From Bill Tracking to Legislative Reporting: A Proactive Approach to State Legislative Sessions

December 14, 2018

State legislatures considered just under 130,000 pieces of legislation in 2018 and enacted over 30,000 bills and resolutions. Comparatively, the 115th Congress has considered just over 10,000 bills and enacted 269. Additionally, seven legislative chambers flipped party control and hundreds of new officials were elected this November. With a high volume of legislation and high turnover of officials, it's easy to see the challenge of managing state affairs.

Quorum sat down with Jennifer Rosen, director of state affairs for the Alzheimer’s Association, to discuss best practices for your organization before, during, and after sessions for managing legislative affairs in all 50 states. To listen to the webinar, download here, or read below for an overview of the best practices for your organization’s state legislative affairs:

Before Sessions

The time before sessions kick off is critical to have a successful state legislative year. There are two key aspects of pre-session preparation—understanding of policy trends and organizing your team’s bill tracking processes. First, your organization should engage with other state affairs professionals and industry-specific experts to learn where your issue stands in a state’s priorities that year. Attend state affairs conferences and subscribe to relevant industry newsletters to stay up-to-date on policy advancements.

“The sessions at these conferences really inform what the legislators are going to be working on in the following year,” Rosen said. “The legislators take these sessions very seriously in what they learn they bring back to their states, bring model legislation back, and so that really does help us get a jump start on what’s going to be happening in the next calendar year as a new session starts.”

The second step to a proactive legislative year is to set your team up for success with an organized bill tracking plan. The Alzheimer’s Association has lobbyists working on the ground in all 50-states, which means consistency across states is key to organized bill tracking. First, you need consistency in the search terms each state lobbyist uses to identify key bills. Second, consistency is critical in the level of detail of a lobbyist’s description for a bill on how it affects the organization’s priorities.

“We need to make sure our messaging is consistent from state to state,” Rosen said. “We need to make sure we’re taking a position on a bill in one state that is not going to be contradictory in another state, so ensuring that we’re tracking all the same bills in each state with the same search terms is really important to our work.”

Engaging with industry leaders and organizing your bill tracking plan for the year can get the 2019 legislative sessions off to a strong start.

During Sessions

While sessions are ongoing, keys to success include engaging legislators, maintaining your bill tracking project, and sharing trends across multiple state legislatures.

Engaging legislators early in session is especially critical in 2019 given the significant turnover following the 2018 elections. A best practice that the Alzheimer’s Association practices is to send new legislators a welcome letter outlining the organization’s policy priorities. This standard format letter is prepared in the national headquarters and sent out to legislators in all 50 states, providing an early touchpoint for lobbyists to reference.

“It’s really important for us to be able to have our pulse on different trends at any moment,” Rosen said. “When one state hears about success a great success in another state and we do get the calls, ‘How did they do that? How did they make that happen? How did they get that bill passed?’ They'll call me and I'll connect them with their colleagues in that state.”

Along with sending the initial letter, it's also good to bring your advocates to meet with legislators early in the session. This allows legislators to put the face of one of their constituents and voters with the issue your organization is advocating for.

While engaging legislators is a priority for the early months of the new year of legislative sessions, legislative tracking is a critical process at all times during the year. From pre-filed bills to bills introduced near the end of the year, it's critical that they are all tracked with the same process and procedure so that nothing falls through the cracks. Then, your team can share information when an issue pops up in one state that may soon appear in another state.

Finally, consider using social media tracking to monitor when elected officials are talking about your issue. While you can make an impact on legislation after it's been introduced, social media can provide an early warning system for a legislator who is considering action on a particular issue.

After Sessions

When the time comes where sessions have ended and you’ve finished tracking bills for the year, it’s time to report on your team’s successes and losses.

Consider measuring the number of bills in each policy area, number of bills that moved in your favor in each policy area, legislators who were made into champions, and number of engagements with your key champions. This allows you to look back and see if the engagements you had with legislators were effective at moving the needle in your issue areas.

“We're always making the case for budgets, and staff dollars, and dollars for tracking software,” Rosen said. “We were always having to make the case for our budgets and the importance of state GR work, so to be able to quantify that work and say this is why we have to have a full-time staff and a staffer in every state, because look how many bills come through and how many they review and, that's not even talking about the time it takes to take act on them.”

Reporting at the end of the legislative year is essential to both inform your department internally on what is working and what isn’t and to inform your organization’s leadership of the value your department brings to the organization.

Bottom Line:

2019 will be a big year in state legislatures. January of a new term for state legislators tends to have the highest volume of bills introduced, so make sure your team is prepared. Consider Quorum States to accomplish your 2019 state legislative goals.

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