The Need for Speed in State Advocacy
Congress and state legislatures may look the same, but they operate very differently. The action moves much faster in the states. Here are some things you can do.
As most advocacy professionals know, state legislatures are not simply lighter versions of Congress. While they may look the same in form and function, they operate very differently.
In many states, time is in short supply. Rather than the two-year session used by Congress, most states have only a few months to get business done. States also have fewer resources. While many state lawmakers share a scheduler and secretary, Congress is packed with thousands of staffers (there are roughly 9,000 working in the House alone).
Perhaps the most important difference is that states legislate much faster. While a bill in Congress can incubate for years and then take months of negotiation to pass, a bill in the states can go from introduction to floor votes in a matter of weeks—and sometimes just days.
To win at the state level, your team has to be fast.
Missing a Bill Has Major Consequences
Here’s the nightmare scenario. Let’s say a Fortune 50 company is watching the Virginia legislature for bills that impact business. A miss can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the system in place to watch all that legislation relies on one lobbyist who simply cannot be connected to every committee and every issue. Eventually, a bill is going to get by them—and it did.
The story is a true one. A bill passed in just three days and the lobbyist in charge of Virginia lost his job. Resolved to never let it happen, the company adopted a professional legislative tracking solution that gave them a safety net and a fighting chance to protect their interests.
To win the advocacy game at the state level, you need a good early warning system and solid rapid response.
Early warning tells you when bills are introduced and then tracks their movement through the system. It gives your team alerts and ensures that you are watching every issue that could impact your organization. It also provides news on the issues that are important to you, and allows you to track social media channels that can provide indications of the action ahead.
Of course, seeing the landscape is only part of the drill. Once bills and regulations have been identified, you have to be able to do something about them. That’s where rapid response comes in. An “always-on” advocacy program gives your team the ability to mobilize grassroots action on command, complimenting your lobbying efforts with constituent voices that resonate with lawmakers.
5 Ways to Improve Detection and Response
Even for veteran teams, legislative sessions are a stressful time. To get an idea of the difficulty, consider this: Congress passed about 160 bills and resolutions from January of 2021 to July of this year. State legislatures passed more than 23,000 from January to July of this year alone.x
Next year’s sessions will be even more challenging because there will be many new officials. Legislatures in 46 states will face voters in this year’s election, as will gubernatorial seats in 36 states. Overall, there are more than 7,000 state and federal seats on the ballot, drawing more than 18,000 candidates. When the votes are counted, your team will have new faces to meet and relationships to build.
Organizations that are serious about state advocacy will focus on adding the capabilities they need to build those relationships, track the legislative and regulatory action and respond quickly to issues. Here are 5 strategies to prioritize:
- Professional Legislative Tracking. To keep track of relevant bills, a professional legislative tracking system is transformative. The ability to track keywords and get alerts via email means bills don’t get missed, and automation reduces the time-intensive manual work that comes with free tools and unsophisticated apps. To get a system in place and have your team trained up, start your effort now—months before next year’s legislative sessions begin.
- Text Messaging. Text messaging allows your organization to mobilize lobbying and grassroots advocacy quickly, which can be extremely helpful in a fast-moving environment. Text has a 99% open rate. Conversion rates can run to double digits. And, most action takes place immediately after the blast. It is the perfect tool for rapid response. This is another area to secure this year, so your team has time to become fluent with the tools, build a list and get advocates used to text communications.
- Eyes on the Ground. Whether you hire contract lobbyists or you have local offices or chapters, you need people on the ground. State and regional news publications cannot track all the action, nor do they always tell you what is coming. You need human sources to gather real intelligence.
- Contact Directories. Having staff or volunteers on the ground is useless if they cannot get in touch with the right people. The same is true of grassroots advocacy, which must be trained on the right targets. An up-to-date contact directory is a must-have tool in every state where you operate. This is especially true next year, when new lawmakers, governors and staff take office.
- Additional Staffing. Many organizations arrange to add to their own staff to handle legislative sessions. This might be new hires, departmental transfers, staff from state offices, or even interns and fellows. However you engineer it, it helps to have extra bodies on hand to do research and help carry the load.
There are many other things that can be added to this list, such as creating a communications plan in relevant states and revising messaging. Organizations that get moving now still have months to prepare, and will be more confident when state legislative sessions kick off. To learn more about what your team can do, download Four Key Facts You Need to Know About State Advocacy. Our experts can tell you what to expect in January.