6 Tips for Navigating the Utah Legislative Process from Experienced Lobbyists
How does a bill go from an idea to a signed document on the governor’s desk? You need to understand the Utah legislative process in order to be strategic and ensure that your idea doesn’t lose momentum before it becomes law.
When going through this process and preparing to initiate legislative change, remember the following 6 tips to ensure success in getting a bill filed or an appropriation requested.
1. Know the Legislative Process:
Understanding the legislative process is essential for effective lobbying in Utah.
First, you need to know the important dates:
- When the session begins
- When committees meet
- Last day to file bills
- Last day to request appropriation
You can find these dates on the Utah State Senate website ( https://senate.utah.gov/) or by following Utah State Senate’s social media accounts.
In preparing for the session, you need to familiarize yourself with the structure of the Utah Legislature, especially the committee system. The legislation that you are working on will fit under one of the legislative committees.
In the Utah Senate there are the following committees:
- Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee
- Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee
- Senate Business and Labor Committee
- Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee
- Senate Education Committee
- Senate Ethics Committee
- Senate Health and Human Services Committee
- Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee
- Senate Retirement and Independent Entities Committee
- Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee
- Senate Rules Committee
- Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee
Once you have determined what committee is the best fit for your issue, you will need to identify who leads the committee.
You need to be aware of the timelines and deadlines for bills and resolutions.
Keep in mind that you need to start the process of preparing to introduce a bill long before the committee meetings. You will need to meet with the key stakeholders and legislators involved to get their support and input before the session starts.
When planning your strategy, make sure to allow adequate time to prepare before key dates such as the last day to file a bill or request an appropriation.
When the session starts, you will need to ensure that you are completing the steps to prepare the bill to be voted on:
- Bill is filed.
- Bill sent out for rules.
- Bill heard and passed in committee.
- Bill is heard and passed on the floor of the sponsor’s body;
- Follow a similar process in the next body.
A bill can begin in the House or the Senate, but can only be enacted if it passes through both bodies and isn’t vetoed by the Governor.
From a Bill to a Law
The process of a bill becoming a law begins with an idea. A legislator is made aware of a concern and begins to explore options.
Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel
After researching and determining the best possible course of action, the legislator then has a bill drafted by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. That office then reviews the idea and drafts a bill that changes the law and complies with other current laws.
Sometimes additional research goes into the bill, like what have other states done to solve the same problem.
Office of Legislative Fiscal Analyst
The Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst will determine the financial cost of the bill by getting input from Executive Branch departments and doing some analysis.
Numbered Bill and On to Rules Committee
Once the research is complete, the bill is then numbered. When the legislature is in session and the bill is numbered and ready to move forward, it is sent to the Rules Committee.
The Rules Committee may hold the bill or send it to a committee. The timing of a bill moving on depends on decisions made by leadership and the rules committee. Sometimes a bill is held in rules the entire legislative session and other times it can move to a committee within just a few hours.
Moving to Committee
When a bill moves to a committee, the committee chair decides when the bill will be heard. Much of the time it’s a mere formality and the bill is on the next agenda; however if that doesn’t happen then it’s time for a conversation with the committee chair.
Return to Floor for Vote & on To Governor
If the bill passes out of committee, it is returned to the floor where it is debated by all legislators. It must receive at least 38 votes in the House and 15 votes in the Senate in order to pass.
After it passes both bodies, the bill is sent to the Governor by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel for his review and he can choose to sign it or veto it.
An appropriations process proceeds in much the same way, except that it progresses through joint appropriations subcommittees made up of House members and Senators, then on to Executive Appropriations before making its way to the floor of the House and Senate.
Lobbyists are very familiar with the legislative process and can help guide you through it. They can also help you be strategic in determining which committee you should present your idea to. Their knowledge and understanding of the legislature will help ensure your bill has the best chance for success.
2. Build Relationships:
Building strong relationships with legislators and staff is critical to successfully initiating change in the Utah legislature.
