Meeting with lawmakers to provide resources & enact change
While most water treatment industry professionals’ day-to-day operations consist of system design, installation and troubleshooting customers’ water concerns, there are bigger-picture items always at play in the background. Regulations and legislation shape much of what you do and why you do it.
In the U.S., citizens have the privilege of being able to interact with those who make the laws, share their concerns and act as a resource in their particular areas of expertise. While many people in the water treatment industry are already advocating for their causes and speaking to their representatives, there also are those who do not know where to begin.
Some regional associations host organized legislative visits. The Florida Water Quality Assn. (FWQA) heads to Tallahassee, Fla., the state’s capital, every January to meet with lawmakers and speak to them about pressing water issues.
“I remember when my dad used to go make the visits back in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” said Amanda Moore, vice president of Atlantic Filter Corp. and president of FWQA. “There was a period of time where people stopped making visits, most likely because the waters were quiet … but about five or six years ago, there was a really renewed interest in starting these visits to Tallahassee again as water started to become part of daily headlines.”
After water concerns such as the Flint, Mich., lead crisis became front page news, FWQA decided it was time to remind lawmakers that the association, as well as the national Water Quality Assn. (WQA), could serve as resources when questions arise about these technical issues.
To prepare, FWQA monitors the news throughout the year to determine its focus for the visits. Members keep an eye out for news about water treatment dealers in particular, as well as the industry as a whole. This year, the association focused on lead, specifically lead in schools.
“One of the things that we do to prepare is get as much information to all of the board of directors, current information about what other states are doing, making sure that everybody thoroughly understands how lead can be treated and how it cannot be treated,” Moore said. “We have a couple of board meetings to make sure that as an association—even though we’re all from different companies, different areas of the state, different waters, different cities—we’re all saying the same thing about what we are broaching when we go to Tallahassee.”
The goal this year was to inform legislators of the resources available through both FWQA and WQA. That way, the association emphasized, if mandatory testing or filtration were implemented in schools, lawmakers would know to whom they could turn with questions or concerns. WQA representatives travel with the Florida team to Tallahassee and bring resources and materials to hand out.
FWQA would like more people to get involved in these legislative visits.
“I have 13 legislators from my county alone, so I was literally running from office to office trying to make sure that I got in or got information to every single person,” Moore said. “I’m speaking to as many of the legislators as possible and more than once. It’s one of the keys to name recognition and it’s taken us all multiple visits to get to the point where maybe the legislative assistants say, ‘Hey Amanda, it’s good to see you.’ We wish that more people would become involved and we welcome people to our visits.”
Moore acknowledged that it can be difficult for members to take time away from work to make these visits. Many people also find the idea of meeting with legislators intimidating. Moore said the first visit is the biggest challenge to overcome.
“It’s overwhelming, until you get there,” she said. “And then it’s almost addicting once you do it, to see and get calls back and to have people asking questions and whatnot.”
The Water Quality Association of Wisconsin (WQAW) partners with The Capitol Group, a consulting firm that works with associations, providing management oversight. Among other things, The Capitol Group helps WQAW with its government affairs work.
Brandon Scholz, partner of The Capitol Group, said one of the benefits of belonging to an industry association is this advocacy.
“That’s what [members] pay dues for,” he said. “They don’t have time to sit there and figure out what’s going on in the industry, what legislators are doing and what a bill means. That’s why they belong with their association, and that’s why they trust their association and the folks that work for them to get the job done.”
However, Scholz also said he sees the most interest from lawmakers when he is able to bring a WQAW member to meetings.
On April 10, 2019, WQAW will hold its first Capitol Day, an event inviting all members to head to Madison, Wis., to hear issue briefings and meet with legislators. Part of the event will include an explanation of the legislative process, which is particularly helpful for first timers.
“We set up a series of briefings on the issue,” Scholz said. “We’ll likely bring in legislative leaders or legislators who come from their districts and have them come talk about what’s going on in the capital. We’ll give them an overview of—I don’t want to be too elementary about it, but it really is—how a bill becomes a law, to give them a sense of why they’re there, what role they’re playing and how they fit into the process.”
The event is still in its planning stages, but Scholz said WQAW plans to bring up the repeal of Wisconsin’s Personal Property Tax to policymakers.
Independent of an organized association visit, water treatment professionals also are encouraged to set up their own visits. The following are some tips for meeting with legislators on your own.
1. Make the Connection — The first step in meeting with legislators is to make the initial connection. First, do some research on the person with whom you would like to meet. Read about their background and voting history to know where they stand on certain issues. Call or email the office of the legislator, introduce yourself as a constituent and ask to set up a meeting.
Moore said business owners should invite their lawmakers to their facilities for a tour and to meet their employees. This gives the lawmaker an opportunity to see some of the water treatment technology firsthand, and also allows them to interact with their constituents.
