Georgia has one of the largest state legislatures in the nation – third only behind New Hampshire and Pennsylvania – with no term limits on the 236 legislators (Speaker of the House included), as well as the lieutenant governor. As such, relationships matter significantly, and how you handle issues and interact with legislators carries over into future years. Political grudges can and do exist, and every one of these senators and representatives introduces legislation, some with detrimental impacts on the credit union industry if left unchecked. Hence you have a lobbying team at the Capitol – but what does it take to be a lobbyist? It’s more than just showing up (for certain!) and there are over 990 lobbyists registered, with more who don’t register. It’s easy for one to get lost in the shuffle, but here are seven tips on how it’s done:
- Be Prepared: To obtain positive changes, you have to put in the legwork. A great example of this is the effort that senior members of GCUA put forth to consistently stay engaged with the Department of Banking and Finance. Complementing this is the credit union task force devoted to identifying charter enhancements. This group met with the DBF in the summer of 2018 to talk about charter enhancement ideas (as well as what needed to be done with a few other bills!). Thanks to this early preparation, credit unions obtained positive changes in the above Charter Enhancements bill HB 185.
- Have Strong Connections: The vast majority of bills that are introduced DO NOT pass – even high-priority bills for legislators often sit by the wayside. Merit often doesn’t matter once the session is in “frenzy” mode. So, when there are challenges with a bill, such as with the multiple hurdles faced with the Encouraging Savings bill, HB 193, connections matter. Connections with legislators, lobbyists and regulatory bodies like the DBF make a difference. This bill would not have passed without the help of some very influential legislators in both the House and Senate!
- Utilize Your Political Capital Strategically: For every action at the state Capitol there is a reaction, and political capital is a real thing – it’s the ability to influence that is built up as well as used up during the session. What one pushes legislatively, and how one pushes it, can burn through all of that capital on one bill and leave no ability to influence other issues. Capital, if one is strategic, should be used wisely – an example of which was the above PACE Financing bill, SB 162. If the political capital had been spent by the time this bill was discovered, or if the lobbying tactic had been mishandled at the onset, it would not have ended well for credit unions. The legislative process is nuanced, and to lose sight of that fact would be detrimental to the operational environment credit unions have.
- Stay Engaged: If there’s an issue that was addressed but did not pass, it’s likely that it will return the following year. By staying engaged with the legislator and/or parties pursuing the issue, you can create the opportunity to create positive change. The Liability Protections bill, HB 490, is a perfect example of this, where a negative situation one year was turned around through staying engaged with the legislators. GCUA worked to find common ground on this funeral home payment issue and create a solution that improved the situation for all parties involved.
- Work Well with Others: The real key to legislative success is to develop coalitions of groups seeking the same common goal, but that takes being able to work well with others – not just in moving an issue forward (such as the Protecting the Lending Environment bill SB 37), but also in defeating an issue outright. And given how quickly things can happen at the state Capitol, having a positive working relationship with others provides an earlier window for identification and consensus building around issues. The Elder Abuse bill, HB 402, is a prime example of how quickly things can be addressed (and timeliness matters!).
- Be Smart, and Be a Part of It: Given the wide range of issues, the large number of legislators, and how quickly things can change, you need to be head-first in the deep end of the pool and let it consume everything for the three months they are in session. BUT, you need to be smart about the process too. Realize how little control you have over the situation, be able to analyze the issues, read the situations and personalities, and weigh the factors to see what is achievable.
- Be Paranoid: If one is not engaged in the legislative rodeo process, one will be trampled. There were more than 2,400 bills that were introduced during the session, all scoured for potential impact to the industry. More than 150 tax-related bills alone, and multiple hearings each day on the issues through the evenings, and hours of research after the fact to catch any issues that changed in the process. So many issues changed between 10:00 pm and midnight on the last day, and there have been industries to have negative impact in the final hours. You need to be on guard, because anything can happen.