How A Bill Becomes Law

American Farrier's Journal | 2007

Government regulation of farriers is a hot topic everywhere. Amazingly, most farriers I've spoken with do not have an understanding of how an idea becomes a law. Without this basic knowledge, it would be impossible to mount an effective counter if legislation was ever proposed. If you are going to enter into the war, you had better understand the rules of engagement.

In 1991 the State of California dropped the hammer on private universities, colleges and vocational schools. In the next four years, fees became unbearable and the Gestapo tactics of the government closed 1300 of the 3200 schools. We were being regulated to extinction. Among other things, the law was written so a school could not teach someone to be self-employed. In 1995 my school was marked for closure and I decided to fight back.

When I set out to fight this Goliath, I truly felt like David. I was as naive as anyone about how government works. I was one guy, with one of the smallest vocational schools left in California, and I was going to take on a state agency. Boy, did I get an education! This article reflects my 'experiences' in the alien world of politics and I'm here to tell you that David really did slay Goliath. It was done with hard work, dedication and a knowledge of the system.

How an idea becomes a law.

Let's walk through an imaginary state and see how the process works.

We are now in the State of Confusion. The capitol of the State of Confusion is the City of Mayhem. Confusion is a liberal state and its politicians feel that it is government's obligation to see that nothing bad ever happens to any of its citizens.

But Confusion is like the rest of the world and sometimes bad things happen. And when something bad does happen, the press run through the streets yelling, "A Crisis is coming! A Crisis is coming!" This is the signal for a politician to grab the nearest microphone and announce that the grand State of Confusion will not tolerate bad things happening and a law will be passed preventing this bad thing from ever happening again.

Little Sally has a horse named Brownie. She has just adopted Brownie through the Government's Wild Horse Program. She loves Brownie and worries constantly about his health and well-being. Brownie is in need of a trim and shoes and Sally sets forth to find a farrier. She calls farriers and asks the two most important questions a horseowner can ask: "How much do you charge?" and "How soon can you get here?" It just so happens that the guy who charges the least can get there the soonest (imagine that) and so Brownie is scheduled for a shoeing.

Needless to say the shoeing was a disaster. Brownie sat back and broke his lead rope and suffered cuts and bruises. On top of that, the farrier drove a hot nail. Brownie was suffering and Sally was very, very upset. Her father called the farrier and wanted to know how someone so incompetent could be allowed to shoe horses. When he found out that farriers were unlicensed and unregulated, he said, "There oughta be a law!" And with that exclamation, he wrote his State Senator.

Senator Ted Tipsey is a man of deep compassion and caring. When he received the letter from Sally's father, he was outraged that anyone could be conducting business in the State of Confusion without government oversight, regulation or approval. Senator Tipsey called a press conference and with a lame Brownie on one side and a weeping Sally on the other announced his bill to license and regulate farriers in the State of Confusion. Never again would a Brownie have to suffer because of an unlicensed farrier.

The newspaper in the Capital City of Mayhem is the Daily Hysterics. The Daily Hysterics sent reporters around the countryside looking for stories. Headlines read, "Crisis in Animal Care Grips State" and "Horse owners Frozen With Fear, Will Their Horse Be Next?" Farriers read the paper and complained loudly…to each other.

Senator Ted Tipsey is the author of the Bill to License Farriers. The Senator requests that the idea be drafted into a bill by a Legislative Service Bureau (all states have something like this but with a variety of names). This Bureau actually puts Senator Tipsey's idea into legaleeze. When the text of the bill is published, it is called the first reading. Everyone who wants a copy can now request one. The President of the Senate assigns it a Bill number (let's say SB 99 (Senate Bill 99)) and a committee. This bill can be assigned to the Consumer Protection Committee or the Agriculture Committee, it's up to the President of the Senate. Horseshoers would prefer the Agriculture Committee, but they're not around.

SB 99 is then referred to the Consumer Protection Committee. This is a fifteen-member committee and, since the Democrats control the Senate, there are eight Democrats and seven Republicans. The State of Confusion's Concerned Horse owner's Association has their members write letters and visit all fifteen members of the Committee, asking that they vote in favor of SB 99. The letters are filled with stories of bad farriers and lame horses. Unfortunately the farriers are unorganized and do not respond.

Most of the committee members know nothing about horses or horseshoeing, so they must rely on information provided to them by those who take the time to visit their offices and testify before their committee. The Animal Rights activists show up in large numbers and have statistical data to prove their points. "Nine out of every ten horse owners have been unhappy with a farrier at sometime". "More that half of all horse owners have been concerned about their farriers at one time or another" Through their organization these concerned folks have established relationships with some of the Senator's over the years. They get into meetings because they have established themselves as the 'experts' in this area.

If the farriers would have been organized they may have been able to defeat SB 99 in committee. Committee members think that everyone is in favor of this bill because there isn't much opposition. The bill is passed 15 to 0 and it now has momentum. It goes into it's second reading.

Now Animal Right Groups, Horse owner Groups and all other interested groups seek amendments to change SB 99 so that it reflects their concerns. As the author, Senator Ted Tipsey can accept or refuse any amendments so the "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" begins in earnest. Special interest groups tell Senator Ted that if he includes their amendment they will get 'their' senators to vote in favor of SB 99. Senator Ted will only take amendments if they translate into votes. Because the farriers are unorganized and mostly silent, they have little impact on the bill. Senator Ted can boast to his colleagues that his bill is so wonderful that it is not meeting any opposition. He collects votes long before the bill reaches the floor.

