Legislative Issues - AFA Working With Its Members
Together We Can Make A Difference

By Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.

Understanding the Basics

Three Branches of Government. Under the U.S. Constitution, there are three Branches of Government. This is the system of checks and balances set up to insure that no one branch of the government is more powerful than the others. Each Branch of the Government is represented in the Federal (national), state and local (county, city) systems:

Legislative Branch

  • Consists of Two Distinct Legislative Bodies
  • Federal – House of Representatives & Senate
    • No. Of House Representatives Based On State Districts
    • Each State Has 2 Senators
  • State – Assembly & Senate
    • Each District Has 1 Assembly person & 1 Senator
  • Makes Laws & Appropriates Money
  • Collectively Referred to as “Congress”

Executive Branch

  • Consists of Individuals, Agencies Including Law Enforcement & Military
  • Federal – President, Cabinet, Regulatory Agencies (USDA, etc.), FBI, CIA, NSA, All Military Branches Including Coast Guard
  • Enforces the law

Judicial Branch

  • Consists of All Courts and Judicial Proceedings
  • Both State & Federal Courts, Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
  • Interprets the law
  • May Also Create New Law Based on Constitution Interpretation (Precedent)

How Laws Are Made. There are two ways for laws to be instituted in the United States – “legislative law” drafted by Congress and “judicial case law”, which is instituted by the court system. Laws made by the judicial system are just as valid and enforceable as law made by the legislative Branch of government.

Legislative Branch (Federal and State)

  1.  A legislator drafts (sponsors) a bill.
  2. Bill is assigned to a Committee for public hearing.
  3. Committee debates and may change the bill.
  4. Committee votes whether or not to send the bill to the Floor (entire legislative body) for a full hearing.
  5. If not passed, the bill “dies” and is defeated.
  6. The entire legislative body debates the bill and may change it.
  7. The entire legislative body votes on the bill.
  8. If passed, the bill is sent to the other legislative body. (House to Senate, Senate to House)
  9. If not passed, the bill ‘dies” and is defeated.
  10. Once received by the other legislative body, the process begins all over, i.e., assigned to Committee, debated and voted on, either approved or killed, then passed onto the Floor for debate and voting.
  11. Upon approval by both Houses, the bill is returned to Committee to reconcile any differences between the two legislative bodies’ final versions.
  12. Final bill sent to the President (Federal) or the governor (state) for approval and signature.
  13. If signed, the bill becomes law.
  14. If not signed, it is vetoed and dies.
  15. Congress can override a veto with a 2/3-majority vote of both Houses.

Case or Judicial Law (Federal & State)

  1. A lawsuit is filed.
  2. The case is heard either by a jury (state) or judge (state or Federal).
  3. The case is either won or lost.
  4. The losing party may appeal to the Court of Appeals (State or Federal)
  5. The case is upheld, dismissed or sent back for retrial in the original court.
  6. If upheld or dismissed, appeals may continue until hearing by the State or Federal Supreme Court.
  7. If the decision has not previously been made, and is upheld by the highest court (State or Federal Supreme Court) it is called ‘precedent’ and establishes new law.

Difference Between “Legislative” Law & “Regulatory” Law.

  • Legislation - A law enacted by Congress acting as the Legislative body of government
    • Congress people and Senators propose legislation
  • Regulation - A law enacted by a Regulatory Agency acting as the Executive body of government.
    • Regulatory Agencies and bureaucrats propose regulation.
  • Only contact legislators regarding proposed legislation and regulators about regulatory proposals. Legislators do not have authority over regulatory bodies and regulators have no authority over legislation.

Responding to Proposed Legislation.

