I am new to the lobbying world. It has been an exciting and eye opening transition from practicing law. One of the most unique experiences was “Floor Week”. This was the week after Memorial Day when all of the bills have to pass out of their house of origin before they can make it to the other house. I was told to bring comfortable shoes, phone chargers, aspirin, snacks, water and gum. I thought my co-workers were kidding because our offices are just across the street from the Capitol…. oh, they were not! I figured if I needed new shoes, I could just run back to my office and grab them. On day three, I entered the Capitol at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday morning and I did not leave until 9:55 p.m. that night. I did not have a single chance to run and grab the flats I foolishly left under my desk. We had bills to kill and we were not going to stop until we had done everything we could to make that happen! And let me tell you, this is not an easy feat, especially with labor and employment bills.
Prior to floor week, you meet with as many legislators as you can possibly meet with to explain concerns with the bills. This means literally back to back meetings all day long. So, when floor week comes, you think you have done all you can to convince them of why the bill is good or bad for California businesses. But, that is just when the excitement begins. Once floor session starts, it is an absolute feeding frenzy. The Assembly members and Senators walk to either the Assembly or Senate gates, which lead them to the respective floors. In order to get to the gates, they have to navigate through crowds of lobbyists trying to explain, once more, why the bill is good or bad. People are hollering names, asking to take pictures with them, passing out flyers and chanting bill numbers. Nervous staffers are trying to ensure that their boss makes it to the gates as quickly as possible without interruption, a nearly impossible task.
Then floor session commences. Because only members are allowed on the floor, lobbyists line the hallways watching the television screens trying to simultaneously keep track of which bills are up for a vote in each house. They eagerly listen as testimony begins and then, the most nerve-racking part, the bill goes up for a vote. It is like a true sporting event at this point. Everyone quiets down, huddles closer to their respective T.V. and waits for the Speaker to call the votes. Then once the votes are tallied you quietly hear a “yes” coupled by a sly high five…you know…keeping it professional and all. From the other side you usually hear an expletive or two as the lobbyists realize that if the bill successfully passed, they now have to lobby this bill all over again in the other house.
While this is going on, other lobbyists are putting cards in to pull members or staffers off the floor in one last ditch effort to explain the issues or benefits of the bill. To get a member to meet with you, you hand the sergeant who guards the floor gate your business card with the bill number and member’s name written on the back. The sergeant hands that business card to the member on the floor. If the member wants to talk with you, they will come out, but you are not told if they will or will not talk to you. So, you just wait at the gate, sometimes for hours, in an effort to talk to them before the bill you are lobbying comes up for a vote. If the member is too busy voting on bills on the floor, or just doesn’t want to talk, then you run around (some are literally running) to all parts of the Capitol to try and find a staffer to explain your position one last time and ask for their vote. The stakes are so high because some of the most controversial bills come down to just a one or two vote difference.
Keep in mind that there were approximately 450 bills up for a vote in the Assembly and 280 bills in the Senate, in just 3 days. So, by the time floor session ended just before 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, hearts were broken, energy was dwindled, ties were loosened, and women were walking around the Capitol without shoes on…it was nothing short of a lobbyist apocalypse.
All I can say is… next time I am wearing flats and my pedometer and I will let you know how many steps I actually take…stay tuned for the next floor session in August!