Last Thursday afternoon, the Council of State Governments (CSG) released the Docket for its upcoming Committee on Suggested State Legislation (SSL) meeting that will be held in conjunction with its 2013 Leadership Forum June 21-24 in Washington, D.C. It is the second time the Committee is meeting for what is known as the 2014 Docket Cycle.
For those readers unfamiliar with CSG’s Committee on Suggested State Legislation, the Committee is a forum for widely distributing sample bills and enactments to be used by legislators and staff across the country as they develop similar legislation in their own respective states about a wide variety of state public policy issues.
Members of the Committee look for unique or innovative legislative examples to “include” in the Annual Volume CSG publishes each year (and now also posts online). Bills and enactments are evaluated on established criteria: national or regional significance, timeliness, as innovative approaches to public policy, comprehensiveness and the language or style of the bill-essentially the architecture of the bill. Think of the bills and enactments included in the Annual Volume as legislative templates from which policymakers and staff can borrow.
This round of Docket consideration will be different in two important respects. The first is the number of new faces that will compose the Committee when it convenes later this month. Many new members were appointed to the Committee for a new two-year term in January by CSG Leadership, in large part a result of the high legislative turnover during the 2012 election cycle. For a number of members, it will be their first meeting. CSG also named Brydon Ross as the new Staff Director to the Committee earlier this year.
The second issue to consider is the short period of time between the Docket’s release last week and the meeting. There are now 11 days remaining before the meeting on June 22-an extremely limited amount of time to influence opinions about Docket items that will be considered at the meeting.
These issues create less than ideal conditions for private sector advocates looking to include or reject items proposed on the Docket. The new members on the Committee and limited time to educate these policymakers require a more disciplined and focused approach to several of the fundamentals of engaging this Committee.
Command of the Process
An expert understanding of the Committee process and how Committee members evaluate the Docket items is critical in this short period of time. New members may not know you, but they are likely to become very familiar with the unique manner in which the Docket items are considered. Absent a familiarity with the private sector representation around the room, SSL members will more likely expect the lobbying to be respectful of the specific criteria by which they are charged to evaluate the Docket items. “Inclusion” (even “rejection”) arguments should be developed within these criteria and not based on the commonplace policy arguments we typically use as lobbyists. Arguing outside of the criteria is almost always counter-productive.
Every relationship you currently have counts. You will not have much time to build relationships with new members prior to the meeting, but you should use that time to reach out to existing relationships. Relationships with Committee members are important in the SSL process. The reason is simple: Committee members benefit from the subject matter expertise the private sector shares; this helps them to frame their understanding of the Docket items. And your past participation has also likely established credibility with the veteran members. Committee members cannot understand all of the issues before them on any given Docket and so they rely on private sector engagement. There are up to one hundred items on any given Docket (there are 81 items on this Docket).
You need to begin reaching out to the relationships you have now. Find an opportunity to reach the members before the meeting, leveraging your trade association, in-state lobbyists and utilizing CSG hospitality events and CSG staff. Arrive at the meeting room early on the day of the event and use the limited amount of time-prior to the meeting or during meeting breaks-expertly and respectfully (their time is also limited). Develop the “elevator speech” for your inclusion or rejection arguments-not every policy issue lends itself nicely or neatly to a five minute pitch, but you will not have much more time than that during your member conversations. You will likely have even less time if called upon to speak to the Committee during its proceedings to clarify members’ understanding of the issue-again, prepare your remarks carefully and economically. Collateral with talking points-never more than one page-is important, given the volume of issues the Committee must review. A clear, concise, but brief explanation is critical especially if members are hearing about it for the first time.