All the amendments are in and SB 99 goes into the third reading and on to the floor of the Senate. Here, it is debated by the members, but positions have already been established and this dialogue is for public consumption and rarely affects the vote. Senator Tipsey has already worked his backroom negotiations. "If you support my bill, I'll not only support your bill but I'll guarantee Senator Payoff's support as well."

The floor vote is taken in, the Senate and SB 99 passes. It now goes to the House (or Assembly). The Speaker of the House assigns SB 99 to the appropriate committee. Now the farriers have decided that they must do something. Individually, they contact some of the House committee members and complain that they don't like the idea of being regulated. Why? "Well…it'll make the prices for shoeing go up... or down. It'll drive shoers out of business. Mechanics are regulated and there's still bad mechanics!" Not very persuasive.

Representative Foghorn Filibuster would love to help farriers, but they can't seem to get themselves organized in time. The Animal Rights Groups and the Horse owner's Associations have long-term relationships with House members so they get heard. They tell Representative Foghorn that if he votes against this bill, they will oppose him at his next election. Foghorn wonders if farriers vote? No one knows and farriers have never been active in any campaign, so Foghorn decides to fade.

The Sally's show up with heart wrenching stories of bad farriers and SB 99 passes out of the Committee and onto the floor. A few amendments are added to insure enough "yes" votes and the bill is scheduled for a floor vote.

Now the farriers are upset. They decide to drive around the Capital Building in their shoeing rigs honking their horns in protest on the day of the floor vote. But the die is cast long before the floor vote. Representatives have been contacted by organized groups and deals have been cut. The bill wins a majority vote. Because there were a few amendments, SB 99 goes back to the Senate, but this is just a formality. Within a day, the Senate votes for SB 99 and it goes to the Governor's desk.

The Governor signs the bill because he wants people to know that he cares about animals and consumers. The State of Confusion now has a new bureaucracy. Farriers are really upset and they sit around in small groups complaining.

What can farriers do?

If you think that your state might take up the issue of regulation in the future your farrier association needs to get politically Here are a few "must do's" for those associations:

  1. Your association needs to identify one or two influential and sympathetic members of either chamber and start establishing a relationship. It is extremely difficult to develop a relationship after legislation begins. Republicans are traditionally sympathetic to small businesses but do not neglect the conservative Democrats. To effectively kill a bill in committee or on the floor, you need votes from both sides of the aisle. When the fight begins, you will need a 'champion' to help pave the way.
  2. Campaign contributions are important. Unless you live in a cave, everyone has read or heard of the impact of money in politics. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, it is a political reality. Donations should be made on behalf of the Association. Politicians remember the first contributions and the last.
  3. The association should appoint an individual to act as the liaison between the legislature and the association. This is essential. There needs to be an 'expert' that carries the message of the farriers to the politicians. This individual should make sure that he/she is contacted anytime there is pending legislation that may affect the association. He/she needs to attend fundraisers on behalf of the Association for the appropriate legislators. The internet is a good way to monitor bills. You can search most state bill rooms by subject matter.
  4. Beware of appointing someone that will compromise the association's stand. It is easy to get caught up in politics and 'deals' are a way of life. By definition, politicians have the power of persuasion.

  5. Associations should start a government action fund and keep it in reserve. Donations and fundraisers should be held to add to this fund. If you need to fight legislation, it will take money and there usually isn't time to raise money once legislation starts.
  6. Understand that farriers and farrier associations will not be able to win the public debate. Animal Rights Groups and Horse Associations will have the moral high ground. There is no effective argument to counter the emotional stories of the Sally's of the world. When it comes to these debates, the argument will be structured so that those who oppose regulation hate animals and don't care if the consumer gets ripped off.
  7. If you remain with your head in the sand and then try at the last minute to mount an effective campaign you will fail. To open doors that you have not greased will require a professional lobbyist. A good lobbyist can cost $500 to $1000 per week! This amount is out of the reach of farrier associations.
  8. Realize that for every 200 angry and upset farriers, you may get one that will actually join the fight and commit to the long haul. They will cheer you on and tell you how great you are, but they will be very reluctant to give up their time, energy or money. If you think recruiting help for clinics and conventions is difficult, wait until a legislative battle begins.
  9. Above all, do not throw your hands in the air and think that nothing can be done. This is spiritual and intellectual laziness. The system works for those with passion and conviction. I found that most legislators are happy to hear from their constituents on issues that are out of the ordinary and are even desirous of their input. Do not expect your legislator to vote your way if you haven't taken the time to educate them about your issue. If you want your government to be responsive, get involved!

About the author: Bob Smith is the owner of Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in Sacramento, California. Bob was appointed to California's Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education (CPPVE) by the Speaker of the California Assembly in 1996. The CPPVE was a fifteen-member council that regulated all private universities, colleges and vocational schools in California. Bob was instrumental in a two year legislative fight that led to the closing of the state agency on December 31 | 2097 and to a severe reduction of fees and regulations for all private universities, colleges and vocational schools in California. He testified many times before numerous Assembly and Senate Committees and was selected to represent vocational schools in closed-door negotiations between the Senate, Assembly and Governors Office.