The Journey to the Governor’s Desk: Keys to Legislative Success

This guest blog entry was authored by Lori Conaway, CAE, Executive Director at Association Acumen

Earlier this spring, Act 23 was signed into law in the Wisconsin legislature. This was a momentous day for PAs in the state of Wisconsin. It was the culmination of years of work put in by countless leaders from the Wisconsin Academy of PAs (WAPA), along with a diverse and talented team of teams, who worked together over the years to bring the bill across the finish line.

Having joined the team in the role of Executive Director in late 2017, I have had the good fortune to be involved in the process of bringing this important update to become Wisconsin law. If you would like to read more about it, please visit the WAPA website I also have learned some valuable lessons about the legislative process. Here are a few tips and takeaways to keep in mind if your organization is embarking on a legislative endeavor in 2021:

Assemble your team and assign clear roles.
Assembling an effective team for legislative advocacy involves many parties, but in the Association Management Company (AMC) world, the primary groups typically consist of volunteer leaders, a lobbyist partner, and staff members. It is important that all parties are empowered to act within their respective capacities to ensure the most impactful presence on the legislative floor.

Volunteer leaders include individuals serving in roles on the board, the advocacy or legislative affairs committee, and others. The primary role of individuals in this group is to engage in grassroots efforts among their peers, colleagues and other interested parties, to raise awareness about the issue, and also to assemble a group of people who are prepared to testify in support of the bill. It is important to have a very large and diverse pool of these individuals from which to draw, as there is typically very little advance notice when hearings are scheduled. Your volunteers are the 'boots on the ground' in this respect, since they have the greatest potential for influence as thought leaders among their peers.

The lobbyist is the primary liaison between the legislators and all other parties. The lobbyist provides regular reports to volunteer leaders and helps to shape outreach strategy. For example, the lobbyist can suggest that members from specific districts be targeted for outreach to legislators, if those legislators are on the fence or uninformed about the issue. These efforts can make a dramatic difference in the final hours before a vote on the House or Senate floor.

Organizational staff implements the vision of the committee/board, serves as the liaison between leaders, members and other constituents, and is responsible for organizing efforts of all parties involved. Staff serves as the primary liaison among all of the teams, and also serves as the repository of resources and information, both to support the function and process of the legislative effort, but also to maintain organizational posterity.

Identify a spokesperson.
It is important to identify who among the group will be the spokesperson for the issue. Inquiring minds, including from media, other organizations (both in support of you, and also those opposed), will want to know more about what you are trying to do and why. For many organizations, the president is the spokesperson or main point of contact for all organizational issues. Since legislative issues are often intricate and undergo numerous iterations, it is worth considering whether officially designating the chair of your legislative committee as the main point of contact for all legislative issues would be a better strategy. That individual is typically the subject matter expert, usually has the closest connection to the lobbyist, and can also provide guidance when making public statements about the issue.

Be proactive about opposition.
Anticipate opposition to your bill and proactively strategize how to address it. Identify the organizations, parties or groups that may be opposed to your bill, watch their social media sites, websites and other forums. It is important to understand arguments against your bill so that you are prepared to address them proactively. It is essential that all members of the team are on the same page when it comes to external messaging, which again underscores the need for a designated spokesperson or point of contact.

Make your call to action clear and easy for constituents.
There are many ways to make it easy for people to contact their legislator through the use of form letters, mass emails and text messages, dedicated websites and others. The key is to ensure that the action you want the person to complete is clear and easy to accomplish. WAPA partnered with the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the national PA organization, to set up a separate website strictly dedicated to information on the bill and identified ways to become involved. People could click a button and a form letter would be sent to the proper legislators’ inboxes.

Proactively review organizational policies for decision-making.
Time is often of the essence with all advocacy-related issues, so it is crucial that there is a clear process for making decisions at the drop of a hat. The board of directors is the ultimate decision-making body for all organizations, however, for legislative issues, the voting board members may not be the most well-informed about the issue at hand. During my journey with WAPA, decisions with an unbudgeable 24-hour turnaround timeframe were required several times. Understanding the importance of the decisions that were being made, those that will affect more than 3,500 practicing PAs in the state, WAPA leadership refined its legislative policies for decision-making separately, and included more details, such as who specifically was required to respond and identified the method of communication and the expected response time. These clear guidelines allowed WAPA leaders to be well-informed, decisive and transparent.

Position your organization as the thought leader when success is achieved.
If your organization achieves a legislative success, celebrate it and own it. Embrace your organization’s potential to be the thought leader by educating members and non-members alike on how the law will look once in practice. Not only is this an effective membership retention strategy by showing your members how you are working for them, it is also a prime opportunity for recruitment: the message to non-members is, ‘look what your professional state organization is doing for you; join us, learn more about us, and become involved!’

To read more from the Association Acumen blog, visit their website.



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