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Introduction to the NYC Bar Legislative Affairs Department – Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What does the Legislative Affairs Department do?
  2. How do you operate?
  3. Are you willing to be a guest speaker at one of our committee meetings?
  4. How are legislative issues identified and policy positions developed?
  5. How can we find the out about the legislative history of a bill and obtain opposition or support memos from other groups to help in our research and advocacy?
  6. What does drafting a policy position entail?
  7. Can committee members recuse themselves from commenting on issues that conflict with their personal practice?
  8. Are we limited to taking a position either in support of or in opposition to a bill?
  9. Can a committee issue a final position on its own?
  10. Can a committee write about a topic on which the City Bar has previously taken a position?
  11. What if another committee disagrees with our position?
  12. When should committee reports be submitted?
  13. How will I know if a bill is progressing?
  14. How can I track bills on my own?
  15. Can I join you when meeting with legislators or legislative staff? Will the City Bar cover travel expenses?
  16. Can you keep us informed of all new bills and legislative activity that pertains to the work or practice area of our committee?
  17. Will you track legislation even if we don’t have a position on the bill?
  18. How do you advocate for our position?
  19. What if a bill we support is heavily opposed by another group?
  20. If a bill we support does not move, what happens?
  21. How long does it take a bill to pass and how do we know if a bill is likely to pass?
  22. If a bill we support doesn't pass, what happens to our report on legislation?
  23. Can a committee member testify at public hearings?
  24. Can committees take positions on issues that pertain to funding or budget items?
  25. What is a transition memo?
  26. How else can we stay informed and involved?

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1. What does the Legislative Affairs Department do?

We help communicate and advocate the City Bar’s legislative and policy positions to local, state and federal government officials. Most of these FAQ’s relate to our dealings with the State Legislature as that represents the bulk of our work. (Back to Top)

2. How do you operate?

We work with City Bar committees to develop positions, create reports and establish strategies to help educate and advocate on policy issues important to the committee. This can be done through committee visits and/or communication with the chair or a legislative subcommittee. Once positions have been developed we issue reports, advise regarding bill amendments and work with the committees to update and amend reports when necessary. We keep committees informed by tracking legislation of interest, educating them on the political landscape and helping them navigate the legislative process. We actively advocate for our committees’ interests, particularly by making frequent visits to Albany during session, and engaging the committee directly in that activity when appropriate. (Back to Top)

3. Are you willing to be a guest speaker at one of our committee meetings?

Yes, we are happy to attend committee meetings to provide information on our department, how we operate, ways in which your committee can become involved in the legislative process and to discuss specific legislative issues.  After a committee has commented on legislation we can also attend meetings to help coordinate advocacy efforts.  In addition, if your committee invites a legislator to attend a meeting, we would ask that you please let us know so that we can try to attend and listen in.  It is a great opportunity for us to hear the legislator’s policy goals and to learn more about your committee’s legislative interests.  For more information on having guests at committee meetings, please refer to Part I of the Committee Handbook, sections 5 and 6.  (Back to Top)

4. How are legislative issues identified and policy positions developed?

Through a variety of ways: first, through you. Committee members are the experts; you know the industry, the issues, the advocacy groups, the hot topics, the controversies, and the recent court decisions much better than we do. While we have relationships and ideas that may be helpful, the concepts for legislative work come from the committee members themselves. With your help, we learn what specific issues to look out for and what legislative action to search for. We also keep a near-daily eye out for bills that might be of interest to your committee and send them along on a periodic basis. We are frequently contacted by third parties (including legislative staff and advocacy groups) and asked to comment on particular legislation. In addition, other bar associations, organizations, and occasionally, individual Association members will identify issues in your field, whether to the chairs, staff or President, and we will pass them along to the committee. Your policy positions will be developed internally through the research, debate and discussion of the committee. When possible, our office is happy to be of assistance in conducting research or facilitating discussions on issues. (Back to Top)

5. How can we find the out about the legislative history of a bill and obtain opposition or support memos from other groups to help in our research and advocacy?

While committee members should feel free to contact our office for assistance in obtaining these materials, there is an abundance of information available online relating to bills that the Governor has either signed or vetoed in previous sessions.  The New York State Library provides much of this material on its website, and individuals may also request information through the Library’s reference desk.  Additional resources that may be helpful for committees conducting research on a bill can be found on our "Resources" page.

