Engaging on Knee-Jerk Legislation
The pet industry’s ability to effectively react to rapid-response legislation that is driven by emerging issues requires vigilance and active engagement on the part of every industry member.
While the greatest perceived threat to the pet trade and, for that matter, pet ownership is the myriad of (usually) well-intentioned animal welfare bills that are submitted at the beginning of each legislative session, we can never discount the threats that come from other quarters. As we at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) have monitored and responded to legislation throughout the first half of this year, we have been successful in identifying and engaging on those bills written and pushed through normal legislative procedures. However, it has been more challenging to engage with the myriad of government bodies that may consider knee-jerk legislation in response to emerging issues.
This rapid-response legislation arises as a reaction to current events. It is a legislature’s desire to do something about a situation creating public outcry. This can manifest itself at any level of government, seldom giving much consideration to long term effects and sometimes sailing through a governing body in days. Since these situations have lawmakers scrambling to address a problem, and since proposals tend to pass with very little debate once they are offered, it is essential that we engage these lawmakers before a bill has been drafted.
In order to engage lawmakers in this fast-moving environment, we need three things—a finely tuned awareness of current events to identify threats as they arise, relationships with lawmakers in order to have our input be considered of value, and a plan that addresses the problem facing them without threatening the responsible pet trade in the process.
In order to stay abreast of current events, PIJAC systematically reviews the news daily. While nothing can be as effective at the local level as having a pet store call to make us aware of an emerging issue, we are now able to monitor even local news stories for relevance. We subscribe to a service that pulls thousands of news stories from around the country each day. In order to stay current with the changing pet landscape, we are constantly refining our search terms. We then manually sort these each morning and produce a rollup of the most pertinent stories.
Our responsibility does not end there, however. We, and everyone in the pet trade, must then identify which of these stories have the potential to result in someone proposing a legislative fix for the reported problem and who might propose that fix. This is where everyone must be involved. Local businesses must know their legislators and know which issues they are attuned to. As a national trade association, we are experienced in identifying and engaging on issues that may result in national legislation. You, as business owners throughout the country, are essential in knowing what is important to your state and local lawmakers, and identifying those stories that may provoke a response from them. There are groups throughout the pet business that can come to your aid if legislation threatens, but we need you to sound the alarm so that we can mobilize.
Rapidly building a coalition to address emerging legislation not only gives a strong unified voice, it brings together a diversity of opinions on how to address the root problem. In these types of situations, killing the legislation is often not an option. If lawmakers perceive public pressure to confront an issue, they will do something. It then becomes our job to very quickly develop and present alternatives that address the perceived problem without destroying businesses in the process. National groups like PIJAC have volumes of previously proposed legislation that we can draw from for ideas. The larger the group we have assembled to address the threat, the greater the diversity of options we can develop to propose as solutions. Different options will appeal to different lawmakers, so we cannot expect to walk in with a single solution and have it adopted.
We also cannot necessarily expect to have our input valued if a lawmaker is meeting us for the first time when we approach them with our proposals. The time to get to know your local and state lawmakers is when things are going smoothly, not when there is a crisis. Introduce yourself. There is an election coming up. Go to campaign events, and let the candidates know who you are and what you do. Find out where they stand and contribute a little time or money to potential allies. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The rapid spread of information means that threats to our industry develop faster than they ever have before. By staying in tune with current events, making others aware of potential dangers and knowing your legislators, we can engage these threats in the most effective and efficient way. Only by working together can we survive and thrive in the information age. PB
Robert Likins is director of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).