“I invited my local legislators to come to my storefront and see possible solutions that would be available if they wanted to know how to solve the lead problem, if they decide that’s something they’re going to do,” Moore said.
Touring a facility helps lawmakers contextualize the water treatment and contaminant issues they are asked to make decisions about.
“When going on a facility tour, policymakers can see first-hand how water treatment and filtration products and components are improving water quality,” said Kathleen Fultz, global regulatory and government affairs manager for WQA. “The experience will remind them of the industry and your business when making decisions about the future of the country’s drinking water.”
Meeting with legislators also does not necessarily mean traveling to the nation’s capital. Meaningful work can be done in the area in which you are a constituent.
“These face-to-face occasions do not have to be conducted in Washington, D.C., to make a strong case for the water treatment and filtration industry,” Fultz said. “Meeting with lawmakers at their district office is a great way to advocate for pro-industry, pro-business policies in one’s home district.”
2. Manage Your Expectations — Meetings often will be conducted with staff members or aides rather than the actual legislator. This is normal and can be beneficial, as these staffers often have influence with the lawmaker. According to Moore, these staffers might be seasoned aides with experience working with multiple policymakers, or they might be enthusiastic young people with a passion for meeting the public. Either way, they offer a unique perspective.
Scholz emphasized the importance of being kind and respectful to staff members, just as you would if you were meeting with the legislator. As the “gatekeepers” of the office, they decide what information makes its way to their boss, and making a good impression is key.
“Staff are hugely important,” Scholz said. “They could pass your stuff along, or they could have it in a trash can before you’re even out the door.”
Fultz agreed that interactions with these staff members are important, as they are likely to remember your conversation after you leave. She also said to not be alarmed by the meeting’s location.
“When you arrive, you may experience having the meeting standing in a hallway,” Fultz said. “This is normal and is not a reflection of how important the topic is. Offices have minimal meeting space.”
3. Be Prepared — Time often is limited in these meetings, so do the necessary preparation before you arrive.
“These meetings, they’re very crunched for time,” Moore said. “You have nine minutes or seven minutes, and it’s almost like an elevator pitch.”
Many regional associations have documents available to help prepare for a visit. WQA also has a guide to legislative relationship building on its website, as well as fact sheets on contaminants, flooding and water scarcity.
Print and bring these resources with you to leave behind. Moore also suggests having one document that encapsulates your entire conversation. At FWQA’s visits this year, participants brought supporting materials from WQA on contaminants and certification, but one document served as a summary for the visit.
“We had a one page tri-fold that, front and back, said everything—who we are, who WQA is, what we could provide, what we were there for,” Moore said. “That is the most important thing that we left behind because a lot of times everything else just gets pushed aside into a big filing cabinet.”
Scholz recommends following a particular outline in these meetings.
“You always want them to start off by saying, here’s where my business is, this is how many employees I have, this is how long I’ve been in business and this is who our customers are,” he said. After that, get into the issues. He also recommends taking notes, making sure to write down if the legislator or staffer requests more information about a certain topic.
Before leaving the meeting, take a photo with the person you met with.
4. Follow Up
Immediately after the visit, post the photo you took on social media and tag the legislator on as many accounts as possible so they will see it and, hopefully, repost it.
Back at the office, email the legislator and any staffers who helped with the meeting to say thank you. Include the photo to keep your visit—and your face—fresh in their minds.
Moore also suggests following up with a handwritten note.
“A lot of people don’t do that anymore in this world of email,” she said. “People might open your email and then click past it and have best intentions to come back to it, but maybe they don’t. When you send a letter and it’s hand addressed, there’s a nice touch to that. Make sure you mark your organization on the outside of it so they know it’s a friendly letter.”
Making a Difference
These meetings can affect change.
“Legislators are getting more pressure than ever to provide immediate solutions to fix things—to fix the infrastructure, to fix the water, to fix the groundwater—and realistically it’s not possible for them to do all of that with the snap of a finger,” Moore said. “So when we make these visits and remind them that there are point-of-use solutions and final barrier filters that can not only buy them more time, but give them the time to get their changes in place and whatnot, it really stands to benefit the entire industry.”
Scholz outlined the importance of citizen involvement in these issues, and said often it is worth the time spent away from the office in order to educate lawmakers on issues about which they might have very little knowledge.
“For those organizations or associations or industries who do not do this, but have issues in the legislature or in Congress, you put yourself at a disadvantage from step one,” Scholz said. “You might assume—and you would be totally wrong to assume—that an elected official would know and understand your problems if you’ve never talked to them before. This simply isn’t true.”
Moore echoed that sentiment.
“Water quality is not their full-time job,” she said. “It’s not even their part-time job. That’s what we do on a full-time basis. That’s what our expertise is and that’s where we can be a coach for them as they’re trying to fix these problems that are becoming more and more prevalent every single day.”