The next step in becoming a state citizen lobbyist is learning how to address bills that affect you.
Monitor bills for any action. Check the status daily as hearings can be scheduled and other action taken with just a day’s notice. There is often little warning that activity on a bill is about to occur, especially for ones you oppose. Your state’s legislative website can provide broad information, such as what bills have been introduced affecting animal ownership and their status. Some state websites are updated quickly, and having the most current information can be crucial. Some states also have daily publications with information on pending legislation. Use them to stay current on bills that may affect animals. Making contacts at the legislature is an essential element of staying informed of a bill’s status. The staffs of the committee members that a bill has been assigned to and the bill’s sponsors are often the best sources on scheduled hearings and upcoming votes. During the closing days of a legislative session, action that would normally take weeks can happen in just hours. Bills you thought were dead can suddenly come alive as attachments to other bills.
Analyze the Bill. Check the bill text for potential issues and concerns and make a list of the reasons for your concern. Most bills usually have the following parts:
- Definitions. A bill should include definitions of the terms used in the bill text, or there may be problems while it’s being debated or after it is enacted. For example, “most humane” can mean a variety of things depending on the bill author’s perspective. The term animal must always be defined, and most state laws already do define it. No matter how strong a bill seems to be, if the definitions are not accurate enough to meet the objective of the bill, it could be a complete waste of time for the bill’s originator.
- Governmental bodies. The bill will undoubtedly fall within the jurisdiction of a government agency, such as the Department of Natural Resources, Health Department, or Department of Agriculture and possibly even divisions or bureaus of that agency. Pay particular attention to this designation. Is that agency the best one to handle this issue, or is there a bias on the issue?
- Cost. Almost every bill has associated costs, which are often recorded in what they call the “fiscal note”. Most states will have their own fiscal analysis of the bill, but sometimes they will ask an agency which opposes the bill to draft the fiscal note. Opponents of the bill may lean toward a costlier fiscal note which may help kill the bill.
- Regulations. Many bills leave quite a bit of responsibility for the enforcement to the governmental agency mentioned earlier. The bill will be written in such a way as to ensure that the regulatory agency will do what’s intended. For example, if a bill stipulates that only “humane” caging methods are to be used in the state, it would be up to the regulatory agency to determine what constitutes a “humane” method. In such a case, you need to check if the definition of “humane caging” is weak and if the agency could propose the regulations but that another body – with input from animal rights advocates – could veto or modify such proposals.
- Wording. Every word in a bill has a specific purpose or reason for being there. Closely examine words such as may or shall as these can radically change the meaning of a bill. If something is or is not included, figure out why and what impact that will have. A law that is silent on an issue can sometimes be very dangerous to animal owners.
Contact Legislators. Contact your legislators to tell them your stance on the bill and why.
Meet with Legislators. If possible, set up a meeting with committee members on the bill.
Hearings. Monitor and attend any hearings on the bill. If it passes one chamber, the second chamber will often have a committee hearing on the bill as well where you will get another chance to testify.