State Legislative Sessions: Proven Tactics to Win
In state legislatures, bills can go from introduction to final passage in weeks, and sometimes days. Smart teams prepare in advance. Here are some things you can do.
Just days after we ring in the New Year, state legislative sessions will open in 46 states, initiating a flood of legislation—tens of thousands of bills—on topics ranging from voting rights and pandemic recovery to education and taxes.
In an environment where state bills can go from introduction to final passage in a matter of weeks, and sometimes days, smart government relations teams are preparing now. There’s a lot you can do.
Stephanie Baum, director of customer success, and Brittany Schrager, a customer success manager at Capitol Canary, took on that very topic in a session at this week’s Professional Women in Advocacy Conference. Two more Capitol Canary experts, Matt Ernesto and Bill Carrigan, also had much to say on the subject in Capitol Canary’s webinar, It’s Time to Get Ready for 2022.
“States are primarily going to drive the action in Q1 of 2022,” Baum said. “November elections are going to be dominating the national conversation, which will slow legislation in the Senate and House. But a couple of areas that we are focusing on with our customers are the state level, the local level, and regulatories.”
It’s a model that will work in other companies, associations and nonprofits that need help showing ROI.
“You’ll see that [we use the] word ‘impact,’” Hay said. “We didn’t draw that out of thin air. We talk about how to educate, impact and engage. You’ll see that throughout what we’re doing.”
Preparing for State Sessions
In an environment where dozens of legislatures are all moving quickly, preparation is essential. Here are some things you can do right now to get ready for the sprint next year:
- Audit Your Advocates. “Identify the states where you have the strongest cohorts,” Baum said. “Where are the states where you are anticipating legislation and you may need to bulk up?” Looking at strengths and weaknesses now, both in terms of states and individual districts, gives your organization time to make improvements before the action starts.
- Fill in the Gaps. When you know where you need a stronger presence, you can run acquisition campaigns now. Capitol Canary data shows that petition campaigns are far more effective at acquiring new supporters than other types. “This is something we find highly effective,” Baum said. “It’s a stronger call to action than just ‘sign up to join our organization or our movement,’ but the barrier isn’t quite as high as ‘contact a lawmaker. It’s a great middle ground.”
- Evaluate Your Campaigns. A report showing how many emails your advocates sent in each state legislative district in the last year is a powerful asset when sessions start in January. It allows you to show lawmakers that their constituents care about your issue. “We really see this as a key differentiator,” Ernesto said. “Folks who take these steps really do set themselves up for a lot of success.”
- Know What’s Coming. Take a look at your legislative record with an eye toward the future. Are there bills you were able to block that could be reintroduced? Is there legislation you supported that failed to pass? When you have a list together of the action you anticipate, you can start preparing in detail. “Make sure that all of your previous legislation is put into a packet and is ready to be reintroduced,” Ernesto said. To learn more on how to monitor issues, read The Case for Legislative Tracking.
- Know Your Targets. Knowing in advance which relationships require attention next year is extremely helpful when it comes to advancing your agenda. It also helps to know where relationships need to be built. “We have a great tool called Batting Averages,” Carrigan said. “What that tool does is it helps you identify state lawmakers who have been the most successful at passing legislation they have introduced. We provide the same on the cosponsorship level. So if you know that you need a bill passed in Pennsylvania, and you’re not sure who you can work with … you can use that tool to see which legislators are really the best at passing legislation.”
- Get Ready for Changes. Having the right tools on hand to quickly adjust to changes in the legislatures, such as a shift in committee membership, can be vital, Ernesto said. Capitol Canary has several tools that can help. “In the legislative intelligence toolset, see what resources you have in terms of previous meetings and previous connections you’ve made to offices in that committee,” he said. “Our advocacy solution gives you the ability to look at how many folks you have who are represented by legislators on a given committee.”
- Use Technology. For organizations that need to improve engagement numbers, text messaging is extremely effective. While email is the workhorse of most advocacy programs, text has a 99% open rate and double-digit conversion is not unusual. “I have one trade association client that was concerned that maybe their advocates don’t want to hear from them via text messaging,” Baum said. “They sent their first text message and saw a 30% conversion rate.”
- Don’t Forget This Year. With states like Virginia and New Jersey electing governors and legislatures in November, make sure your organization is prepared to follow up. “Make sure that you welcome the new members coming in,” Ernesto said.
All of the experts emphasized that making use of the time left this year is crucial because the action moves fast come January and there won’t be time to pull everything you need together. “For those who are working at the state level, this is kind of the key time right now,” Ernesto said. “The wheels are already in motion.”