  1. Determine jurisdiction – Federal or State? Do not contact state representatives about Federal legislation or vice versa. It is ineffective as these representatives do not have authority to act and it is a waste of time that can be better spent.
  2. Which legislative body is involved – House/Assembly or Senate?
  3. Find out who is the sponsor (introduced) of the bill and contact them with your concerns.
  4. Have other voters in that jurisdiction contact the sponsor to express their views. Constituents’ (voters) concerns are always given priority by legislators. Do not have people outside that jurisdiction such as from another district or state contact them. Numbers are very important as they translate to votes. Legislators are concerned with votes and sheer numbers are important. They generally do not listen to those who do not vote or pay taxes in their legislative district; therefore, only those who can provide some type of expertise or do business in the affected jurisdiction should respond.
  5. Have businesses, corporations and experts in the field (veterinarians, bird supply companies, etc.) contact the legislators as well. Economic impact is very important to legislators.
  6. Ascertain the bill’s status – is it in Committee?
  7. If in Committee, contact all Committee members, with copies to the sponsor.
  8. Have other constituents, business entities and experts contact the Committee members with copies to the sponsor.
  9. If the Committee has scheduled a hearing, attend the hearing and address your concerns to the Committee.
  10. Have other constituents, business interests and experts attend and address the Committee.
  11. If you are unable to change or defeat the bill and the Committee votes to pass it to the Floor, contact your representative with copies to the bill’s sponsor.
  12. Get as many constituents, experts and business entities as possible to contact their legislators.
  13. If the bill passes unchanged by the Floor, you should contact the Committee in the other Legislative Body to which the bill was referred and start the process anew.
  14. If the bill passes both Houses, you can then contact the president (Federal) or the governor (state) and ask the bill be vetoed.
  15. Have as many voters, experts and business interests as possible contact the president or government as well.
  16. If the bill becomes law, there is always the recourse of the court system. However, lawsuits are expensive and may take years to resolve. Even then, there are no guarantees the law will be declared unconstitutional and therefore, invalid.

Responding to Proposed Regulation.

  1. Determine jurisdiction – Federal or State? U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are the Federal agencies that regulate birds; State Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and/or Fish and Game regulate under each State.
  2. Determine which regulatory agency is involved.
  3. Contact the agency and express your views.
  4. Have other colleagues in interest contact the agency and express their view.
  5. Get businesses, corporations and experts in the field (veterinarians, bird supply companies, etc.) to contact the agency as well. Regulatory agencies give great credence to experts and businesses in that industry.
  6. Attend, with other colleagues, and comment at public hearings
  7. Have experts and business interests attend and comment at public hearings.
  8. Unlike legislators, bureaucrats do not care about numbers but will listen to intelligent arguments that are based on fact. They are also very receptive to businesses that are involved with that industry. It is more important to have a well-communicated, intelligent argument supported by fact and industry rather than dozens of form or repetitive letters that say the same thing over and over again.
  9. If these efforts fail, a lawsuit may be filed in an effort to reverse the implementation.

Be “Proactive” Not “Reactive” - Effective Strategies

Monitoring Avian Issues

  • Join the American Federation of Aviculture
  • Join local bird clubs and specialty organizations
  • Subscribe to bird industry magazines
  • Sign up to receive your state’s Department of Agriculture notices by e-mail
  • Sign up to receive e-mail notices from your legislators and representatives about topics of interest to you.
  • Sign up to receive the daily Federal Register by e-mail
  • Check your state’s legislative agenda (online) regularly.
  • Review the USDA and US Fish & Wildlife web-sites regularly.
  • Check your State Veterinarian’s web-site or, if available, sign up to receive e-mail notices.
  • Read your local daily newspaper to track local government regulations.
  • Check local government web-sites for information such as public meetings and proposed regulations.

Basic Principles for Success

  • Involve as many people as possible.
  • People that are involved should be relevant i.e., constituents for legislation, those that will be regulated for regulations.
  • Use experts, economic figures, scientific facts and other law to argue your point.
  • Convey a general message but use individual, personal comments.
  • Have a set goal in mind but be willing to compromise. Remember the old adage that ‘politics is the art of compromise’.
  • Be intelligent and shrewd enough to accept a great benefit even if one does not achieve everything wanted.
  • Also remember that "one who fights and walks away will be able to fight another day.”

Writing Letters, E-mail & Faxes - Basics

  • One of the most effective tools in communication.
  • Printed mailed letters are more impressive than e-mail especially with legislators.
  • E-mail can also be effective especially when received in great numbers or if there is not enough time to mail printed letters.
  • Letters may also faxed but a hard copy should also be mailed if time allows.
  • Form letters are not nearly as effective as well-written personalized letters.
  • Form letters may be effective in sheer numbers when dealing with legislators.
  • Never send form letters to regulators. They count as one message and usually do nothing more than end up in the trashcan.
  •  If you are a business or professional, always use letterhead and business stationary to write letters.
  • Use all professional titles as well as stating relevant positions or associations.
  • Be brief but specific and substantiate any position with facts and evidence.
  • Organizations and others can offer a position but writers should use their own words and ideas.

