The first session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature runs from Feb. 1 to May 28, 2021. During this time there will be a lot of headline-grabbing bills — some may ultimately pass, but the vast majority will fizzle into oblivion.
Lawmakers filed a record-breaking amount of legislation — more than 3,000 bills and resolutions — for the 2021 legislative session. Knowing what to keep an eye on and how to engage in the process can be difficult, even for the savviest of business owners.
Candor chatted with our resident political gurus, Ally Glavas and Adam Brooks, to help business leaders understand which issues may impact them this session, best practices for communicating with employees and how to catch the attention of lawmakers.
Why is it important for businesses to pay attention to what’s happening during legislative session?
Adam: There’s a proactive and reactive side to dealing with state government. If a business owner thinks there’s something which could improve their industry or day-to-day practices, reaching out to a local representative or senator is a good start. They can contact the legislators in both their home district and their businesses’ district.
Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is also key. The Legislature can make changes to unemployment or other taxes which can affect companies’ bottom line and employees’ families. State government is much closer to the ground than federal government, and the things they do have a more immediate impact.
How can businesses monitor which issues might impact them?
Ally: Find a reliable, trustworthy news source and follow Capitol reporters on social media. It’s also smart to get involved with trade associations or consider engaging a public relations or public affairs team.
What Oklahoma bills on the horizon might particularly impact businesses this session?
Ally: COVID-19 highlighted the need for reform to the unemployment system, which impacts employers and citizens. There’s also a lot of talk about education reform, which would be of interest to people looking to recruit talent and develop their workforces.
Adam: The voters also chose to participate in Medicaid expansion. The federal government provides a great deal of money, but the state must pay for a portion of it. One of the Legislature’s main tasks this year is figuring out where this money comes from. We can’t predict the impact, but there’s a possibility it could affect local businesses.
If a business doesn’t have a lobbyist, how can they still influence lawmakers?
Ally: In addition to reaching out to local legislators, business leaders can look at committee leadership related to their industries or issues. Maximize efforts by forming a coalition or talking to chambers of commerce or industry groups. Leveraging this collective power by working together is a good way to reach even more lawmakers.
Candor has been told by legislators it sometimes takes as few as five or 10 phone calls to get their attention. The people who get involved are the ones who have the most influence, not the people who sit back and think about it.
Adam: Experienced public affairs agencies are familiar with Ethics Commission rules, which saves the average person from having to delve into the nitty gritty. Candor has a 100% public affairs success rate, and we’re able to partner with lobbyists and help clients move the needle on what matters to them. Our digital team can also target very specific voter lists and get a strong return on investment.
How is talking about legislative issues different than other communications strategies?
Adam: There are different seasons within the legislative session, and time of year dictates our communication style. In the beginning of a new year, we inform voters about the key issues and build coalitions. As session ramps up, we educate them about the nuances of the issue and why they ought to care. As we get closer to key votes, we activate our supporters and encourage them to make their voices heard. Emotional appeal matters
most and is a driving force in getting people to act.
Ally: Target audiences are more niche, so remember to speak more to district- or voter-based groups versus the general public. There’s also a lot of technical jargon involved, so it’s vital to simplify complex topics whenever possible.