Lobby Legislators on Critical Issues at Washington GAC
January 26, 2012
January 26, 2012
Washington credit union leaders are encouraged to kick off the month of February at the State Capitol at the Northwest Credit Union Association’s (NWCUA) Washington Governmental Affairs Conference (WGAC). The WGAC offers a crash course in legislative advocacy, followed by the immediate opportunity to put that knowledge to use in face-to-face meetings with legislators.
According to Mark Minickiello, vice president of legislative affairs for the NWCUA, coordinated advocacy efforts like the WGAC are critical to the well-being and growth of the credit union movement.
“Every year, our state legislature passes laws that will have an effect on credit unions,” Minickiello said. “It’s important to be a part of that process to ensure credit unions are fairly represented. Our annual state GAC affords us the opportunity to educate a lot of legislators about pending legislation that would have an effect on credit unions—all at the same time.”
The three-day WGAC agenda begins with a “Pizza and Politics” dinner on Wednesday, Feb. 1, in which Minickiello will give a briefing on the most important current legislative issues. Thursday’s intense schedule includes further updates, briefings and trainings from the NWCUA legislative affairs team, with visits with legislators occupying the afternoon. The event is capped by the Anchor Awards Breakfast on Friday morning.
But more important than any one agenda item is what the WGAC represents as a whole: an opportunity to show the size and strength of the credit union movement in the Northwest while laying the groundwork for future advocacy.
“Legislative hill visits are of prime importance during the state GAC,” he said. “When we can send 100 people to the Capitol to meet with their legislators simultaneously on one afternoon, we meet our goal of educating a large number of legislators. But it also makes a statement. Credit unions are paying attention, and credit unions get involved. It makes us part of the political fabric at the Capitol. So when representatives from our Association meet with a legislator or testify on a bill, that legislator knows who we are there representing.”
“Our main piece of legislation this year would allow public entities to deposit funds at any credit union in our state up to the level of federal insurance,” Minickiello said. “Currently, only state-chartered credit unions are approved depositaries for up to $100,000. This year’s state GAC would be a success if, when our legislation comes up for discussion in the caucus room or on the House or Senate floor, legislators already know about the issue and have just heard from credit union people in their district who want them to vote ‘yes.’”
While the events of last fall have already resulted in unprecedented attention and coverage for credit unions around the nation, Minickiello stressed that now is the time to capitalize on that heightened awareness and leverage the growing power of the credit union movement.
“Most legislators will clear their calendar if possible to meet with constituents coming to visit them in Olympia,” Minickiello said. “Especially credit union people! They know how important their credit unions are to their communities and their constituents, and if they don’t, a hill visit is the perfect time to let them know. They want to know how businesses and employers in their district feel about legislation that they may be asked to vote on.
“And we have seen an invigorated interest in credit unions since the Occupy movement began and since Bank Transfer Day. Lots of legislators are asking what they can do to help credit unions. We tell them, pass our public funds bill!”
The idea of jumping into the political arena and of sitting down with state legislators can be an intimidating one, and learning the intricacies of legislative advocacy can sound like a daunting task. But Minickiello explained that the WGAC is the ideal time for credit union leaders to make their voices heard, whether they are seasoned veterans or making their first trip to the Capitol.
“I’d just like to say to anyone who feels like the State GAC is too scary, don’t be scared,” Minickiello said. “When you get right down to it, legislators and people just like us. They ran for the legislature to help people—just like many of you do every day working at your credit union. Sign up for the conference, come to my Pizza and Politics briefing the night before we get started, and at the end, you’ll likely go home with a renewed interest and confidence in our political system.”