Writing Format

  • Reference the bill by name, number and the author’s name.
  • Have your return address and contact information; professional letterhead is better.
  • Be brief, concise and use facts and documentation to support your opinion.
  • Use a professional tone without accusatory or abusive language.
  • Name-calling, insults or intentional offenses will do more harm than good.
  • Be respectful and courteous.
  • Always refer to the legislator or agency agent with their proper title.
  • Always thank them for their time and attention.

Telephone Calls

  • Can be very effective, especially if following up a written communication.
  • Should be done by constituents or regulated entities.
  • Takes very little time.
  • Can be done by a great number of people, especially if communicated over the Internet.
  • Provide your name and contact information. State your opinion very briefly and quickly.
  • Do not argue or use offensive or abusive language.
  • Thank them for their time and attention.

Circulating Petitions

  • • Usually more effective when dealing with legislators instead of regulators as signatures equate with votes when they come from constituents. • The more people sign a petition, the more likely a politician will look upon it favorably. Valuable when dealing with local or state legislation. • Should be in writing NOT by e-mail. • Petition should reference the bill including number, name and author. • All signatories should be registered voters in that jurisdiction. • Signatories must provide their full address. • Signatories should print their name, sign and date the petition.

Personal Appearances

  • Better than well-written letters, telephone calls or signed petitions.
  • Attend scheduled public meetings or hearings, which are required to be published..
  • Schedule an appointment to meet with the appropriate representative.
  • Constituents may drop in on their legislative representative and meet with a staff member at any time.
  • Dress appropriately; no jeans or t-shirts. Look professional not sloppy.
  • Groups may show solidarity by wearing buttons or pins.
  • Bring all reference materials and have them organized prior to the meeting.
  • Arrive at the meeting early and bring something on which to take notes.
  • If speaking, sign in ahead of time, step up when asked and provide documentation when appropriate. Be sure and bring enough copies for all representatives.
  • Have your thoughts written down but refrain from reading your speech verbatim.
  • Speak clearly and calmly and try to engage the representatives with eye contact.
  • It may be helpful to tell a joke or engage in lightly humorous comments but be sure and not say anything offensive or off color.
  •  Limit your speech to the appropriate amount of time allowed.
  • Thank the representatives for the opportunity to present your views.
  • Be prepared to answer any questions.

Important Points To Communicate.

  • Emphasize support of the economy
    • Revenue to the economy from the industry itself
    • Employment opportunities for workers
    • Payment of taxes – sales, property & income taxes
    • Support of other industries
      • Farming
      • Metal and Plastic Manufacturing
      • Airlines & Shipping Companies including Post Office
      • Trucking Industries
      • Hospitality Industry (bird shows and conventions)
      • Veterinary & Medical Industries
  • Educational contributions
    • Visiting schools and educating children on proper bird care & conservation
    • AFA gives a welfare & husbandry badge for the scouts
    • The National Cage Bird Show awards educational scholarships to children
    • Many bird clubs provide grants to veterinary students
    • Continuing education of bird owners & breeders at conventions & bird shows
  • Charitable contributions
    • Conservation grants by avian organizations & industries
    • Support of breeding cooperatives to preserve rare & endangered species
    • Fundraising to support veterinary & conservation projects
    • Organizations work in countries to preserve and protect native species
    • AFA sends a representative to CITES meetings
  • Law enforcement
    • Fights bird smuggling
    • Promotes safe and legal import of birds
    • Works to prevent and apprehend bird thieves
    • Educates the avian community on avian laws and regulations
  • Disease control or outbreak
    • Provide expert testimony from biologists and veterinarians
    • Clubs can disseminate information to the avian community
    • Industry promotes biosecurity and in home quarantine
    • Organizations can recommend cancellation of bird shows & marts
    • Will work with authorities to provide compliance information to avian community

Getting the Word Out

Information including sample letters, petitions and hearing notices can be distributed via:

  • Bird club journals and newsletters
  • Specialty societies and national organizations
  • Bird shows and marts
  • Bird club meetings
  • Avian conventions and seminars
  • Veterinary clinics
  • Pet shops and pet supply stores
  • Pet and avian industry magazines and publications
  • Cage manufacturers
  • Food companies
  • Suppliers of breeder equipment
  • Internet
    • Facebook
    • Web sites
    • Newsgroups
    • Chat rooms
    • E-mail