Pinpointing the main keys to legislative and regulatory success
partner McDonald Carano
At some point in any business, you will come across a law or regulation that impacts your operations. Whether you want to amend or repeal a law or regulation or have an idea for a new provision that will help your industry grow, you may find yourself playing the role of advocate.
Before undertaking such an effort, it is important to exercise sufficient forethought and make sure you have an understanding of the processes and deadlines that guide the legislature and other regulatory bodies. Government affairs professionals can assist you through the process of changing, creating or repealing unnecessary laws or regulations.
If you desire a change to the law, you will need a bill; a bill requires a sponsor. Only authorized entities can sponsor a bill. Examples include the governor, state treasurer, cities and counties, and state senators and assembly members. Further, each authorized entity is allocated a limited number of bills; the governor is allocated 115, while a freshman assembly member is limited to six. You need to identify and work with a sponsor to educate them about why your issue is important enough to use one of their allocated bill drafts.
To further complicate matters, bills must be introduced according to a schedule of deadlines; some bills must be introduced before the session’s commencement, while others can be introduced after the session is underway. This means you need to begin the process of advocating for your issue well in advance of the legislative session, which begins on the first Monday in February of every odd year and lasts for 120 days.
Once introduced, a bill is subject to additional deadlines throughout the process. Each bill must move through the committees and houses of the legislature according to a pre-determined schedule. There are also deadlines regarding the creation of the state budget, which may be relevant should your effort require the use of state funds.
Then there is the most important deadline of all: the legislature MUST adjourn sine die (meaning: without a day for a further meeting) at midnight of the 120th day. If the business of the legislature is not completed by that time, a special session may be called to bring any unresolved issues to a close.
Deadlines are important, but so is the means by which you lobby the legislature. While it is never a waste of time to write your legislator, there are often more proactive ways to influence lawmakers; consulting with a government affairs professional can help you think through the process and approach.
Often, citizens show up on the day a bill is being heard to voice their concerns or support. By that time, though, legislators have likely heard from lobbyists for related interests and agency or department heads, so they often go into a hearing with their minds made up. Early and strategic participation is paramount to your success in affecting change at the legislature.
To be successful, you must be aware and respectful of process and deadlines. You also need a broad effort to build momentum in the direction of your desired change. Potential allies and opponents must be identified, and business networks and industry associations should be leveraged to develop a coalition of support. You may even need to commission a study or analysis to support your arguments. All of this requires sufficient forethought and planning.
It is easy to get tunnel vision during the legislative process, becoming so focused on one issue that you miss the cues from those advocating for something that runs counter to your interests. This is why tracking all related bills and changes to those bills can be essential to protecting your interests. This is a large and often tedious endeavor, and as the session gets into full swing, it can become a full-time job. Still, tracking bills, even bills with apparently little intersection to your interests, is another crucial piece to a successful lobbying operation.
Those familiar with the legislative process understand the importance of assigning a position of either support, oppose, neutral or watch to each bill, and remaining open to the very real possibility that such positions will change as language is amended.
Once the session comes to a close, and the governor signs a bill, the work is not finished. Many bills mandate or allow the drafting of regulations by various agencies to describe the processes that will be used to carry out the legislative intent of the newly enacted laws. This process, also bound by rules and deadlines, can last for up to a year or longer after the session ends.
Developing a strategy and participating in these administrative proceedings can ensure that your hard work during the session is not undone and that your intended action remains intact.
The legislative process can be chaotic and unpredictable. But reaching out to consult with a government affairs professional to support you in planning and understanding the process will significantly improve your chances of successfully influencing your desired change or preventing unwanted changes from being implemented.
Josh Hicks, a partner at McDonald Carano, leads the Government Affairs practice. An attorney for nearly 20 years, Josh represents clients before the Nevada Legislature, local governments and state government agencies, as well as advises on all aspects of Nevada campaign finance and election law matters, including ballot initiatives. Josh is licensed to practice in Nevada and California.
Kristina Miranda, who was hired recently as a staff accountant at Clausen & Company, is currently enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno and is earning a Bachelor of Science in business administration.