The single most important tool in this position is your personal commitment, to work in concert with the “Aims and Purposes” of ABATE.
The second most important tool is a computer, linked to the internet. Used as a source of information, its resources are limitless. Used as a means of communication, it is instantaneous, inexpensive and capable of reaching thousands of communicants nationwide. Used as a word processor, it can generate professional looking documents worthy of a highly paid lobbyist’s office. (Spell Check is essential here.)
Starting Out As a Legislative Coordinator
1. Know Your Duties You will be required to write a brief report, once a month, to send to the District Legislative Coordinators. You will need to write a ‘Legislative Report’ for the State newsletter which is published 8 times a year. Included in these reports, should be information on legislation and regulations affecting motorcyclists. Okay, how do I find out the stuff that I need to report? I can’t imagine doing any of this without an internet connection.
Note: There are undoubtedly members who are eminently qualified for the office of State Legislative Coordinator, yet not possessing internet capabilities. This circumstance can be overcome by simply appointing an assistant who, working with the Legislative Coordinator, will assume all internet communications.
2. Learn the best sources for legislative information on State and Federal issues. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation http://www.mrf.org/index.php, acting as our Washington branch office, will be your best resource. The MRF will supply you with immediate information on issues of importance and, after careful analysis, recommend a course of action. Another valued ally is the American Motorcyclist Association at: http://www.ama-cycle.org/
Additional resources include:
For State Assembly information: http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/
For State Senate information: http://www.senate.state.ny.us/
For Federal Bills: http://thomas.loc.gov/
For all Congressional information: http://congress.org/congressorg/dbq/officials/?IvI=L
For Politics nationwide: http://www.politicsnationwide.com/
To learn how government works: http://www.vote-smart.org/resource_govt101_02.php
3. Develop a plan of action. There are two ‘Houses’ in the NY State Legislature; each house in the legislature has a presiding officer. The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Senate, but the majority leader assumes most of the leadership roles. The house elects a Speaker who serves as its leader. Leaders of each house are responsible for recognizing speakers in debate, referring bills to committee, and presiding over deliberations. There are 62 Senate and 150 Assembly Districts. Senators and Assembly Reps are elected every two years. Legislation (bills) can be introduced in either house. To be considered as a viable bill, there must be a corresponding bill in the opposite house, worded exactly the same.
Senate bills are denoted by an S prefix to the bill number and Assembly bill numbers are preceded by an A. The legislative life of a bill is two years. If after two years the bill has not ‘passed’ into law, it is ‘dead’ and must start all over again. Thousands of pieces of legislation are introduced each year, a small number of which will become law. For this reason, we need to lobby for the bills we consider important.
Meet with and develop a working relationship with legislators. Working with our principal lobbyist (Prospector), a Legislative Agenda for each two year legislative session will be developed and provided to each Chapter’s Legislative Coordinator. Those Agendas will also be provided to all 162 New York State legislators. You will be provided with a booklet containing listings all the districts and their legislators in the State Senate and Assembly and the entire New York State delegation to Congress (29 Representatives in the U.S. House and 2 Senators). All committee assignments and contact information is included. Your attendance at political fundraisers and local ‘Town Hall meetings’ will be a good place to start developing relationships.
Fundraisers can be costly. You are not expected to foot the bill for them and ABATE can not contribute directly to a political candidate. This is why we have a PAC (Political Action Committee). Our PAC is registered with the NY State Board of Elections and empowered to make donations for us. We, in turn fund the PAC with resources garnered through Chapter events, 50/50s or ‘passing the hat’ at meetings.
4. Coordinate: As legislation is progressing through committees, the State Legislative Coordinator should keep all Chapter Legislative Coordinators informed of the necessary steps to be undertaken by the membership, to aid in the progression; e.g. Personal visits, phone calls and/or letters to the proper committees. A ‘phone tree’ can start out with as few as 5 key members who will each contact five others, potentially reaching 625 others in only 4 steps.
