We are often asked exactly what lobbyists do each day. The simple answer: “Represent clients, testify on legislation, move bills along in the process or try to get them killed.” The last few weeks of the Nevada Legislature are chaos. First and foremost, lobbyists can’t do their job unless they’re in the building. Legislators are extremely busy — chances are, if they’re not on the floor, they’re in committee or just being elusive. When lawmakers are on the floor of the chambers or in committee, they are off-limits. The only time lobbyists can talk with them is when they are arriving, moving between meetings or leaving. Committee hearings begin at 7 a.m. If someone really needs to meet with a legislator, he or she needs to get to the building at 6 a.m. On a busy day (and they’re all busy at the end) lobbyists will stay in the building until at least 7 p.m.
Throughout the day, legislators become hard to find. There are almost 900 registered lobbyists. Can you imagine your life if you had 900 people chasing you down between the bathroom and your office? Lobbyists have to be quick. Arguments must be condensed to the amount of time it takes a quick-stepped legislator to cover about 50 feet of hallway.
A big part of the lobbyists’ job is ensuring that the bills they support continue to move through the process. It is not a committee chairman or legislator’s responsibility to remember that any particular bill needs to be passed out of committee, should appear on the board for second reading, or needs to be amended. Tracking a bill through the system is key to success. Hint to all of you tech guys out there: Write a software program that tells lobbyists exactly where their bills are and sends a message to their Palm Pilots, and you’ll make a mint.
During the last couple weeks of the session, the legislature doesn’t follow the open meeting law. Bills are not posted on an agenda. Most committees simply write: “Matters previously considered.” Bills can pop up in committee anytime, anywhere. For example, the other day Tom Clark was told that a resolution he supported was being heard in committee on the third floor. After bolting up three floors (elevators are slow) he arrived to the committee just before the hearing was over. He testified in support of the measure only after apologizing to the committee chairman for being out of breath. “That happens a lot nowadays,” was the chairman’s response.
Many people think that all lobbyists need to do is wine and dine legislators and the lawmakers will do what they want. Not true. In fact, this session many lobbyists haven’t spent a dime on entertaining. You really need to have solid arguments and good relationships to be effective. Helping a legislator move a bill that is important to him or her carries a lot more weight than lunch at an expensive restaurant. The more powerful lobbyists in the building have arrived there by building relationships and representing clients like mining or gaming — industries that are important to the entire state.
The stress can be unbearable, the hours intolerable, the personalities difficult, but in the end lobbyists know they have participated in the process of state government. Their actions over the last four months will affect everyone in the state. Not many people can say that about their jobs.