Last month, ASHI’s state legislation consultant provided a review of trends and helpful tips for chapters working to influence home inspector-related legislation. This month, she shares how lobbyists help home inspectors recognize shifts in regulation momentum at the state level.
The Boy Scouts were right
One of the rules of lobbying is: If you are not actively involved, things will be done TO you, not FOR you. The Boy Scouts were right—BE PREPARED. If you already have a law regulating home inspectors in your state, expect changes to be proposed. If there is no law, now is the time for your chapter to determine its strategy. Will you propose a law (with the ASHI Position Statement as a model)?
Or will you oppose the introduction of any bill to regulate?
If you plan to oppose legislation, be ready to compromise. Be prepared for a shift in momentum. I have had the honor of lobbying for home inspectors in Wisconsin. For 10 years, ASHI members from Wisconsin were able to stop legislation championed by the real estate industry. But during each legislative session, the real estate industry representatives got a little bit closer to their goal. Part of my job, as the home inspectors’ lobbyist, was to advise them when the momentum shifted. When it did, we pushed for a compromise bill, and were successful in making the Wisconsin law considerably better than it would have been. The real estate interests did not get everything they wanted, and the Wisconsin law is now in the top tier of laws regulating home inspectors.
Over the years, I have come to know the battle cry of those who oppose all regulation. “Where’s the need?” “Show me the need for regulation of home inspectors?”
Unfortunately, need doesn’t matter. Not one of the laws regulating home inspectors was the result of a hue and cry from the masses. Not one of the laws on the books today was in response to dozens of consumers being ripped off by shoddy home inspectors. There’s not one example of a groundswell of public sentiment.
Why is that?
Because laws are not based on logic. They are founded in emotion. The need does not have to be real; a perceived need is enough.
All it takes is one legislator hearing from one lonely, unhappy constituent. One person who was unhappy with a home inspection can be enough motivation to get a bill drafted. If you are particularly unlucky, the constituent can be the staff member or relative of a legislator.
But, often, there is absolutely no one who has complained. All it takes is a call from the real estate association or the homebuilders who would like to see home inspectors regulated so that their liability is reduced.
Even worse, the introduction of a bill can be traced to one legislator, Representative Jones, who attends a conference and meets up with another legislator, Senator Smith, from another state. Guess what Senator Smith’s claim to fame was that year? Yep. License the home inspectors. Gee. I think we need to get that done in my state ,too. Got to protect the consumer, you know.
Don’t wait for a crisis
Network with all home inspectors in your state—not just the ASHI membership. Now is not the time to be an elitist.
There are far too many examples of bad legislation adopted because home inspectors in a state could not agree on what was best for the profession. If you have warring factions, legislators will throw up their hands and tell you to come back when you have worked things out. In the meantime, those who are interested in passing laws to protect their interests (not the interests of the consumers or the home inspectors) will have the upper hand. Divide and conquer is not reserved to the battlefield. It is used in statehouses across this country. Build your coalition now.
Begin identifying and working with consumer protection groups such as those that help renters position themselves to become homeowners, the Better Business Bureau or others with similar missions.
Get to know your state legislators now. Each member of the chapter needs to build a solid, personal relationship with one or more legislators. When you need their help, you’re more likely to get a favorable response if they know you and know about home inspection as a profession and a business.
Interview lobbyists now. Chapters need someone who knows the legislative process as an insider. Lobbyists know the players; they know who is in a position to make things happen for ASHI; in other words, they know when to talk to whom about what.
Some chapters believe they can save money by having the membership do the lobbying. Grassroots lobbying is essential, but trying to do the job without the expertise of a professional often wastes time and money.
Use the ASHI Legislative Guidebook (which is on www.ashi.org). Your colleagues have found it to be an excellent place to start. And talk to each other. Learn what has worked in other states—and what didn’t.
Sensing momentum shifts
Each year, more bills are introduced across the country calling for regulation of home inspectors. Because there are so many bills introduced, ASHI chapters that have opposed regulation are sometimes lulled to sleep by their success.
