Get Ready for Advocacy in 2020

The second half of the 2019 – ­2020 legislative session begins January 14, when legislators return to Columbia to work on funding state government and passing the laws governing South Carolina.

SC State House

The General Assembly plays a critical role in regulating and funding the activities of local government. As with each session, there will be critical issues for cities and towns under consideration, creating a need for local officials to stay involved and engage their legislators. Two of the Municipal Association's Advocacy Initiatives for the two-year cycle have already been achieved in 2019 — the General Assembly passed the bill providing improved funding reliability for municipalities from the Local Government Fund, and the state budget included $3.2 million in recurring funding for the SC Criminal Justice Academy, which can help decrease wait times for admitting new officers.

One initiative remains — flexibility with hospitality and accommodations tax. In the last session, the Senate passed S217, which gives municipalities the ability to use revenues from these taxes to control and repair flooding and drainage in tourist-related areas. S217 is now in the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration, but advocacy efforts from cities and towns in the coming year can help it cross the finish line.

Staying informed
The Municipal Association provides local leaders with several vital ways to know what's going on and get involved with their legislators. Find all of these below.

From the Dome to Your Home provides the easiest and fastest way to learn more. It is a weekly recap email on Friday during the legislative session on all legislative activity that can impact municipalities, including suggested action steps. The website provides subscription signup and the archive of past issues.

The City Quick Connect podcast also includes From the Dome to Your Home content with added discussion from the legislative team available every Monday during the legislative session.

The South Carolina Municipal Officials and Legislative Directory  now allows for searching for municipality by representative and senator, showing which municipalities are in the district of each legislator.

Communicating with legislators
Local officials wanting to gain a grasp on how to communicate effectively with their lawmakers can learn more in the Municipal Association's advocacy handbook, Raising Hometown Voices to a New Level of Influence. The biggest takeaway is the importance of establishing a relationship with the local legislative delegation before asking for something.

"It's critical to establish the relationship before you make 'the ask' and then to stay in touch, even at those times when you don't need anything," said Casey Fields, the Municipal Association's manager for municipal advocacy. "Find ways to involve your legislative delegation in events in your hometown. Invite them to attend council meetings, ribbon cuttings and other special events."

To be effective, Fields said, local officials need to make contact early and often.

"Make it personal. Be accurate and make your point. Be sure of your facts and don't exaggerate," she said. Always give the local angle and include examples of how a particular issue helps or hurts your city or town. Meet in person and make phone calls when possible, write letters when necessary, but never form letters. Always follow up on interactions, since hundreds of others are contacting the same legislator."

Finally, Fields said to never to be afraid to ask for action. "If you are talking about a specific bill, ask if your legislator will vote no or yes. Be honest, be accurate and be efficient. These tips and your winning personality will always prove effective in communicating with your legislative delegation on behalf of your city or town."

Legislative terms

These are a few terms from the glossary of important terms in the Raising Hometown Voices to a New Level of Influence guide.

Act – legislation enacted into law. A bill passed by both houses of the General Assembly, enrolled, ratified, signed by the governor or passed over the governor's veto or becomes law without signature. An act is a permanent measure having the force of law until repealed.

Bill – a draft of a proposed law presented to the legislature for consideration.

Caucus – an informal meeting of a group of the members of the House of Representatives or Senate with a common interest.

Committee – members appointed to consider and recommend disposition of bills, resolutions and other related matters.

Sponsor – legislator who introduces a bill, amendment or resolution. A bill can have multiple sponsors.

The Municipal Association's Hometown Legislative Action Day, a time to learn more about legislative issues and meet with representatives and senators, will take place in Columbia on February 4.