Now is the time to
influence lawmakers, legislative process
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SC Statehouse Report
JULY 13, 2003 - Perhaps the biggest untold secret of the General
Assembly is about timing.
You might not think it, but the best time to influence the legislative
process is now - - during the legislative "off season."
From January to June every year, lawmakers in Columbia are pummeled
by people trying to push their views on various proposals. People
try to twist arms. Grassroots advocates work feverishly to promote
or kill bills. And other lawmakers seek to corral members of the
House and Senate to get them to support pet projects or initiatives.
For the first six months of the year, the Statehouse is a busy,
frenetic place filled with lawmakers, lobbyists, staffers, constituents,
reporters, state officials and advocacy groups. Because all of these
people come together in one place over a period of time, there's
a lot of work that gets done and a lot of influence that's felt.
But because there's so much commotion, it may not be the best time
for anyone to make a reasoned pitch for a new idea.
That's where the "off season" from June to January comes
It's a cleanup period - - a time to cross the t's and dot the i's
from the flurry of legislation passed in previous months. Staffers
need the "down time" to unravel the big knots that have
clogged the legislative process for the past few months.
But the very best lobbyists know something else about this period
and use it to their advantage. Unlike many citizens and advocacy
groups who stay away from the Statehouse in the off season, good
lobbyists know it's a better time to prepare staff members for coming
battles and educate them about important issues.
"We actually have time to review things" in the off season,
one senior Senate staffer said. "We don't have the time to
review anything beyond one page during the session."
Staffers have a lot of sway with what happens. They do a lot of
the research behind legislative matters. They contact interest groups
to get input. They meet with lobbyists and advocates. They coordinate
hearings and work to promote the agendas of the lawmaker that employs
Nine times out of 10, if you can get a staffer on your side, you
will get your positioned aired when it counts. You might not win,
but at least your position will be at the bargaining table.
But remember, the folks who make the decisions are the staffers'
bosses - - our elected state representatives and senators.
The off season also provides people with golden opportunities to
visit at home with lawmakers, who don't feel the constant pressure
of lobbyists and the whole Statehouse crowd.
"There are hundreds - - thousands - - of ideas presented to
them," note a veteran House committee staffer who asked not
to be identified. "They can only become an authority on so
"But when you present an idea to them [in the off season],
a lightbulb may go off if it's a good idea. If you educate them
enough in language they can identify with, they can lead it through
the process to final passage."
Bottom line: The legislative off season is a chance for you to
sow the seeds of ideas with staffers and lawmakers. By January when
the session starts, the idea may sprout. And if you're lucky, you'll
be able to harvest it by the time the session ends in June.