Now that the 2013 General Assembly session is getting cranked up, here are some hints about “How To Get A Bill Passed” that you won’t find in high school civics books.
First, it helps to have gobs of money. Or to have some terrible tragedy occur. Or to have a really determined friend in high places.
The money is so you can buy the services of some high-powered lobbyists.
If you think the power of lobbying may be a tad overrated, consider the following statistics:
More than 900 companies, unions, non-profit groups, organizations and individuals spent $67.9 million last on lobbying state lawmakers and agencies, according to an analysis by the Journal Inquirer newspaper. More than 80 percent of that cash went to the 800-plus lobbyists working on members of the General Assembly.
Of course, not all that money was spent trying to get something passed. A lot of it went to prevent legislation from getting through. (That’s a far easier task – our legislature is much better at NOT doing things than actually accomplishing stuff.)
It’s not hard if you want to know who these lobbyists are. They’re the ones walking around the State Capitol and the Legislative Office Building, all dressed up in expensive suits, often with a cell stuck to their ear or cuddled up with a passing lawmaker. They know who to talk to, how to say what legislators want to hear, have a good idea about what horses can be traded, and where the legislative bodies are buried.
No ready cash to spend? Another really good option is to convince one of the top leaders of the General Assembly or the governor that he or she must support your idea at all cost.
A governor can win all kinds of votes by promising to do stuff legislators want, or to not to stuff legislators hate. Top lawmakers (those include influential chairs of important budget committees as well as folks like the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the majority leaders) who are truly committed to something can often twist enough arms and make enough deals and call in enough debts to make things happen.
It also helps if that high-powered ally knows how to hold bills wanted by other lawmakers “hostage.” That way it can become a simple trade: you pass my bill and I’ll let yours go through.
And then there’s the disaster option.
A tragedy you can directly link to whatever it is you’re trying to get passed is always useful and sometimes essential.
Take, for example, things like tolls and highway repairs.
We may be talking about reviving Connecticut highway tolls these days, but back when they were all along the Connecticut Turnpike most people detested them. It wasn’t until a rogue trucker named Charlie Klutz (I kid you not) fell asleep and plowed into the Stratford tolls, killing seven people, that the legislature voted to get rid of highway tolls.
Same sort of scenario happened with this state’s deteriorating highways and bridges. For years, money-strapped governors and lawmakers kept cheaping out on transportation repairs. Then a section of the I-95 bridge over the Mianus River collapsed and killed three people. Suddenly the state found it was ready to borrow billions to fix our crumbling bridges and roads.
Which brings us to the hideous massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary and gun control.
A couple of years ago, pro-gun control lawmakers wanted to pass a ban on firearm magazines able to hold more than 10 bullets at a time. (The assault-weapon type rifle used to kill those Newtown kids used exactly that sort of high-capacity magazine.)
The bill faced stiff opposition from anti-gun control groups and lobbyists and it died without ever reaching the floor of the state House or Senate.
This year, with the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary fresh in everyone’s minds, passing that ban on high-capacity magazines seems a virtual certainty. New York has already passed a law that does that and much more.
Money. Disasters. Friends in high places.
Pretty simple, huh?