Introduction to the Policy Department - Frequently Asked Questions

In addition to reviewing these FAQs, please use the Committee Handbook as a resource for City Bar policies and best practices.

1. What does the Policy Department do?

We help coordinate the policy work, legislative activity and advocacy for City Bar committees. We partner with our committees to communicate and advance the City Bar's policy positions, ensuring that those positions are communicated to the key players at the most meaningful times. We keep committee members informed by tracking legislative developments as requested, educating them on the political landscape and helping them navigate the legislative process. We arrange meetings and lobby visits with key legislative staffers. When our committees propose legislation, we work with them to seek sponsors and advocate for their proposals.

2. Are you willing to be a guest speaker at committee meetings?

Yes, we are happy to attend committee meetings to provide information on our department, talk about how committees can become involved in policy work and discuss legislative issues. If a committee has an approved City Bar policy position, we can also attend meetings to help coordinate advocacy efforts. We suggest meeting in the fall or early winter, if possible, to provide adequate time to develop and carry out an advocacy plan.

In addition, if your committee invites a legislator or government official to attend a meeting, please let us know so that we can try to attend. It is a great opportunity for us to hear the speaker'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 the Committee Handbook.

3. Will you track legislation even if the City Bar doesn't have a position on the bill?

Yes, at the request of committee members.

4. Can you keep committee members informed of all new bills and legislative activity that pertains to their practice area?

With apologies, no, that is an impossible task - during the 2015-16 session there were 16,649 bills introduced in the NYS Legislature alone. Although we keep an eye out for bills that might be of interest to our committees - especially bills that seem to be moving - we simply cannot be sure that we are seeing everything for all of our committees. If a committee tells us what they are interested in and what to look for, we can run periodic targeted searches. We also encourage committees to empower themselves in this area and keep an eye out for issues or bills of interest by doing their own searches or following relevant blogs or websites. See the following question for more information. Our goal is to work with committees and come up with a variety of ways to learn about bills of interest or hot topics.

5. How can I track a bill and determine if it is progressing?

We track all legislation that the City Bar has commented on. We will keep committees informed of the progress of their bills via emails to the chair or legislative subcommittee.  Members may contact our office anytime for updates. Our website also allows you to check the status of bills that committees have commented on - simply go to the overview page of the related report and click on the bill number; you will be directed to a relevant external website that provides the bill status and text. We also provide regular updates on legislation on our website and through our social media accounts.

We encourage our committee members to learn how to search for and track legislation on their own and we are happy to help in this regard - check out our "Tracking State and City Legislation: Tips" for more information.

6. How can a committee find 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 are steps you can take to get this information on your own. 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. Obtaining memos on bills that have been acted on by the Governor in the current session will require a call to the Governor's office.

To obtain opposition or support memos on pending legislation, you can call a legislator's office and request copies of any memos they have received related to the bill. They are usually willing to share this information. In addition, like the City Bar, many advocacy groups and trade organizations post their legislative comments on their websites.

Additional resources that may be helpful for committees conducting research on a bill can be found on the 'Resources' page of our website.

7. How does the City Bar identify issues and develop policy positions?

Through a variety of ways: first and foremost, through our committees. Committee members are the experts; they know the industry, the issues, the various advocacy groups or trade associations that may be involved in a particular issue, the hot topics, the controversies, and the recent court decisions better than we do. While we have relationships and ideas that may be helpful during this process, the concepts for policy work in large part come from the committee members themselves. With their help, we learn what issues to look out for and what legislative action to search for. 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 City Bar members will identify issues they would like the City Bar to address, whether to the chairs, staff or President, and we will pass them along to the appropriate committee(s).  Finally, we may pass along information gleaned from the press, blogs and social media we follow. No matter the source, City Bar policy positions ultimately are developed internally through the research, debate and discussion of a committee or group of committees.

8. What does drafting a policy position entail?

When committees develop a policy position, those comments or recommendations should be prepared in a written report. While the content and format of committee reports will vary depending on the topic and goal of the report, City Bar reports should address legal and policy issues and draw on our committee members' expertise as practitioners in a particular area. They are generally perceived by public officials as well-balanced, well-supported and thoughtful. Committees with overlapping jurisdiction should be consulted early in the deliberative process in order to avoid possible conflicts and delays down the road.

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 the bill 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 well, 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).

To help with the finalizing of reports, the City Bar has developed a general Style Guide for committees to use. Please consult this guide when drafting reports. For examples of committee reports, please visit the Committee Reports section of our website.

When a report has been approved by a committee, the report should be submitted in Word format for review through our online “Report Intake Form”. This form allows committees to provide some background information on their work and upload a report for consideration. The information provided will help expedite the review, finalization and distribution of reports.

Submitted reports initially will be assessed by one of the members of the Policy Department, who will coordinate any required review by other committees and will transmit the report to the President for his or her review. All committee reports must be approved by the President before they can be released to the public. See Question 14 for more information.

9. Should 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 such 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.

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 City Bar 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 change in circumstances (including a significant passage of time) 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.

