Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze & Observer 10-31-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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4 CHAMBER OF COMMERCE OCTOBER-31-NOVEMBER 6, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE Q & A with the Chamber's Legislative Lobbyist Forry What is your role at the NRICC? I am the Legislative Lobbyist for the NRI Chamber and I serve as the Legislative Liaison to the Chamber of Commerce Coalition. For the past several years, it has been my honor to read hundreds of pieces of legislation, try to determine the potential positive and negative impacts of each one and then communicate that informa - tion to the Chamber president, board and membership in order to gain further, more detailed input. Working with the NRICC president, I basically do the same thing for the members of the Chamber Coalition. The Chamber Coalition is simply a group of Chamber of Commerce executives and chairs that meet on a monthly basis to discuss many state and federal issues affecting the state's business com - munity. As a lobbyist for business and Chamber members, what are you looking for, and when? Do you work with the General Assembly only during the session, or throughout the year? I'm looking for information as well as help in contacting legisla - tors. "When" is a more difficult question to answer definitively. My big "ask" to Chamber mem- bers would be to find out who your State Representative and State Senator are and then intro- duce yourself to those individu- als. Get to know how they vote on issues of importance to you. Help them understand how issues affect your business. Think about it. Most people don't know how the legislature works – well, legislators don't know how your business works either. The leg- islative session starts in January and usually continues through the end of June. Those hours can be long. The remainder of the year, lobbyists like me work on potential pieces of legislation for the upcoming session. Next year is an election year, so leg - islators will be busy on the cam- paign trail, meaning they likely won't start thinking about draft- ing bills until after the elections in September and November. What do the first few months of the session – January through March look like for you? What are you doing? I am doing a lot of reading in January and February. The bill filing deadline is usually around the second week of February, so hundreds of pieces of legislation will be filed in the first month and a half of the year. My associ - ate, Terry Martiesian, and I read each one, which can include a one-page bill or a 30-pager plus. I discuss those I think affect busi- ness with the Chamber President and we decide which ones warrant Board consideration or membership involvement. Each Friday and Saturday dur- ing the session I write "Under the Dome" and that is sent to Chamber members each Tuesday morning. I like to say "lobbyists are really researchers and teachers." We gather information on bills, understand each one's impacts and then meet with legislators to try to help them learn about the issues. There is no way a legislator can read and compre- hend all of the intricacies of what will end up being 2,000 bills or more each year. It's not fair to think that is possible. The com- mittees have some staff people who are very good, but even those staff members have no idea how a particular business operates. That's where lobbyists and Chamber members come in. We are the teachers. By March most lobbyists are working 60-70 hours a week. We testify at hear - ings and we attend many meet- ings to talk about issues. How do Chamber mem- bers keep up with your work? The best way is to read "Under the Dome" each week when it comes out. That publication will review pieces of legislation; pro- vide the dates, times and loca- tions for legislative hearings in the event a member wants to tes- tify on a bill; and I try to include an analysis of the proposed budget once it is released by the Governor's office in January. "Under the Dome" will also ask members to contact legislators at times. Members should always feel comfortable talking to their legislators – they don't have to wait for "Under the Dome" to request action. Also, watch your emails for special alerts from the Chamber. People hear stories about so much legislative work happening at the end of the session in June. What is that period of time like at the Statehouse? It is a crazy time – no ques - tion! But, I've worked in three different states and it is the same. I know it frustrates people, but it is still the best system we have. Rhode Island has made tremendous strides in making the end-of-session process more transparent. Hearings still are posted which was not the case many years ago. SubAs (pro - posed amended version of bills) are now, in most cases, online 24 hours before a vote. These procedures should provide the public with some notice and allow time to weigh in. The rea- son for this craziness is logical when you think about it. Most bills have multiple interested parties involved – each with their own passions. Those par- ties have likely been debating the bills for months; sometimes amicably, sometimes not quite so amicably. When the end of session is approaching, everyone involved feels the pressure to try to reach compromise if possible or face the issue again the fol- lowing year. That pressure can push a bill over the finish line or kill it. Is Rhode Island trending in the right or wrong direc- tion on the matter of being business friendly? That question is better directed toward other folks. As a lobby- ist I concentrate on each bill. So I guess you could say that I look at the trees, while it is up to someone else to look at the forest. Each year there are many bills filed that I would classify as business un-friendly; and many that are business-friendly. The House and Senate leadership have been very open to meeting with us to talk about the bills and have listened intently to the concerns of business, as have individual legislators. Meet Lenette Forry Lenette C. Forry has rep- resented corporations and business/trade associations in the legislative arena since 1988. She began her career as Government Affairs/ Communications Director of the Capitol Region Chamber of Commerce in Harrisburg, Penn. In 1989, she was recruited to handle the gov- ernment affairs program at the North Central, Mass., Chamber of Commerce. A year later she was hired as Executive Director to run the Northern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce in North Adams Mass. Then Massachusetts State Sen. Jane Swift asked Lenette to become her Chief of State where she directed policy review conducted by six staff members. In 1995, John Gregory hired Lenette to serve as the Government Affairs Director for the Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce, a position she held until she accepted the Rhode Island State Director position for the American Petroleum Institute. In 2000, Lenette fulfilled a life-long dream to attend law school; and four years later she opened her own law practice specializing in legislative rep- resentation as well as contract law. Ms. Forry graduated Cum Laude from Roger Williams University School of Law in 2004 and is a member of the Rhode Island Bar. She earned a B.A. in Government Administration with a minor in Economics from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. In 1993, she graduated from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Institute for Organizational Management" located at the University of Delaware. While working for cham- bers of commerce, including serving as the Government Affairs Director of the Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Forry cre- ated and staffed legislative subcommittees charged with evaluating legislation related to labor law, health care, tax issues, environmental efforts, and insurance policies. She created and authors a weekly legislative newsletter entitled "Under the Dome" which provides updates to the busi- ness community and to legis- lative officials. Ms. Forry was appointed to and serves as a member and vice chair of the Rhode Island Underground Storage Tank Review Board, a member of the R.I. Business Coalition and serves on various policy stakeholder groups. LENETTE C. FORRY

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