For bills that have been acted on by the Governor in the current session, or which have not passed both houses, obtaining opposition and support memos will usually require a call to the office of the bill sponsor or the Governor. (Back to Top)

6. What does drafting a policy position entail?

The committees develop recommendations regarding legislation, which should be prepared in a written report. When commenting on existing legislation, a report typically includes a description of the bill, how it changes the current state of the law, and why that is a good (or bad) idea. Reports proposing new legislation should generally include a description of the current state of the law, why it isn’t working, why your proposed bill will improve matters, and the text of your proposed bill (our office can help put your proposed bill text in the appropriate bill drafting format). Our reports address legal and policy issues and draw on our expertise as practitioners in a particular area. They are generally perceived by public officials as well-balanced, well-supported and thoughtful. To view sample reports, click on the various committee pages featured under Policy Issues and Advocacy section of the website. You can also visit the City Bar's Reports / Publications / Forms section for a full listing of committee reports.

Important: Since the President sometimes has comments or suggestions, and since we like to use a specific format for all legislative reports, please send us your draft report in Word format so we can help you finalize it. (Back to Top)

7. Can committee members recuse themselves from commenting on issues that conflict with their personal practice?

Committee members are encouraged to engage in deliberation and debate as individual members of the City Bar, separate from their private practices. However, there may be occasions when a member has an immediate, direct interest in a particular set of issues that the perception of his or her involvement in a committee report on the topic may compromise the integrity of the report. In these cases, members must always disclose their conflict and, as appropriate, recuse his or herself from discussion, research, drafting and/or approval of any report or statement dealing with these issues. For more information on individual conflicts, please refer to the Committee Handbook and Rule 6.4 of the NY Rules of Professional Conduct. (Back to Top)

8. Are we limited to taking a position either in support of or in opposition to a bill?

No. You can also take a position in support of a bill, with suggested modifications. The City Bar is considered a well respected voice on policy matters, so your suggestions are important and often requested. Sometimes your suggested modifications will be accepted by the sponsor, in whole or in part. As the bill is negotiated and amended, you may be asked to update your report so that we can continue advocating for the passage of the amended bill. If you do not want to continue supporting the bill after it has been amended, that’s fine too. We will take no further position. Or, you can decide that unless a certain change is made to the legislation, the committee will oppose it. Finally, the committee may not decide to support or oppose a bill, but might want to offer substantive drafting suggestions.
(Back to Top)

9. Can a committee issue a final position on its own?

No. There are no individually issued “committee” positions. All reports must be reviewed and approved by the President. No position can be taken without the President’s approval and once that is given, the position is the position of the Association. Prior to approval, the President may offer suggestions to the report, or if applicable, require that other relevant City Bar committees be allowed to comment on a position before it is considered final. When a report is referred to another committee for comment, that committee typically has five days to respond with any serious concerns. (Back to Top)

10. Can a committee write about a topic on which the City Bar has previously taken a position?

Once a committee report has been approved by the President, the position taken becomes the position of the City Bar.  While this does not preclude the same committee or a different committee from issuing a subsequent report on the same topic, the subsequent report cannot take a different position on the issue absent a compelling reason.  When preparing a policy position, it is advisable to check whether any other committees have already commented on the issue.  Recent reports can be found in the “Committee Reports” section of the City Bar website or you can contact our office to see if the Association has a standing position on an issue.  Committees can write additional reports on a topic provided that they are updating an old report with new data, offering a new analysis from a different committee’s prospective or doing a deeper study of the issue.  A City Bar position can only be reevaluated if a significant amount of new data is presented or there is a drastic change in circumstances that seriously alters the conditions in which the issue was initially considered.  In such a case, the then-sitting President must approve the change in position. (Back to Top)

11. What if another committee disagrees with our position?

Committee conflicts that cannot be worked out between the committees go to the President for review and decision. That decision can be appealed by the aggrieved party to the Executive Committee.  In general, we cannot advocate for a position unless all conflicts have been resolved. (Back to Top)

12. When should committee reports be submitted?

An important component to consider when issuing reports is whether the committee wants to be pro-active or reactive. In certain cases, a committee may want to make its position known early on so it can be fully involved in the process of lobbying and influencing the content and outcome of legislation. Due to the nature of the legislative process there are certain lobbying moments that we can only take advantage of if we have a position. Therefore, if a committee feels very strongly about a bill (for or against), it should try to submit reports earlier in the session, so that more advocacy can be done on your behalf and the committee is better positioned to respond to amendments. For other issues, a committee might prefer to be reactive, waiting until significant changes or legislative progress is made before responding. It is important to remember that while this approach may be appropriate at times, it also leaves a committee very little notice to write a response. Be advised that waiting to react to a bill might leave your committee out of the loop if you are unable to respond in a timely fashion.

