News From The Capitol: Lighter version of normal

Amy Drumm, Vice President of Government Affairs for Michigan Retailers Association
Amy Drumm Vice President, Government Affairs
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By AMY DRUMM, MRA Vice President, Government Affairs

We are weeks away from the first 100 days since the start of the new legislative session. While the general public hears a lot about politics during an election season, the real policy discussions happen before and after the election. The tail end of 2020 saw a busy COVID-focused lame duck session and the beginning of 2021 began slowly, as all new sessions do.

In business, the year is divided into quarters. In the legislative world, we think in terms of cycles. During the winter and spring of a new legislative term, legislators are focused on introducing new bills, getting up to speed on their new committee assignments, and hammering out amendments with the goal of getting critical items into the annual state budget. To put things in perspective, during the 2019/2020 session, 3,806 bills were introduced with 15% (580) of them being signed into law. In the first two months of 2021, more than 650 bills have been introduced, with more added daily.

As you can imagine, it’s much harder to stay in the loop when most people are operating remotely. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” rings especially true right now. Traditionally, lobbyists hang out in the lobby area of each legislative chamber – to be seen and build relationships with policymakers. Conversations about MRA’s 2021 priorities and discussions on other bills lawmakers are considering have been difficult, especially when you have to schedule times to talk over Zoom or on the phone. There are less conversations happening in legislative hallways, downtown coffee shops or before/after committee meetings. Although more Michiganders are being vaccinated daily and business is starting to hum a little more, we are still operating in a lighter version of normal as we all continue keeping our distance.

UPDATE ON COVID VACCINES
As Michigan continues to expand the availability of vaccines, MRA is working with the state to ensure all Michigan pharmacies are able to assist with vaccinating the population. As we have argued, pharmacies have expertise in this area, (think of the flu shot), established trust with customers, and greater accessibility in hours and locations. Since retail stores remain open to the public, we believe that all retail workers should be eligible to receive the vaccine in one of the earlier phases and will continue to advocate on their behalf.

IT’S 2021 – DO YOU KNOW WHO YOUR LEGISLATORS ARE?
Pop quiz: can you name the state representative(s) and state senator(s) who represent the area(s) where you do business? Do you know who your congressional representative is and the difference between state lawmakers and federal representatives? Do you understand what they stand for? Do they understand what matters to business owners like you? This is a great time to learn legislative issues that may affect your business and focus on building relationships with your legislators.

While we work hard to nurture relationships at the Capitol every day, Lansing isn’t the only place where this work takes place. As a business owner, it is vital for you to establish strong relationships with the elected officials who represent your community.

Educating legislators and community leaders is a critically important step in the legislative process. A lawmaker who knows you and your business and is steeped in the concerns and interests of your community is often extremely helpful when (not if) issues arise in Lansing.

If you are new to engaging lawmakers, consider this as an opportunity! Invite legislators to visit your business. Ask them about their priorities. Share with them the challenges current or proposed regulations have on your business, employees and family. Lawmakers want to hear your business’ story in order to better understand the businesses, communities and people they represent.

To find out who your legislators are, go to www.house.mi.gov and www.senate.michigan.gov and click on the link to find your representative/senator. After entering your address, it will give you your legislator’s name and contact information. Be sure to check each location you operate a business in as well as your home address. There may be several legislators you’ll want to get to know.

Being proactive by getting to know legislators and candidates can prevent a number of headaches for you and your business. Turning your legislator into an advocate ensures that there is always someone asking the important questions when legislation that could impact your livelihood is considered. Building relationships with legislators and community leaders is the best way to protect your business and its continued success from potential government overreach.