The “Not-So” Secret Society of the Legislative Process

By: Kim Barclay

Through my own past experience when I was once, “thrown to the wolves” so –to-speak, I learned very quickly that the state (in my case, Florida) legislative process is not a secret society where you have to whisper the secret password and have the decoder ring to get in.

In fact, it’s just the opposite.   The staff and volunteer leadership of many small associations are unaware of the valuable resources that are available at the state Capitol.  If your organization doesn’t have a lobbyist on staff or a firm on retainer due to budget limitations, your association can still achieve its public policy goals.

Here are some helpful steps to build a great foundation for your legislative efforts:

  1. Research to find other organizations that have your same issues and goals and meet with them to see if collaboration is an option.
  2. Call the legislator’s aides in your district in the “off-season” when the legislature is not in session and introduce yourself. Building rapport with the aides is key.  They are the gate-keepers.
  3. Make appointments to visit or have calls with the aides and/or legislators in their district offices in the off season. This is the time when they are able to make time for their constituents and pay more attention.  If you try and get an appointment during session, you will probably not get in, and your impact will be far less significant.
  4. When you visit their district or Capitol office, bring a small token for them to remember you by. Some states have gift restrictions, so make sure you are aware of the rules.
  5. Research the legislators and find out what committees they are on and what they are passionate about. This will help you know who to go to for help and to sponsor your future bill.
  6. Study the personal side of the legislators in your district and other key legislators. Each state publishes a directory with their spouses, hobbies, career, etc.
  7. Attend all the legislative reception functions you possibly can. True, not all legislators will be in attendance, but many of the key players will be.  Take business cards, and a small, index card size pamphlet of your organization and its legislative mission.  Keep it simple.
  8. Introduce yourself to the Office of Bill Drafting Services at the Capitol. This is the group of folks that will assist you in writing the language for your bill.
  9. Know that relationship building is an on-going, never ending process. It will take time and years to impact the legislators and their staff.
  10. Finally, even if you don’t have any current legislative initiatives, still attend functions, build relationships, and keep yourself “out there”. You never know when something will come down the pike and you will already be ahead of the curve.

For more information, visit these websites:

http://www.ncsl.org/

http://www.leg.state.fl.us/info_center/

KimBarclayBio

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