QUESTION: There is a bill moving forward in the state Legislature that would have a negative impact on my business. What can I do to stop it?
ANSWER: The best advice is to jump in and get involved. Visit the Capitol website (capitol.hawaii.gov) to read the actual bill, find the committee(s) to which it has been assigned and whether a hearing has been scheduled. From the website, look at the committee(s) that will hear the bill, read about the committee members and, most important, about the committee chairman, as this legislator has the power to hear or defer the bill. If a hearing is scheduled, submit timely written testimony, in which you state your point of view in a concise and factual manner, and then make sure to attend the hearing and present your testimony to the committee. While it is hard for most people to leave their businesses during the day to testify at the hearings, legislators really value your involvement in the process and will consider your testimony in their decision.
If you are able, organize with others who support your views, as the more voices that speak, the better your message is heard. Before the hearings, group members can call and e-mail committee chairmen and members to ask for their support or opposition to the bill. Personal office visits are also effective, but make an appointment first as it can be difficult to see legislators without a set appointment.
Q: I want the state Legislature to change a law that is hurting my business. How do I get started with that?
A: Introducing legislation to effect change is more difficult but by no means impossible. First, one must research and understand the current law and the specific Hawaii Revised Statute(s) involved. Using the statute as a guide, you draft a revision that will accomplish what you desire, remembering that state law affects all people and must serve the greater good. You might want to work with an attorney and/or lobbyist to finalize the proposed legislation and introduce your issues to a number of legislators. You would then approach specific legislators in both houses who might introduce the bill for you. Again, working with as broad a hui as possible, you would advocate your position and seek the support and guidance of legislators who would introduce the bill for you. While it takes only one legislator to introduce a bill, the more who sign on, the better your support base. It is best to obtain support from members of both houses and to introduce companion bills (same bill in both houses), as this will increase the odds that your bill will move through the committees and ultimately pass.
Once the bills are introduced, the hui needs to stay on top of the process and actively participate and support the bill by talking with committee chairmen and members, writing letters (e-mails) and making phone calls, submitting testimony and coming to the hearings in person to testify.
Q: What lobbying can I do on my own, and when do I need professional help?
A: You and your hui of like-minded people can and should do a great deal of the work yourselves, as you can be your best spokesmen. Getting involved by meeting with legislators, submitting testimony and testifying in person at the hearings is something that you should do to advocate your position. Of course, the legislative process and procedures can be daunting, and having professional assistance can be invaluable to your cause. A professional will help track the many bills that might affect your position and help you craft your message to gain the broadest support possible. A professional, with working knowledge of the legislative system and those involved in the process, will help navigate a course through the seemingly difficult waters to ensure your position is well represented. Finally, a professional can provide a knowledge base upon which your hui can rely to do what is best for the passage of your bill.
Q: What are the legal problems I could run into when lobbying for my business?
A: As with all things, and especially when you represent your business, one should always speak truthfully and work with integrity. As in life, there are usually three sides to every argument, and you should approach lobbying with an open mind and a willingness to listen to your opponents and legislators. In many cases, working with legislators and opponents can produce an excellent solution to issues being addressed. Additional information regarding lobbying can be found at the Hawaii State Ethics Commission’s website (hawaii.gov/ethics).
Q: You were able to get a law passed to benefit your clients. How difficult was that?
A: Having legislation pass both houses and become law is an arduous process and one that requires patience. Educating people on all sides of the issue goes a long way in helping legislators realize the gravity of a situation and create legislation to redress a public grievance. In many instances it can take several years of continuous work to see a bill through to law. Regardless of the outcome, one acquires a better understanding of the process and a realization that as frustrating as the process can be, we still have one of the best systems of government available in the world.