The State legislative session generally runs from January to June. Bills are introduced and amended throughout that period and the time it takes each bill to move through the legislative process varies greatly. Things tend to move very quickly at the end of session and the vast majority of bills are passed in June. City and federal sessions run on a different timeline, and therefore reports can be submitted pretty much anytime, unless there is a deadline imposed by a hearing or a vote. In all legislative settings, however, it is still important to consider whether your committee wants to take a pro-active or reactive approach when responding to local and federal legislation.

When proposing state legislation, committees are typically best served by seeking bill sponsors early in session or even before session begins.  We can often arrange meetings in November and December at legislators’ district offices in order to discuss bill proposals and request sponsorship.  (Back to Top)

13. How will I know if a bill is progressing?

We track all legislation that the Association has an approved position on and we’ll keep you informed of its progress via emails to the chair or legislative subcommittee. A bill has to be placed on a committee agenda and then voted out of committee before it can be considered for a floor vote down the road (which is not at all guaranteed and often requires significant additional advocacy, both on an individual legislator and party leadership basis). It is important to realize that timing is a key factor in tracking and commenting on legislation: committee agendas come out with very little notice, and bills tend to move very rapidly at the end of session with little warning of their developments. If we do not already have a position on record and a particular bill shows up on a committee agenda or begins quickly progressing towards a vote, we will not be in a position to influence the bill’s outcome.  (Back to Top)

14. How can I track bills on my own?

Our website allows you to check the status of bills your committee has commented on – simply go to your committee’s page and click on the bill number; you will be directed to a relevant external website that provides the bill status and text.

Other resources available for bill tracking can be found on the “Resources” page of the website. The “Resources” page gives various public links available to search state, local or federal legislation. Legislative searches can be conducted on these sites by bill number or key word.

When searching state legislation, please keep in mind that the legislative term in Albany lasts for two years. If a bill doesn’t pass in a two-year term (meaning it has passed both houses and was signed by the governor), then it must be reintroduced in the next two-year term, at which point it receives a new bill number. A new term started in January 2013. Also, please keep in mind that each time a bill is amended, it receives a letter at the end; “A” indicates one amendment, “B” indicates a second amendment, etc. Once a bill is amended, the previous version no longer exists. (Back to Top)

15. Can I join you when meeting with legislators or legislative staff? Will the City Bar cover travel expenses?

We encourage committee members to join us when meeting with legislators or legislative staff during session and, where appropriate, we can arrange for meetings at their district offices. Please let us know if you are interested in attending such a meeting, but please understand that the City Bar cannot reimburse you for the travel. (Back to Top)

16. Can you keep us informed of all new bills and legislative activity that pertains to the work or practice area of our committee?

With apologies, no, that is an impossible task. During 2012 there were 16,677 bills introduced in both houses. Although we keep an eye out for bills that might be of interest to your committee - especially bills that seem to be moving - we simply cannot be sure that we are seeing everything for all of our committees. If you tell us what you are interested in and what to look for, we can run periodic targeted searches. Our goal is to work with committees and come up with a variety of ways to learn about bills of interest or hot topics, thereby decreasing the chance that we will miss something. (Back to Top)

17. Will you track legislation even if we don’t have a position on the bill?

Yes, but you need to let us know that you want the bill tracked. If we send you a bill and do not hear back from you, we are going to assume that you don’t want us to track the bill or send you updates on its status.  (Back to Top)

18. How do you advocate for our position?

Once we have a completed and approved report we can advocate for your position. If a report pertains to a pending bill, we get it to the bill sponsors. Then, in general, we track the bill and at certain points in time (e.g., when the bill gets on a committee agenda or is heading to a floor vote), we communicate your position to other legislators and, when appropriate, the Governor’s office. This is done mostly through personal visits, but as session progresses, we do a fair bit of communication with legislative staff via email, fax and phone. If there is a benefit to doing more grassroots advocacy, we may ask committee members if they are interested in contacting their legislators as an individual constituent, not as a City Bar member. We can help with that.

If a committee has proposed new legislation, first we need to find an appropriate sponsor in each house of the Legislature. Once the bill gets introduced, we advocate for the bill in a similar fashion to the other pieces of legislation we support. It is important to note, however, that advocating for legislation proposed by our committees is very time intensive and requires greater participation by committee chairs and/or those committee members who drafted the legislation.  As the organization that proposed the legislation, we must take the lead on advocacy and coordinating with the legislature or else the bill will not move.  In addition many bills require revisions before passage.  Committees that propose legislation will need to communicate with our office frequently to discuss strategy, potential amendments and how to keep the bill moving.

Another important component of advocacy is responding to legislators or their staff when issues arise regarding legislation. Since reports are your work product, we rely on your expertise and the opinion of your committee in responding to these inquiries. Please follow up with us or the legislator in a timely manner in order to ensure that your positions are accounted for.

