FOI Lobbying Requires Careful Planning
Nicchio, M. J., The Quill
To succeed, journalists must actively participate in the legislative process.
Prior to the 1997 Texas legislative session, the Texas Daily Newspaper Association (TDNA) -where I serve as director of legislative and governmental affairs conducted a survey to determine what issues were most important to our members. Freedom of information legislation was the top priority, according to most respondents. Along with the Texas Press Association (TPA), our association fortified our lobbying efforts.
TDNA and the TPA are newspaper associations representing daily, weekly and biweekly newspaper publishers in Texas. Together our associations represent the entire newspaper industry in Texas.
TDNA/TPA established a legislative advisory committee of 18 newspaper publishers representing dailies and weeklies. The goal of this committee is to analyze, prioritize and develop strategies for responding to legislation dealing with newspaper issues. During this past session we were concerned with approximately 300 bills, The issues were 95 percent FOI and 5 percent permissive newspaper business issues.
The staffs of both associations assist the committee by monitoring bills and executing strategy pertaining to specific legislation, but our publishers are our grassroots movement. Grassroots lobbying is the committee's chief purpose and the reason for its existence, and member involvement is the key component in our efforts. Our publishers continue to be our "lobbyists."
Prior to each legislative session, our committee is regrouped. Dissemination of written materials explaining our specific focus and projects for that interim is the first step. The two associations put together a legislative handbook- mailed to every publisher in the state - that explains in detail the issues to be introduced during the next legislative session.
Interim projects include developing proFOI legislation and courting a suitable sponsor in both the House and Senate. Meetings with likely opposition groups must be conducted as the next session approaches in order to determine what common ground can be established.
Following each session, work begins immediately to develop relationships and ideas for the next session, which is only 18 months away. …