Senate moves to move lobbyists out. But is it a good move, or does it limit public access?

From tonight at ArgusLeader.com, it sounds as if there’s a move afoot to push lobbyists out of the Senate chamber areas:

State Senate leaders are proposing new rules that would block lobbyists from the chamber and adjacent hallways during working hours.

Supporters of the rule change said lobbyists on the floor and in the hallway to one side of the chamber have become too much of a distraction. The committee deferred action Thursday but is likely to take up the proposal again next week.

and…

At least one member of the committee, Sen. Terri Haverly, R-Rapid City, said she wasn’t sure why the panel was taking up the debate Thursday.

“I don’t have a problem saying, ‘Leave me alone,’ so I don’t know why we need this,” she said.

The committee is set to reconvene as early as Tuesday to vote on the proposal. After the panel decides whether to adopt the rule change, Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, will have the authority to implement it as he sees fit.

Greenfield following the meeting told reporters that he would likely restrict state employee lobbyists during the full work day, as that is what senators have supported, and would restrict private lobbyists during the three hours before floor session, during session and in the hour following unless they have an invitation. He said if any problems developed that he would loosen the restrictions.

Read it here.

I read that story tonight with some mixed feelings.

In years’ past, there has been some discussion around moving many of the state employees/agency lobbyists or “blue badges” out, as many legislators see that as an encroachment of the executive branch upon their turf. They feel that branch of government is powerful enough without swarming the 3rd & 4th floors with their numbers.

But as noted in the story, pushing out other lobbyists…. well, that’s a bit more of an issue. Yes, there are industry lobbyists who try to get legislators to pass bills designed to help the company line. But there are also other lobbyists who want to have their say.

So, should legislators push out representatives for Right to Life from the hallway next to their chamber? Or the Concerned Women of America?  Or in the case of a group that I and other parents formed for the purposes of having our voices efficiently and collectively heard – should they kick the “Parents for Autism Insurance Reform” out of that side of the capitol because we organized as a group?

Absolutely not.  In fact, it’s a bit of an affront to citizen groups large and small, many of whom are the envelope lickers and door knockers for the people who are talking about kicking us out.

Do what you have to do to assert your independence among the branches of government.   And when it comes to citizen groups, If you’re busy, just tell the people trying to talk to you. That’s ok. We can handle that. That’s just good manners.

But don’t throw citizen lobbyists out with the bathwater.

9 Replies to “Senate moves to move lobbyists out. But is it a good move, or does it limit public access?”

  1. Anonymous

    Sounds like the new senate leadership has a problem with actually doing their jobs and having to be present….

  2. grudznick

    Boot the whole kaboodle. The senate leadership is already being so petty, can you imagine the entertainment we are yet to witness when the important business begins! This could be delightful.

  3. Anonymous

    Registered lobbyists have no place being on the floor of either chamber during legislative session. Period. Our citizen legislature is very, very accessible outside their chambers. The lobbyist class sound like entitled brats for complaining about this change.

    Most citizens and voters see this move as a positive. It’s a step in the right direction at preventing more IM22 type boondoggles from occurring at the ballot box.

    1. Anonymous

      They aren’t allowed on the chamber floor during session now. The discussion is whether to kick them out of the hallway.

        1. Anonymous

          Exactly. I could see the hallway being a compromise position, but the floor should be closed to registered lobbyists of any kind.

  4. Troy Jones

    Going back to my days as an intern and through my days as a state employee, I never understood why ANYONE can go onto the floor of either body except Legislative members and their employees at anytime without being invited and escorted by a member. That is their work space.

    With regard to closing the hallway/lobby on one side to lobbyists, I don’t understand the problem because Senators can avoid them by going on the floor or using the other hallway. As a citizen, I think giving them a place to congregate is better than them over-taking the areas open to the public (between the two bodies and stairways). This will have the effect of isolating the public to the galleries where members very seldom ever go. The Caucus might think they are acting against Lobbyists but in the end it is the average citizen who will suffer the consequences.

    With regard to “blue badges,” I find the idea funny. Anyone who thinks blue badges want to “hang-out” or stalk legislators is crazy. As much as possible, state employees would prefer to be in their offices doing their work. But, the minute we got to our offices we got another “request” (more like an order) to come to the Capitol to visit with a Legislator. As much as we didn’t like “hanging out” it was just more efficient to be there. We’d bring a pad of paper & stuff to read (now I’m sure it is an iPad) and try to do as much as we can so we didn’t have to work all night long getting our regular work done.

    That said, if they want to prohibit “blue badges” from the Hallway/Lobby, it is their call and no big deal. They’ll be somewhere in the Capitol doing their stuff and come running when asked.

  5. anon

    Troy is right on most of this. They should close the floor to everyone all day unless invited by a member seeking information. Also — one other decorum issue re: the floor — they should keep all food in their lobby. There are many legislative bodies that don’t allow food on the floor. I always thought it tacky and unprofessional for legislators to be eating during session proceedings.

    Re: the lobbies, one side should continue to be open to ‘lobby’ists. I can’t believe banning them from the lobby is even under consideration. PP is right — it will just push more lobbying into back rooms and evening dinners. Not a good idea.

    Finally, on the issue of blue badges. I suspect times have changed since Troy was in state government. I’m sure they would prefer to be at their desk — but they are not running to the Capitol because of so many legislator requests. They often arrive in a herd and lobby all morning long. Imagine 4 or 5 people from one department showing up and camping out — that’s why legislators are tired of it.

  6. Troy Jones

    Anon,

    Maybe things have changed but maybe not. We had a DAILY staff meeting during session that started at 7 a.m. where we went through the legislative agenda, all the notes from legislators for my boss to be at the capital, and then divided the work. Most days, it took more than one Division Director to spend most of the day there. Legislators didn’t give us a time and set an appointment. Basically, we “hung out” until the Legislator found the time to talk to us.

    With 105 legislators, five requests a day would be a light day. If I had a dollar for every time a Legislator chewed me out because it wasn’t my boss there (who often times was out of town), I’d be rich.

    That said, I can really see the advent of technology makes it easier for “blue badges” to just decide its easier to “hang out.” We had maybe five computers down in what was then called the Lt. Gov’s office we could log in and do work but when that was taken, we went back to our office because our work didn’t stop when the legislature was in office. All I want to say, I can’t imagine they are hanging out because they want to.

    And as much as I dreaded spending a significant part of my day “hanging out,” I did it willingly (and only complaint to my boss why it couldn’t be someone else) because I considered us all on the same team (wanting good government and desiring what is best for the citizenry). If decision makers wanted input from my office, they deserved it and in a timely manner. Frankly, I’m envious “blue badges” have the technology available to them as “hanging out” would have made it so much less inefficient and onerous.