December 28, 2009
By Gerald H. Baker, Chair, Legislative Committee
The Capitol Report offers a weekly update on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and appointments that are of interest to attorneys. It is compiled by the government affairs department of the New Jersey State Bar Association. Baker is of counsel with Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinnis.
The New Jersey State Bar Association Legislative Process
The mission statement of the New Jersey State Bar Association indicates one of its key goals is to serve as the voice of attorneys to government entities "with regard to the law, legal profession and legal system."
Over the years, the legislative process-the creation, review, support, amendment and opposition to legislation that affects the legal profession and the public-has become one of the most important functions of the state bar. The process allows the sections and committees, as well as individual members, to participate in a meaningful way in the development of legislation. The procedures insure a thorough review of bills, the coordination of competing interests, and a robust lobbying effort.
HOW IT STARTS
The formation of legislative policy begins with the staff of the Government Affairs Department. They monitor every bill pending before the Legislature, flag any of interest to specific practice areas, and track the progress of each measure through the Senate and Assembly. They also send a report on each bill to the chair of every section and committee with an interest in the legislation, as well as legislative coordinators.
The sections and committees are requested to prepare a Legislative Position form (LPF) for the Legislative Committee to review. The criteria for the review of legislation includes examining whether the bill involves the practice of law, affects public access to the judicial system or relates to the education of the public about the legal system.
Each section or committee may then vote to support, oppose or take no position on a bill. They can also suggest amendments, make comments and recommend the bill be assigned a low, moderate or high priority.
THE LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE
In 1994, the state bar association established a Legislative Committee as a standing committee. Its members are appointed by the president and reflect a broad and diverse representation of all segments of the bar. There are 19 members of the committee, who are all experienced leaders of the bar with extensive knowledge about the state bar, legal system, legislative process and public interest.
The Legislative Committee reviews the LPFs from sections and committees and makes recommendations to the board of trustees. The committee meets four times a year. In addition, its members can take up matters electronically if there are emergent matters.
It is the responsibility of the Legislative Committee to analyze what legal and political implications the legislation imposes on the bar and the public. The committee reviews responses from the sections and committees, and attempts to reconcile any differing points of view. If additional comment is needed, the committee may request additional comment or refer the bill to other committees.
At the end of its process, the committee submits a report on the legislation to the board of trustees, the state bar's governing body, recommending its support and priority.
THE FINAL AUTHORITY
The board of trustees has the final authority on the legislative process. After reviewing the recommendations of the Legislative Committee and the LPFs submitted by the sections and committees, the board votes on whether the state bar will support, oppose or take no position on the bill. The board also determines if the state bar association should submit a position paper, meet with legislators and testify before legislative committees.
In addition, the trustees also grant the bill a level of priority. Low-priority bills involve a notification to the sponsor of the position of the state bar, but no lobbying. Moderate-priority bills invoke meetings with legislators and testimony before legislative committees. And high-priority bills utilize all of the lobbying resources of the bar association, including the coordination of meetings with members and legislators and the development of alliances with public interest groups.
Once the board establishes a position on legislation, only the president, or a designee, has authority to publically express the position of the state bar association. No section or committee representative or individual member can represent the association or present the opinion of the association unless the president or board authorizes the activity.
After the board has taken a position on a bill, the government affairs staff, together with the lobbying firm Public Strategies Impact, will monitor the progress of the bill and actively advocate the position of the state bar association based upon the level of priority.
As a result of this legislative process, which includes the detailed review and evaluation of proposed legislation, the association has participated in the adoption, rejection and amendment of hundreds of bills that affect the legal profession, the legal system and the public interest.