Lawmaking doesn’t stop during a pandemic. In fact, the work of lawmakers and lobbyists becomes, in many ways, more pressing than ever. With governments and their citizens facing the new challenge of life in a pandemic, lawmakers must find ways to continue serving their constituents. Also, lobbyists must continue to represent their causes and ideals.
Chris Micheli, adjunct professor at McGeorge School of Law and a principal with the Sacramento government relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, is continuing to lobby and engage with the legal processes of the California State Legislature throughout the pandemic. His experience informs his teaching at the McGeorge Capital Center for Law and the online Master of Science in Law (MSL) in Government Law & Policy program.
Micheli teaches both a Legislatures and Lawmaking course and a Lobbying and Politics course in the online program. He shares his first-hand experience of lobbying during the pandemic with his students.
“If you’ve had a chance to look at either the Senate Daily File or the Assembly Daily File,” says Micheli, “both state clearly that they are committed to facilitating the ability of the public to take part in legislative proceedings,” Micheli notes that there have been several procedural changes in response to the legislature’s attempt to balance this commitment to public access with the health and safety of both legislators and the public.
What has Changed
Before the pandemic, lobbyists and members of the public could freely enter the State House and visit legislative offices. They could visit the cafeteria for a meal or drop in on committee hearings. Now, new health and safety measures have made many of these interactions impossible, or at least more controlled.
Between April 16 and June 8, when the State Assembly and State Senate began some floor sessions, the only legislative business open to the public had been legislative committee hearings. Micheli has been attending these hearings since that first session in April.
In a recent podcast for the McGeorge Capital Center for Law and Policy, Micheli outlines the changes in procedure, such as the addition of screening questions and temperature checkpoints. The public, including lobbyists, is allowed in the building only on days when committee hearings are held. Some doors are locked. Many areas of the building are off-limits.
Even the process of giving testimony has changed. Senate sergeants must escort those who are giving testimony. Most people, including legislators, wear face coverings and maintain social distance during the hearing. Some committee staffers are not in the room at all but are listening via phone or video conference.
Similar health and safety measures are in place in statehouses and government buildings across the country. Under these conditions, the ability to communicate about legal issues, both in writing and verbally, becomes even more important. Many of the niceties are stripped away and lobbying interactions lose some of the personal touches. There are no opportunities for the casual conversations in the halls or over lunch that so often serve to strengthen professional relationships.
How an Online MSL Prepares Students for New Situations
The ability to be flexible, to adjust to changing procedures. Also, to still maintain professionalism goes a long way at times like these. Fortunately, students of an online MSL program hone those skills and more. They build expertise in lawmaking, regulation, election law, and lobbying. All this while studying online with instructors like Micheli, who are working in the real world of politics.
At a time when many courses are being forced online by the pandemic, the online MSL stands out as a program designed to be online. Students learn the nuances of government law and policy in web-optimized, largely asynchronous courses. They have the opportunity to build networks and connect with both fellow students. Also, they have that same opportunity to connect with experts already working in law and policy arenas.
“Hopefully at some point, we will be able to return to normal and we can go back to wandering the halls of the Capitol without any restrictions or escorts,” Micheli said.
In the meantime, Micheli and his fellow instructors will continue to share their experience and expertise with students. Online MSL students will be ready to engage in the political process no matter what changes and challenges the future holds.
For more information on the topic, visit Professor Micheli’s Podcast.
Find out if the online MSL in Government Law & Policy program is right for you.