You may think that a close relationship with legislators is the only way to get your bills passed but keep in mind that the staff play a critical role in getting bills drafted. Staff involvement includes attaching a reasonable fiscal note and discussing things like constitutionality of bills with legislators.
As part of your campaign for change you need to take the time to get to know the key decision-makers and understand their interests and priorities. You can determine which legislators are critical to your success by researching which committees would have the oversight for addressing the issues you’re concerned with.
Building relationships before bills are heard is best, but building them during the legislative process when they consider bills is common.
Also, take advantage of other opportunities to engage with legislators and other key stakeholders. This means attending social events, and other gatherings to build relationships and establish credibility. Getting involved in campaigns can be helpful.
A lobbyist already has many of the relationships needed and can help you identify the critical people to develop relationships with and also help you identify the best events to attend. By focusing your energy and time on building those key relationships, you will gather the key support that you need.
3. Focus on Issue Advocacy:
Just pushing your own agenda won’t get you very far. You may be passionate about your agenda and figuring out how to create change, but you will be much more effective when you understand the philosophy and ideology of decision makers.
You need to take some time to analyze your agenda and figure out how it fits in with other key issues, because there are always many times bigger issues at play. You should also look for other organizations and stakeholders who have similar concerns and might be addressing similar issues. By adding your voices together and advocating for change you will have more impact on critical issues. Collaboration of efforts will ensure the most efficient and effective use of your time and resources.
For example, maybe you want the government to pay for childcare for those in poverty so they can find a job. There are legislators and other advocates who have spent a great deal of time understanding poverty, yet others who do the same with childcare. Seeing the big picture while advocating for your change can increase the odds of your success.
4. Be Prepared:
A critical part of impacting change is having a clear message. That means that you need to take time to determine the best way to explain your concerns. In order to make your point, you must create clear and concise talking points that will be easily understood and remembered.
You will want to share compelling data and other information that support your talking points, but you need to be succinct and concise in order to be respectful of your audience’s time. Many times you will only get a couple of minutes of a legislator’s time.
It would also be wise to include a story that illustrates the importance of your proposed changes. When you can illustrate how the current policy is causing issues and the impact it has on people it makes your cause more urgent and compelling.
When you come to meetings with legislators and staff, ensure that you are well-prepared.
- Know the issue backwards and forwards.
- Anticipate potential questions and be prepared to provide thoughtful responses.
- Have a business card and supporting materials with you to share.
5. Be Persistent:
Lobbying is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t think of an issue that you want to change and take a couple of weeks visiting with legislators and suddenly have the issue resolved. It is a long-term effort that takes commitment and time.
Don’t give up. Be persistent and keep working toward your goals. Yes, you will experience setbacks and difficulties. It may take a few years to get the desired legislation passed. You may not even get the bill drafted the first year. Over time you will be able to socialize the issue more and build support.
As you work towards your goals, continue to work on building those key relationships. Continue to attend events and work on meeting with legislators and stakeholders. You can also take the time to continue educating decision-makers about your issue.
6. Follow ethical guidelines:
It is important to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations for your state to ensure that you are conducting yourself in an ethical and transparent manner.
Most of the time, a citizen who volunteers their time and cares about an issue can freely advocate for an issue or bill without registering as a lobbyist. It is up to you to know the laws and regulations so you comply.
Lobbyists in Utah are required to register with the state and adhere to ethical guidelines. You need to make sure that the lobbyist that you are hiring is registered with the state.
In summary, effective lobbying in Utah requires a deep understanding of the legislative process, strong relationships with decision-makers, and a focus on issue advocacy. By following these tips and maintaining a persistent, ethical approach, you can increase your chances of success in navigating the Utah legislative process.
The Lockhart Group has over 25 years of lobbying experience and works to help its clients achieve the best results possible. We work first with the client in order to establish the need, then work together with them to find the most applicable solution and actions to take in order to achieve their goal. We know how to find the government officials who can enact the right solution.