Consider this hypothetical: Your state has assembled a passionate group dedicated to ensuring that patients are treated only by licensed and qualified professionals. Your group is geographically diverse and includes patients who are willing to share their personal experiences. Maybe you have even approached representatives of healthcare organizations—diagnosis-specific patient groups, or your state’s physical or occupational therapy associations, for example—that support (or oppose) your efforts.
It’s now time to approach the legislators who will debate the merits of the law and ultimately decide whether it is an effective and necessary step to protect consumers. For most of the coalition you’ve assembled in support of licensure, conversing with lawmakers is brand new territory.
At this point, the coalition must contemplate hiring a lobbyist to guide you through this crucial process. A series of other questions will follow: How much does a lobbyist cost? How do we raise funds for the effort? Will the members of our team have the time and energy to do the work of a lobbyist if we elect to tackle licensure on our own? How do we find a lobbyist? Will the benefits outweigh the cost?
To explore this issue further, we spoke with Sam Walseth of Capitol Hill Associates in St. Paul, Minnesota. Walseth is a lobbyist working with clients pursuing licensure.
“A hired lobbyist can assist an organized group of professionals, such as O&P practitioners, to advance licensure legislation in their state. Lobbyists who work with state legislatures and administrations will know the political arena a licensure bill needs to navigate to pass into law. They will be able to help you identify and secure key legislators to sponsor your licensure bill. They will be able to help you translate your policy ‘ask’ into proposed legislation. They should know the other stakeholder organizations involved and be able to help you work with them as you deal with scope of practice issues. In general, a contract lobbyist will be a guide and interpreter as your organizations advances new law through a complicated and slow policy-making process. An effective effort also requires the professional organization to have leadership to attend meetings, provide research, and help with organizing grassroots support to advance the cause year after year.”
There is an abundance of information available on the topic of hiring a lobbyist in the Licensure Toolkit. The following are some edited excerpts from the discussion of the activities of lobbyists on behalf of O&P licensure:
Whether or not you need a lobbyist really depends on how connected the members of the state organization are to the political process in the state. In some states, registered lobbyists write draft legislation and perform the bulk of the work to get it introduced. However, strong relationships with key legislators can result in a model bill (or a similar bill from another state) modified and introduced for your organization without the use of a lobbyist. If the cause has a champion in the legislature who will sponsor your bill and persuade other members of the legislature to vote to approve it, the need for a lobbyist is diminished. A lobbyist may get your bill introduced, but a passionate legislator who cares about the people represented by the legislation can get it passed.
If you do not have that access, a well-funded initiative that hires a professional lobbyist is likely required. Your lobbyist is someone who can respond to opportunities that grant access to key legislators by attending luncheons or other events and provide advice on sending members of the organizing committee to a fundraiser. A key member of any state licensure team may be a single member—typically a practitioner—of the licensure team who is available when the opportunity for access to the legislature or other organizations presents itself.
In choosing your lobbyist, you want to ensure that he or she will care about your cause and not just your retainer. It helps if your lobbyist has a personal interest or connection to the O&P profession. Lobbyists or others who have gone through this process can help estimate potential costs and develop a timeline for success.
Is the retention of the services of a lobbyist of value for states without O&P licensure? The Academy ADVANTAGE Licensure Corner will explore that topic in the next edition.
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