My colleagues at the Chapter Leadership Conference urged me to provide some insight on making the delicate transition from fighting regulation to compromising, or even promoting your own legislation as a way to kill a bad bill.
First, compromise is not caving in; it’s adjusting to reality. Compromise is getting the most that you can—under trying circumstances.
In these situations the ASHI chapter and other members of the coalition need to determine what is most important to protect, or what is most essential to include, in a proposal to regulate the profession. Is it experience, a standardized exam, a code of ethics, the ASHI Standards of Practice? You decide, but also work to get as many of these components included in any bill to regulate the profession.
If you have been successful in keeping regulation at bay, how do you recognize when the momentum has shifted? What are some signs that you can look for to detect a loss of momentum?
Loss of momentum sometimes sneaks up on you. The best indicator is when the bill you have been able to consistently defeat moves further in the legislative process. The bill that always died in committee now has been voted on by the committee. Or worse, the vote was to recommend passage. You still might be able to kill the bill before it reaches the floor of either House, but recognize that the momentum has shifted, and be ready to compromise or offer an alternative.
If the bill you have fought successfully in the past passes one House of the
legislature, that’s tantamount to being hit over the head with a 2"x 4". Definitely, time to seek compromise.
Other signs of a momentum shift are more obvious. If an investigative reporter publishes an article in a major newspaper outlining the shady or shoddy work of unregulated home inspectors, the momentum has shifted. The same is true of a TV expose´. When this happens, it’s time to change horses.
Another sign is when a new player appears on the roster of those championing regulation. For instance, when the local real estate association gets involved for the first time, that is a momentum shift. The same is true if a new player is on the scene—such as an association of franchise companies.
If the real state association has been marginally involved, but now places home inspector regulation at the top of its legislative agenda, the momentum has shifted.
Many times, we see legislation introduced that an insider knows has no chance of passage. Legislators who do not have the respect of their colleagues introduce these bills. They are either in the wrong political party or regarded as on the fringe. If the bill to regulate home inspectors has been introduced by such a legislator with a few co-sponsors, it will be easy to defeat. If the same bill is introduced the following year with dozens of co-sponsors, the momentum has shifted. In all likelihood, there is another player on the field who didn’t check in with your scorer’s table. The momentum has shifted.
Even worse, if the same bill you have consistently defeated is now introduced by a new legislator—one with power, connections, respect—the momentum has shifted.
If the chair of the committee has now introduced the bill where the bill will be referred, this is more than a momentum shift. Act accordingly.
Another example of momentum shift is what I call “The Goalie is Gone (or missing).” This can be literally or figuratively. Many times home inspectors have depended on one legislator to be their goalie. This is the legislator who is well respected or well positioned enough that he or she can single-handedly make sure that the bill dies. The momentum has shifted if your goalie is gone. When your goalie is gone, it’s time to compromise.
Possibly the worst sign of momentum shift is when a legislator has a bad personal experience with a home inspector. The bill he or she introduces takes on a whole different tone. Now, the issue is personal, and you had better be ready to work with that legislator to put in place regulations that protect both you and the consumer.
Unfortunately, the same can be said if the legislator’s relative, staff member or key constituent has a bad experience with a home inspector. Stop fighting regulation and promote good regulation. Use the ASHI Position Statement as an example for legislators. The statement outlines the components of a good bill.
Get to Work
ASHI has provided the membership with strategic plans and excellent tools, but each chapter and its members must do the work.
Unfortunately, things are getting more complicated, and the pace has quickened. It is no longer enough to know whether you favor regulation or not. Now, you will need to decide what you can do to make your state law better, or you will need to work to protect the good law that is already on your state’s books.
ASHI provides advice and counsel, but leaves the local decisions to the chapters and individual home inspectors. You know your state and, ultimately, you’ll have to live with any regulations passed into law where you do business. Self-interest—that should be enough of a motivator.