KINGMAN - When the Arizona Legislature meets for the 51st legislative session beginning in January, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors wants to be ready to actively and closely follow its progress.
That's why the Board is planning to hire someone to keep track of House and Senate bills once they start moving through the process. Supervisor Buster Johnson, District 3, placed the issue on a recent meeting agenda so the Board could consider it before the new legislative session takes off.
The county had a lobbyist, Mike Williams & Associates of Phoenix, and paid $75,000 annually to the firm about 12 years ago, but hasn't had one since.
"Now is obviously the time to discuss hiring someone from the Phoenix area, such as a lobbying firm, not to lobby on our behalf but to monitor legislation and keep us informed on a daily basis," said Johnson. "It wouldn't be cheap, but it would allow us to decide if we want to vote for or against something. We don't seem to be getting the timely reports on legislation that affects our pocketbooks."
The Board agreed this week to send the issue back to staff for a recommendation as soon as possible on whether to hire a part-time employee, contract with a lobbying firm or put together a job description for a full-time employee that includes legislative liaison and other functions. No date has been set for discussing the recommendation.
Legislative sessions usually last between 100 and 120 days, said Johnson, and an established lobbying firm with other customers would charge $2,000 or $3,000 a month for the job. Johnson said whoever takes the job would need to live in Phoenix during that time and be in the halls of the statehouse as the activity unfolds. They must have a good working knowledge of the players and know who will tell them the status of various bills, he added.
Supervisor Hildy Angius, District 2, agreed with Johnson about the need for someone to monitor bills during the session and said she liked his idea of hiring a part-time lobbyist to serve as a fact finder. Angius said the Board has been mulling over the idea for the past few months and how to go about it so it won't be so expensive for the county.
"One of the most frustrating things for me since I've been here is what Supervisor Johnson is saying, that we seem to find things out after the fact," said Angius. "That's been detrimental to the whole county. These bills change on a minute-to-minute basis sometimes, and to have someone there say, 'Hey, heads up' and 'You've got to get down here' is what we've been missing."
But Chairman Gary Watson, District 1, offered another suggestion. Instead of hiring a Phoenix firm, he said, a local person could monitor the bills in Phoenix during the legislative session and keep the Board informed. Watson said the Board found itself at odds with the former lobbying firm on various issues, which made for a difficult relationship.
"This has been an item I'm concerned about, too," said Watson. "Things change down there by the hour sometimes. What I've thought about is hiring a person here for that job and possibly some other jobs who would be a special projects person. There are several projects that I'd love to have someone work on. The Legislature is only supposed to act for about 100 days, so we can't hire a person just for that. But if we tie in some other jobs, it would work."
Supervisor Steven Moss, District 5, agreed with Watson and seconded his motion. Moss said legislative bills are constantly posted on the Internet, so instead of sending an employee to Phoenix, that person could remain in Kingman and be in charge of monitoring the progress and any changes to the bills on a computer and letting the Board know.
"I really liked the chairman's suggestion that we send this back to staff and have this idea tweaked a little bit because I think what Supervisor Johnson and Supervisor Angius have identified is absolutely correct," said Moss. "We are finding out about problems after they have already arisen instead of when they're in the making and if we knew, we could intervene and nip them in the bud instead of spending time and resources trying to undo the explosion."