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  • Writer's pictureMichael S. O'Brien

Regulatory Tracking... Just Do It!

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

This blog post is a modified version of a was originally posted on BillTrack50's

Regulatory advocacy is the most misunderstood, most complex and, often, the most neglected area of state government relations work. And yet, it is probably the most important area of state government relations work.

Regulatory affairs often focuses on compliance and ensuring companies or professionals follow the rules and guidelines the state sets out. However, compliance is actually the second half of the battle. Companies and professionals have the opportunity to impact those rules before they become final and part of the regulatory code.

State lobbyists too-often focus solely on the legislative cycle. However, depending on the subject and scope of the legislation, the signing ceremony in the governor’s office can be only the beginning.

Regulatory advocacy is complex. Regulatory changes are difficult to track. Finding relevant changes in one or two registers might not be so hard, but what about 50. Regulatory changes are non-linear, so unlike most states’ legislative processes, they are hard to follow. They don’t have a set time to finish, the can take months or years, often much longer than the legislative cycle in their state. Regulatory advocacy requires a delicate balance, especially if you are in a heavily regulated industry. Being on the opposite side of regulators might lead to compliance or product registration issues down the line.

Here are some tips to successfully navigate the world of regulatory affairs:

• Start Early • Track! Track! Track! • Integrate with Your Compliance Team • Know Your Regulators • Don’t Miss Deadlines • Don’t Go With Fire and Brimstone Messaging • Get Involved With Regulatory Groups and Association

Start Early. I start thinking about rules during the legislative process. I meet with regulators that will have oversight of how legislation will be interpreted and implemented. This helps me to gauge if there is a division between the legislature and the administration, and what I can fix or what I need to protect during the rule process. That can even help my legislative effort. Knowing where regulators stand on important legislation allows me to push regulators to advise, support or oppose legislation when it helps me to meet my legislative goals.

Track! Track! Track! Tracking two registers might seem easy, and maybe even tracking 50 might be doable, if states did anything the same way. However, in reality state use a mix of registers, bulletins, websites, and newspapers to make regulatory announcements. Some states still use non-searchable PDFs, adding another layer of difficulty. My advice is to use BillTrack50. Its keyword search engine ensures you catch your issues whenever they come up, even when they come up in non-traditional regulatory agencies.

Integrate with Your Compliance Team. As I stated earlier, advocacy and compliance strike a delicate balance. The advocacy side of regulatory affairs often has different goals – sometimes diametrically opposed goals – from compliance or registration teams. That makes it more important that those teams work together, share information, to agree on messaging and stick to it, and to leverage every contact either team has with regulators. Nothing is worse for an advocacy effort – legislative or regulatory – than advocates from representing the same organization going to decision makers with opposing messages.

Know Your Regulators. Regulatory advocacy, like legislative advocacy, is a game of relationships. The stronger the relationship, the easier it is to gain access to real decision-makers and the easier it is to influence those key decision makers. I always try to meet with my regulators once per year. Anytime I am in a state capital, I make time to meet with regulators. It is that important.

Don’t Miss Deadlines. Deadlines truly matter in regulatory advocacy. If an agency posts that comments must be in by a certain date and time to be considered, anything past that deadline will not be considered. No matter how important or relevant your argument is, it won’t matter. Even if you have talked to regulators about your issue before the hearing or comments are due, if it is not in writing, it doesn’t exist.

Don’t Use or Encourage Fire and Brimstone Messaging! Regulatory advocacy is different than legislative advocacy. You have a different audience. You are usually dealing with lawyers or professionals that know the ins and outs of the law or regulatory code. Emotional messages and stories rarely work as well as well-formed arguments based on fact and real-life examples. Your message should always cite specific sections of code and discuss specific issues with the code or the changes that are being proposed.

Get Involved With State Regulatory Groups and Associations. For every regulated industry or regulatory category, there is an organization or association where those regulators meet and discuss the state of that industry or best practices within it. From those with a wide scope, such as the National Association of State Medicaid Directors to the mundane, such as the American Association of Plant Food Control Officials. There is even a National Coalition of State Sexually Transmitted Disease Directors. Attending those meetings is a lot easier than showing up 50 different state capitals. Participating in those meetings gives you insight on regulatory changes that might be coming, and a chance to educate those officials about your position, and why your issues are important.I hope that sheds a little light on the importance of regulatory affairs and gives you some good ideas for how to get started.

If you still have questions about regulatory advocacy, contact us at Alternatively, Michael O'Brien will be leading two free webinars hosted by our tracking partner, BillTrack50. Register for the two webinars here.

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