal to see if it needs any additional committee referrals before getting a final vote. If there’s a fiscal note, the bill will need to be reviewed by the Appropriations Committee, which is the largest committee in the legislature.
A bill needs to be on the House or Senate calendar for three days before it can be called for a floor vote. Some bills are called right after the three days are finished, or some can be left on the calendar for weeks before it’s called. During this time, the language is up for negotiations.
Committee Leadership often brings in stakeholders to try and address as many concerns as possible. This is when amendments are drafted and filed—some amendments can be purely technical—and others known as “strike all amendments” can eliminate all existing text of a bill and replace it with whatever language that is ruled germane.
At times, an amendment can be filed and a bill can be run on the chamber floor within an hour. Once the bill passes one chamber, it goes to the last chamber for final approval. Generally, if a bill has passed one chamber, there’s a good chance it will pass another—however, nothing should ever be taken for granted during session. The most experienced people in the building will tell you nothing is officially over until legislation has been signed by the Governor.
Session is extremely hectic and fast-paced, so it’s important to track legislation every day to ensure you don’t miss an important opportunity to provide feedback on a piece of legislation.The CGA website is very user-friendly and offers a free tracking service, but working with a lobbyist can provide you with the most accurate information on a timely basis to help you be as prepared as possible.
Many can find the legislative process overwhelming and difficult to participate in, simply due to the large volume of diverse topics the General Assembly reviews each year. Keep in mind legislators do their best to learn about various industries through the legislative process, but they’re often seeking industry experts to help guide them on how legislation will work once implemented.
Using the experience you have gathered in your life and applying that knowledge to proposed legislation will be your best asset.
Melissa Biggs is a partner at DePino, Nunez and Biggs, a bipartisan Government Relations firm with a broad and diverse experience that enables them to navigate issues and advocate effectively. Formerly DePino Associates, the firm has been helping clients navigate through the Connecticut legislative process since 2003 and provides comprehensive and individually tailored strategies for clients working with state and local government officials. www.dnblobby.com
Pictured Above: Melissa Biggs Esq. pictured with partners Paul Nunez and Chris DePino