11. Are committees limited to taking a position either in support of or in opposition to a bill?

No, there are a number of options. Committees can take a position in support of a bill, with suggested modifications. Sometimes the modifications will be accepted by the bill's sponsor, in whole or in part. As the bill is negotiated and amended, committees may be asked to update their report so that we can continue advocating for passage of the amended bill. Upon reviewing the amendments, a committee may decide that they do not want to continue supporting the amended bill or they may decide that unless a certain change is made to the legislation, the committee will oppose it.  Finally, a committee may not decide to support or oppose a bill, but might want to offer substantive drafting suggestions. All of these decisions are up to the committee and we will adjust or discontinue our advocacy to appropriately address the committee's position.

12. 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.

13. What if one committee disagrees with a position of another committee?

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 committee conflicts have been resolved.  We recommend consulting committees with overlapping jurisdiction early in the deliberative process in order to avoid such conflicts.

14. 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 City Bar. 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-fourteen business days to respond with any serious concerns; the timing varies depending on the circumstances.

15. 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 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 a committee out of the loop if you are unable to respond in a timely fashion.

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.

Keep the Legislative Session Calendars in Mind: The NYS 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. The City Council and Congressional 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 state legislation.

16. Does the City Bar endorse or sign on to other organizations positions?

The City Bar does not sign on to or endorse other groups' position papers or lobbying materials. By signing on to the work of another group, the City Bar cedes the use of its name to someone else and limits the President’s authority under its By- Laws to approve positions and decisions made related to a position, both strategic and substantive. As an alternative, committees can work in tandem with a coalition or organization and issue their own report on the topic in question. A committee may also jointly issue a report with another organization if the committee is substantively involved in the drafting of the report and it is approved by the committee and President.

As part of our advocacy strategy, we regularly keep in touch with and share your approved report with other groups that are advancing the same positions as our committees. Committee members may do the same. Advocacy organizations, trade associations and the like can be a very helpful source of information.

17. 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. Testimony is treated as a legislative report and must be reviewed and approved by the President in advance of the hearing. See our "Providing Hearing Testimony: What to Expect" guide for more information.

18. What is a transition memo?

When we have a change in the Mayor, Governor, or President, committees are encouraged to send a transition memo to the new administration. This is a good way to communicate a committee's policy positions on a variety of matters. These transition memos should be closely coordinated with our office and we will provide samples of past memos to help with drafting.

19. How do you advocate for City Bar positions?

Once we have a completed and approved report we can advocate for the position. If a report pertains to a pending bill, first 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 the position to other legislators, legislative leadership and, when appropriate, the Executive office. This is done by communication with legislators and their staff via email, fax and phone and through personal visits. We also try to convey our position to other organizations that are involved in lobbying for the issue, particularly those who are leading the advocacy effort. If there is a benefit to doing more grassroots advocacy, we may ask committee members if they are interested in contacting their legislators as individual constituents, not as a City Bar members.

If a committee has proposed new legislation, first we need to find an appropriate sponsor(s). 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 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. In addition, many bills will undergo 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. In general, we will continue to actively lobby for passage of a committee's legislative proposal so long as the proposal remains viable and the committee demonstrates ongoing interest.

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

For those committee members who want to actively engage in advocacy related to their report, check out our guide "Your Committee Issued a Report... Now What?".

20. Can a committee member 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.

21. How long does it take a bill to pass and how do I 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 (for instance, in recent years only about 3% of all bills introduced at the state level were enacted into law). For those that do, it could happen anytime, within 1 year or 20 years, depending on the complexity of the issues, the nature of the change in the law, whether there has been a change in legislative or executive leadership, the level of support and opposition, political considerations (particularly in an election year), 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 staff. 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.

22. What if a bill a committee supports 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 close 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.

23. If a bill a committee supports does not move, what happens? What happens to the report on the legislation?

If a bill seems blocked, we 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 executive's counsel, political considerations, 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.

If a bill does not become law by the end of a legislative term (two-years at the state level, four-years at the city level), it is considered "dead" and its assigned bill number no longer exists. At the start of the next term, legislators often reintroduce these bills (usually without change), at which time they receive new bill numbers. We work with committees to reissue reports on legislation that is still active. We will notify a committee when the bill has been reintroduced and let them know if any changes were made to the bill text. At that point a 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 the 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.

24. What is the City Bar's State Legislative Agenda and how is it developed?

Our State Legislative Agenda is released annually and focuses on issues that are relevant to the current legislative debate or of particular importance to the City Bar, as well as legislative proposals drafted by our committees. This agenda represents only a portion of the dozens of positions our committees develop over the year and is intended to be a nimble guide for our advocacy work. It is developed by our Department in consultation with the President, and committee chairs are encouraged to be in touch with us to exchange ideas and information about their committee's anticipated agenda for the year. You can find our current and past State Legislative Agendas on our website.

25. What else can I do to stay informed and involved?

In addition to contacting us directly or periodically checking our website, you can follow us on Twitter (@NYCBarPolicy) and Facebook to 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. We also provide legislative updates in the City Bar's various publications, so make sure your subscription settings are up to date by reviewing your Member profile or contacting our Membership Department.