Under the Gold Dome
Writing this article, I think back to the old Schoolhouse Rock videos on how a bill becomes a law. Most people are familiar with the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. These levels exist on both the federal and state levels. In New Jersey, the executive branch is the Governor’s office and cabinet, and the judicial branch is comprised of the state court system, with the New Jersey State Supreme Court sitting at the top. There are two houses of the legislature: the Senate and the Assembly. New Jersey is divided up into 40 legislative districts, each of which has one senator and two assemblypersons. A list of legislators by district is available at www.njleg.state.nj.us. State Senators are elected to office every four years and Assembly people every two years.
So, what can a CPA expect when contacting a legislative office? Legislators are very busy people. It is basically like tax season for them the entire year.
The legislative term lasts two years. On even numbered years, both houses reorganize and elect a leader. The Senate elects a president, and the Assembly elects a speaker. Both positions preside over their respective houses and have the authority to post bills (or not) and appoint committee members, among other powers. Any member may propose a bill to be enacted as law; that member is referred to as the prime sponsor. Other members may co-sponsor the bill to show their support. When a bill is proposed, it can be referred to one of the standing committees of the house for consideration. The committee can discuss it, hold hearings where experts or members of the public testify, revise language in the bill, and refer it back to the floor of the house for a vote. If a bill introduced during the legislative term does not move out of committee or otherwise get voted on by the end of the term, it is said to have “died” and will only be considered again if the bill is reintroduced the following term. In order for a bill to become a law, it must pass both the Assembly and the Senate and be signed by the Governor.
The legislative committees of particular interest to CPAs and their clients are Commerce and Labor. The Commerce Committee undertakes matters of the licensing and regulation of business in the state. The Labor Committee deals with employment laws and practices. At any given time, one can see bills under consideration by the committees on the legislature’s website. The NJCPA also posts items of current legislative interest on its website at njcpa.org/advocacy.
Interacting with the Legislature
Legislators receive hundreds of calls, letters and emails each week from their constituents on a range of topics including feedback on state laws that need to be implemented or changed or for help interacting with state agencies. Each legislative office has support staff that deal in each of these areas.
Here are some best practices when contacting the legislature:
- Identify the elected Senator and Assemblypeople that represent the area in which you live or do business at www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp.
- Research the issue beforehand to determine if it is already on the Legislature’s radar or if it is a new issue.
- Call the representative’s office. For routine matters, this may be all that is needed.
- Follow up with a letter to the office.
- Use plain language. In communicating on the phone and in email, avoid using technical language that only CPAs may use.
- Be specific with the type of action you are seeking. Do you want a new law enacted or an existing law changed?
- Determine who else the issue impacts. If it affects other CPAs in the state check in with the NJCPA Legislative Action Center at njcpa.org/advocacy for the latest updates on the issue. Issues of most concern to CPAs are often matters of tax, budget and economic policy.
- Gather relevant data points to support your position. Eye-catching statistics can help your representatives communicate the issue to their colleagues.
- If the issue isn’t in the NJCPA Legislative Action Center, contact NJCPA Government Relations Director Jeff Kaszerman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.