As part of our legislative strategy, we regularly keep in touch with other groups that are advancing the same positions as our committees. Committee members may do the same. This is a very helpful source of information. The City Bar does not, however, sign onto other groups’ position papers or lobbying materials. (Back to Top)

19. What if a bill we support is heavily opposed by another group?

That of course happens, and once we find out where the opposition is coming from, we can assess whether compromise is possible or desirable. These are strategy decisions that are usually discussed with the committee chair or the legislative subcommittee. We also stay in touch with the bill sponsor’s office to find out what is happening with a bill and why it may not be moving.

When we are developing an advocacy strategy, we do consider the pros and cons of reaching out to other groups before finalizing our position. This is a very helpful way to receive feedback from other sources, get a sense of any opposition, and provide additional support to the sponsors. When proposing legislation, this becomes an even more important exercise because prospective sponsors will often ask what other groups think about the proposal. (Back to Top)

20. If a bill we support does not move, what happens?

If a bill seems blocked, we always try to find out what’s holding up the bill. We may need to consider modifying our position or advocacy strategy. The holdup could come from any number of factors, including, strong opposition, legal questions raised by legislative or governor’s counsel, funding concerns or sheer inertia.

If a committee’s policy goals or positions do not appear to be legislatively achievable, we encourage committees to consider non-legislative approaches, e.g. executive orders, regulatory change or other agency action. (Back to Top)

21. How long does it take a bill to pass and how do we know if a bill is likely to pass?

Please keep in mind that the vast majority of bills don’t pass, for one reason or another (in 2012 only about 3% of all bills introduced were enacted into law). For those that do, it could happen within 1 year or 20 years, depending on the complexity of the issues, the nature of the change in the law, the change in party leadership of the houses or the governor’s office, the level of support and opposition, the tenacity of the primary advocates, the engagement and interest of the bill sponsors, the ability to reach compromise, etc.

As far as likelihood of passage, we rely on a number of things to ascertain whether a bill is likely to pass: we keep in touch with the bill sponsors, talk to other groups that are lobbying the bill, track it through the committee process, assess the opposition, and communicate with committee staff and chamber leadership. Of course, there are political considerations and variables beyond our control, but we try to track the bill’s movement using all of the knowable data. Committee members are also encouraged to reach out to their own contacts to obtain information about the movement of a bill; if you do, please tell us what you are hearing. (Back to Top)

22. If a bill we support doesn't pass, what happens to our report on legislation?

If a bill does not become law by the end of a two-year legislative term, it is considered “dead” and its assigned bill number no longer exists.  At the start of the next session, legislators often reintroduce these bills (without change), at which time they receive new bill numbers.

If your committee commented on a bill which did not pass, we will work with your committee to reissue your report.  We will notify you when the bill has been reintroduced and let you know if any changes were made to the bill text.  At that point your committee can decide to (i) reissue the report without change, (ii) update the report if necessary (e.g., if the data is outdated or new case law is available), or (iii) change your committee’s position based on new amendments to the bill.  We will make all appropriate changes to the report and our website and will distribute the reissued report to the bill sponsors. (Back to Top)

23. Can a committee member testify at public hearings?

Yes, where appropriate, a committee member can testify at a public hearing. We can assist in helping to get this done and we often send notices of relevant public hearings to committee chairs. The testimony is treated as a legislative report and must be reviewed and approved by the President in advance of the hearing. (Back to Top)

24. Can committees take positions on issues that pertain to funding or budget items?

Yes, if the position pertains to a legal or policy issue and not just one of funding. Absent special circumstances (e.g., legal services funding or impact on legal representation), the City Bar does not put out blanket positions advocating for increased funding for a particular program or budget item. We have learned that our views are not as highly valued when we are recommending a position regarding revenues and expenditures, rather than addressing legal or policy issues.  (Back to Top)

25. What is a transition memo?

When we have a change in the mayor, governor or president, committees are welcome to send a transition memo to the new administration. This is a good way to communicate your committee’s policy positions on a variety of matters. We have samples. These transition memos should be closely coordinated with our office. (Back to Top)

26. How else can we stay informed and involved?

In addition to contacting us directly or checking our website, you can now follow us on Twitter (@NYCBarLegis) and Facebook.  Learn when committee reports are issued, follow status updates for legislation we’re tracking, and get news and information relevant to the City Bar’s legislative agenda. (Back to Top)

We help communicate and advocate the City Bar’s legislative and policy positions to local, state and federal government officials. Most of these FAQ’s relate to our dealings with the State Legislature as that represents the bulk of our work.