5. Letter Writing: Writing to a public official does make a difference. They know that every person who writes represents many others who feel the same but don’t write. Personal letters are much better than form letters or petitions. Letters should be brief, to the point and always respectful. Legislators should be addressed as ‘The Honorable” as in Assemblyman/woman, Senator or Congressman/woman.
Christmas cards to all members of the Legislature have brought responses from a good percentage and have served to get us on the mail ing lists of many members. The cost to the ABATE state treasury has been minuscule, (under $300.00) compared to the recognition we have gained. Birthday cards are also well received. Birthdays are listed for most legislators at Congress.org http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/officials/directory/statedel.dbq?state=NY&submit.x=9&submit.y=11 click on the member, click GO and scroll down the page to background information.
6. Learn the Basics of Lobbying :
Establish Your Agenda and Goals
Know what subject you are going to address. Don’t overload with issues; stick to one or two.
Decide what you would like to get out of the visit, i.e., a commitment to vote for your issue, leadership on the issue, or you may decide the visit is simply informational.
Allow time for small talk at the outset, but not too much. Remember, it’s your visit.
If it is a group visit, keep it small. Decide who will start the discussion and put your agenda on the table.
Much of lobbying is listening, looking for indications of the elected official’s views, and finding opportunities to provide good information. If you are meeting with a “silent type,” draw her/him out by asking questions. If you are confronted with a “long-winded type,” look for openings to bring her/him back to the point.
Be Prepared, But Don’t Feel That You Need To Be An Expert
Most elected officials are generalists, like many of us. They rely on aides to know the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the legislation. Don’t feel miffed if you are relegated to an aide. Do your homework, but don’t feel that you need to know every little detail of an issue. Use personal experiences as examples where appropriate. Relate the concerns of members of the community. Know when to admit “I don’t know,” and offer to follow up with the information. Be open to counter-arguments, but don’t get stuck on them. Don’t be argumentative or confrontational.
Don’t Stay Too Long
Try to get closure on your issue. If you hear what you had hoped for, express your thanks and leave. If you reach an impasse, thank her/him, even if disappointed, and say so. Leave room to continue the discussion at another time.
Remember You Are There To Build a Relationship
If the elected official is good on an issue you’ve been involved in or has supported your position in the past, be sure to acknowledge your appreciation during the course of the visit. If the opposite is true, think of the phrase, “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies.” Some day, on some issue of importance to you, s/he may come through. (A prime example is Senator Patricia Magee, who was won over to the helmet ‘choice’ issue through in depth conversation with Prospector, or Assembly member RoAnn Destito who will never agree on helmet ‘choice’ but cosponsored YROW and other bills for us.) In the meantime, your visit may prevent the official from being an active opponent. In other words, you may help to turn down the heat on the other side.
Follow-up Is Important
Be sure to send a thank-you note after the visit. If commitments were made in the meeting, repeat your understanding of them. If staff members were present, write to them too. They can often be important allies.
Working At The Federal Level
There are 435 seats (Districts) in the US House. 29 of those seats are held by New York State Representatives, the number being determined by equal apportionment of the state’s population to the districts. House terms of office are 2 years and concurrent.
There are 100 Senatorial seats in the US Senate, 2 for each state. Senators are elected to rotating 6 year terms.
House bills use a prefix of H.R. and Senate bills use S. These bills will go through a progression much the same as state bills. Federal bills concerning motorcycling and motorcyclists rights are equally as important as those in our home state and must be dealt with in the same manner.
Visits to Federal Representatives can be made in the home office or in Washington . For visits to Washington , the MRF and the AMA can provide help. The State Legislative budget can be tapped for travel and lodging for these visits. Meals are understandably your responsibility. (Ya gotta eat anyway, no matter where you are)
Learn the history of previous legislation and regulations (e.g. TEA-LU, the latest reauthorization of ISTEA – The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 and HIPAA – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which should have taken care of health insurance discrimination against motorcyclists, but didn’t). You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. All of this information is available to you by visiting the MRF web site.