Last month, legislators from across Georgia convened in Atlanta to begin the annual 40-day legislative session under the Gold Dome. After a successful 2016 election cycle, we were thrilled to watch many of our friends return to be sworn-in to the General Assembly and eager to meet the new faces from last year’s elections to begin the important work that lay ahead for the 2017-2018 term.
Unlike our representatives and senators at the federal level, the General Assembly is comprised of a citizen legislature, meaning that Georgia is one of only 16 states in the nation which adheres to a true part-time legislator policy. Members of the State Senate and House of Representatives represent all sectors of the workforce and include teachers, dentists, farmers, doctors and a few attorneys. With only 40 legislative days to conduct their business and hundreds of pieces of legislation to consider in such a short time frame, it can often be difficult for legislators to obtain the information required to make informed decisions; however, this is where you can be helpful to your local representation.
Over the past six months, the GTLA staff and I have made it our goal to travel the state and visit with our members outside of the metro Atlanta area. Nine cities, dozens of local elected officials and hundreds of GTLA members later, the message was the same each time: become a valued resource to your state legislators.
This might be easier for those who see their state representative at church or their state senator at their child’s soccer practice, but it does not have to be a daunting task for those of you who do not have a connection. Ask them to lunch or coffee, establish a relationship and let them know that you are available to assist with any legal questions they might have about legislation. Thank them for their service and the sacrifice they make in the time they take away from their families to go represent you and your interests and ask if there is any way that you can be of assistance to them that you may not have considered. It may seem like a small gesture, but your assistance will be much appreciated on their end in addition to providing you with an opportunity to participate in the political decisions of your district. If you do not know who your local state legislators are, you can find them here: www.openstates.org/find_your_legislator.
Each legislative session, our lobbying team will follow dozens of bills that will each have a direct impact on your client’s rights as well as your practice, but, as good as they are, Bill Clark and his team can only push their influence so far. A constituent’s persuasion, or, better yet, the counsel of a friend, will hold much more value when it comes time for your legislator to cast a vote. In the end, that extra help you offered or meeting you initiated will stand to benefit you and your clients far greater than the time you invested.
I know each of us has more than our fair share of obligations demanding our attention, but I want to thank you for your continued commitment to our association and its cause. The Justice Tour was a great example of the tight-knit bonds established between GTLA and the local and state elected officials throughout Georgia, but in order to maintain these connections and establish new ones, we look to you to be that valued resource in your community and to your legislator. Your voice on an issue can make all the difference, but it starts with a connection. Become that valued resource.