2021 Session Prep Toolkit
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Key Takeaways:

  • The government relations industry has changed significantly over the last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and political changes following the 2020 elections. 2021 will pose major challenges for the success of many state government affairs programs.
  • We created a 2021 Session Prep Toolkit that we’ll be rolling out over the next several weeks to help you think through four major areas that are important to the success of your government affairs program: (1) Defining Your Big Picture, (2) Considering the Political Landscape, (3) Policy Preparedness, and (4) Logistics in the New Normal.
  • This week, we’re starting with setting your priorities, including defining your core issue areas, creating a plan to monitor and track them, identifying priority states, and identifying where you may need to supplement your internal resources.

The government relations industry has changed significantly over the last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Next year will pose major challenges for the success of state government affairs programs. Not only will state legislatures be grappling with an entirely new set of issues addressing the pandemic response, government affairs professionals won’t be able to travel to states to meet with lawmakers in person in the same way we used to.

2021 Session Prep Toolkit: New Tools and Resources Over the Next Several Weeks

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to planning for next year, but MultiState is here to help. We created a 2021 Session Prep Toolkit that we’ll be rolling out over the next several weeks to help you think through four major areas that are important to the success of your government affairs program. The content will follow the checklist here, and each week we’ll delve into a different aspect of state government affairs strategic planning:

  1. Defining Your Big Picture (week of November 16). Before you can create a government affairs plan, you have to define your core issues, priority states, and consider your resources. Although you may have had a great playbook in the past, will it still work in 2021? During our first week, we’ll help you think through what issues are important to your organization, define your objectives, and make sure you have the tools to track activity and follow compliance rules.
  2. Considering the Political Landscape (week of November 30). While not the Democratic sweep many pollsters were predicting, the 2020 elections still resulted in some changes to supermajorities, trifectas, and perhaps most importantly, committee chairs and legislative leaders. In week two, we’ll walk you through the main aspects of states’ political landscapes, plus how to think through a stakeholder analysis to identify your allies and potential obstacles.
  3. Policy Preparedness (week of December 7). A variety of competing issues will vie for lawmakers’ attention in 2021: state budget complications, the potential for new taxes, and pandemic response — plus other prominent issues such as police reform, privacy policy, and redistricting. During week three, we’ll give you an overview of major issues we expect to see in the 2021 state sessions so you’ll have all the context you need. 
  4. Logistics in the New Normal (week of December 14). Your government affairs job in 2021 will likely look a lot different than it did before — how can you prepare? In our final week, we’ll go over session dates, travel restrictions, and limitations on access to legislative and other buildings that could prevent you from meeting face-to-face with lawmakers. Additionally, one of the most important logistical pieces in our business is compliance — we’ll review how to think through lobbying compliance in the new normal.

Part 1: Defining Your Big Picture

The first step in planning your state government affairs program for 2021 is setting your priorities. Here are four questions to consider. 

(1) What policy issues are most important to your organization?

What issues impact your organization the most? Industry-specific issues might top your issues list or your main concerns may be related to state tax policy as it impacts your bottom line. Make sure you’re specific — listing “taxes” as your priority would mean you’d review tens of thousands of bills annually. Narrowing your scope to “sales tax on professional services” or “changes to apportionment formulas” will help you better focus your efforts.

Once you’ve determined your issues list, consider sorting them in order of importance, from highest importance to lesser importance. This will help you prioritize as activity arises during state legislative sessions. For example, there may be a group of issues you will always engage on because of the impact to your business or industry, while others may be important to monitor for informational or compliance purposes.

Next, for each issue, have you developed a position statement (whether public or internal only) to guide your advocacy efforts and define “success”? To lay the groundwork for your advocacy campaigns, writing position statements and talking points for your high-profile issues can save you time and energy when things are moving fast during state sessions. If you’ve already done the work, you’ll be quicker to engage when something arises. 

It’s also important to consider what “success” looks like for each of your priority issues. Will you be taking a proactive approach (for example, seeking to enact legislation or mobilizing allies in opposition to a detrimental policy proposal)?  Are you seeking to expand legislative awareness of emerging issues and your organization’s expertise? Or are you looking to demonstrate to government leaders how your business can partner with them to achieve their goals? Each of these requires a different standard to measure success. 

(2) How are you planning to track activity related to these issues? 

Now that you’ve defined what’s important, consider how you will track policy activity. How will you identify the bills and regulations that are important to you? How will you monitor status changes and communicate the changes for all of the executive, legislative, and regulatory activity? What tools will you use to keep track of all of this information? Things move fast during state legislative sessions, and volume this year will likely be high given the backlog from shortened and postponed 2020 sessions. Additionally, states are bound to experiment with many new policy solutions across a variety of issues including tax, healthcare, labor and employment, and legal liability in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You need an efficient way to learn what’s happening across the states without having to sort through thousands of irrelevant bills and regulations. You should also consider how you will share this information with your team, members, and internal business partners, whether it’s daily notifications of movement on key bills or maps that summarize nationwide activity. MultiState can help you track mission-critical issues. Read more here.

(3) What states are your biggest markets . . . or threats? 

You’ll likely need to triage not just what you engage on but where. Some states simply won’t be as important as others for your organization because of the various sizes of your markets — you may want to make a list of states with your biggest footprint and choose these as your highest priority. In other words, you’ll focus your time and resources on engaging in these states because policy activity is likely to have the most significant impact there. But if you’re looking to advance a novel policy, or to promote a new government solution, a smaller state with a history of innovative activity could be the best choice. And of course, it’s important to evaluate which states are most likely to take on your key issues, regardless of size or geography.

Another way to determine priority states is to make a list of states in which you have the fewest resources. For example, if you are a membership organization with state-level chapters that you rely on for on-the-ground support, are there states with weaker groups or no groups at all? These are states where you may need to step up in the event of policy activity. Similarly, if you are a company with in-house lobbyists, are there important states where you don’t have representatives? These may become priority states in the event of activity, as well. 

(4) Do you have in-house government affairs and compliance professionals? 

This brings us to our last point — where might your internal holes be? Many organizations rely on in-house lobbyists during normal years, and those employees will travel to states as needed to engage in legislation (meeting with lawmakers and stakeholders or testifying in hearings for example). But since you likely can’t travel as much this year (if at all), how can you make sure your organization's position is being represented? It might be time to support your government affairs team with state-level associations or in-state contract lobbyists given the ongoing travel limitations resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. MultiState has helped clients find the right lobbyist for over 35 years. Read more here.

Additionally, you should think about how your team will ensure full compliance with lobbying laws and regulations. With a multistate program, it can be difficult and complicated to manage compliance in the best of years. But this year — when you’re likely doing your job differently (such as Zooming with legislators, organizing virtual fly-ins, and doing more email and social media campaigns), you’ll need to be sure that you’re registering when needed and tracking your activity appropriately for reporting purposes. Just because you aren’t “there” doesn’t mean your activities are exempt from lobbying laws and regulations. MultiState can help you streamline your compliance process with our flat-fee-based comprehensive service. Read more here.

Next Up: Considering the Political Landscape

In our next installment of the toolkit, we’ll help you conduct a political landscape analysis. The 2020 elections resulted in changes to supermajorities, trifectas, and legislative leaders. We’ll walk you through the main aspects of states’ political landscapes, plus how to think through a stakeholder analysis to identify your allies and potential obstacles. Visit our 2021 Session Prep Toolkit for what to expect in the coming weeks.