Mickey's Mail - 2/21/18 - Government 101 Redux
This past Friday, we elected to try something new at the Bridgeport Regional Business Council (BRBC). One of our four pillars is government relations and political advocacy, so we decided to hold a morning-long seminar we entitled “Government 101, and it was all about how a bill becomes a law in our state government.
Event attendees characterized our seminar as “one of the best things the BRBC has ever done”. Hyperbole? Maybe, but I must tell you that I have been following state government the entire 4+ decades I have been in Connecticut and have testified many times up in Hartford and this seminar was an eye-opener for me. So much so that I am going to somewhat randomly list below some of the things I learned from the event. And we are already talking about holding this event again, perhaps before the long session of the legislature next year.
So here goes:
- There are many acronyms I was never aware of such as “JFS” which means: “Joint Favorable with Substitute Language”.
- The state legislature is much less partisan then our U. S. Congress, due at least in part because committees in the state house meet jointly with both parties; about 75% of all bills pass unanimously.
- Don’t assume your legislators know everything, especially if the matter involves a subject outside the jurisdiction of the committees the legislator sits on.
- Relationships between and among legislators really matter, as does trust.
- Chairs, vice-chairs and ranking members also really matter.
- It’s all about the state budget which drives everything now. A fiscal note needs to be attached to bills.
- It’s a myth that we have a part-time legislature since our legislators are really working for us throughout the whole year.
- The panel of legislators had different opinions on term limits. One panelist favored a 20-year limit, while another favored 10 years. Another legislator felt that the legislature was too big (151 representatives, 36 senators).
- There was agreement, and this is important, that the Bridgeport region has gotten short shrift in the state legislature “for decades” in part because most legislators are not an hour’s drive away (as ours in this region are), and most legislative staffers live in greater Hartford. There was also a sentiment that the quality of our region’s legislators was much improved from the more distant past.
- To learn more about our legislature, the website www.cga.ct.gov was cited, and it was surprising to learn that most legislators readily give out their cell phone number, to make public access to them easier.
- Regarding lobbying, one legislator commented that he would rather hear from a passionate constituent than any lobbyist.
- The lobbyists in their panel emphasized the importance of relationships and partnerships.
- Said one lobbyist: “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu; and if you’re not the ‘blue plate special’, then you should probably come back next session”.
- Lobbyists cannot and should not “over-lobby” or ever “shade the facts”, but rather concentrate on “blocking and tackling” since legislators’ knowledge is usually “a mile wide and an inch deep”.
- Nothing is ever really dead in the general assembly. Witness the “implementer” where bills can be resurrected and passed at the very end of a session.
- There is enormous power in public perception and with the media, especially social media. Every post on the internet is a public statement.
- Key traits of a good lobbyist: a. Patience; b. Diligence; c. Humility; d. Being a good listener; e. Integrity; f. Possessing good communication skills.
- When seeking to get a bill passed, you need a short succinct “escalator” speech to get your message across.
- Do not underestimate the power of the Executive Branch of government because the Governor can veto bills, and key departments need to be aware of what is transpiring in the legislature, especially the Office of the Comptroller and the Office of Management and Budget.
I wanted to write this up since I felt our speakers did such a great job imparting important information to us about the legislative process, but I now realize that there is much, much more I could have written. Suffice it to say that this was a pretty special seminar, so look for when we might schedule another one. You really will learn a lot and will most assuredly consider the time to attend the event to be a very good investment.
Melissa Biggs – Principal, DePino, Nunez & Biggs, LLC is pictured above
Panelists: Tony Hwang - State Senator, 28th District; Steve Stafstrom - State Representative, 129th District; J.P. Sredzinski - State Representative, 112th District; and Joe Gresko – State Representative, 121st District
Lobbyists: Pat McCabe – Owner, Capitol Strategies Group, LLC; Al Carbone – AVANGRID/UIL Holdings Corporation, State Government Relations