Member Update: Message from the President
Happy new year, NCPLA members!
I hope you all enjoyed a restful holiday season with your loved ones. As we enter the new year, we also enter lobbyist and principal registration season, and the Executive Committee would like to provide a few updates in that regard.
LOBBYIST AND PRINCIPAL REGISTRATION FEES
As you know, the lobbying community was blindsided by an eleventh hour proposal to double lobbyist and principal registration fees in the budget conference report unveiled in October (Session Law 2023-134, Section 35.1). The NCPLA Board and key members worked tirelessly in the final days of session to delay the effective date in separate legislation. While we were successful in including a provision to delay the fee increase to 2025 in Senate Bill 508 - Budget Technical Corrections, that bill unfortunately was not enacted before adjournment.
The NCPLA Executive Committee developed materials that explained how lobbyist registration fees are compounded in North Carolina and highlighted the unreasonable nature of the new fee by comparing it to the lobbyist and principal registration fee schedules in other states. We had countless meetings with House and Senate leaders and senior staffers in the final days of session and after adjournment. In those meetings we were largely met with sympathy and understanding. Most members indicated that they too were surprised by the proposal or did not know how lobbyist registration fees are compounded for contract lobbyists. A few members and corner office staffers even made commitments to help us during the 2024 Short Session, but unfortunately the General Assembly did not convene any substantive sessions in November or December to allow for the opportunity to repeal the fee increase prior January, when the majority of our annual registrations are made. Because the fee increase enacted in the budget has not yet been repealed or delayed, all principal and lobbyist registrations made after the bill's October 3rd enactment date are subject to a $500 fee. We have been advised that the Secretary of State has been retroactively charging the increased amount for any registrations made after October 3rd.
In the new year, NCPLA will continue to work vigorously to repeal, delay or modify this unreasonable fee increase. We continue to ask each of you to include this topic in your conversations with members and keep the issue top of mind with the corner offices. We have attached NCPLA's handouts on the topic that you are welcome to use in those conversations. Working together, we are hopeful that we can modify or repeal this increase during the Short Session.
LOBBYIST EXPRESS PASSES FOR EXPEDITED ENTRY INTO THE LEGISLATIVE COMPLEX
For several years the NCPLA leadership team has also been working on an expedited method of entry into the Legislative Building for members of the lobbying community, similar to the badge system used by the press corps. We reported at the 2023 Annual Meeting that we have received a commitment from the Legislative Services Office (LSO) for this new system to be fully functional by the beginning of the 2024 Short Session, which is wonderful news. Authorizing language was enacted in the budget conference report and the Executive Committee has been working with LSO staff to support their efforts to launch the program, which they have named the Lobbyist Express Pass Program. The LSO has decided to set the cost of the Express Pass at $500 per year, billed once per biennium. They have advised us that they will not prorate the fees for applicants who seek passes after the start of the biennium, with the 2024 express passes being the only exception (applicants will only be billed for 2024, not the full biennium, since passes were not available in 2023). NCPLA negotiated for many months to avoid the $2,000 fee authorized by statute.
We recognize that the fees associated with these passes are significant and want to emphasize to the membership that participation in the Lobbyist Express Pass Program is completely voluntary. Lobbyists who do not want an Express Pass will enter the legislative complex just as they always have. Lobbyists who are interested in an Express Pass will need to submit to a background check, complete the LSO application and submit fingerprints into LSO fingerprint scanning technology. If the LSO approves the application, the fee will then be due and the lobbyist will be issued a badge to bypass the traditional scanning machines at building entrances. The LSO has indicated that they do not intend to reject applicants with minor criminal histories, but would be more likely to reject an applicant with a criminal record that includes violent felonies, firearm charges or charges related to aggression toward elected officials. The LSO also indicated that any rejected applicants will have an opportunity to appeal their rejection through the LSO. Express Pass holders will be able to enter the legislative complex through the badge scanning devices that members, staff and the press currently use. We will share more details on the Express Pass Program as the LSO shares them with us. The LSO tells us that they expect to begin accepting applications in February.
MEMBER PROFILE UPDATES
If you delayed your membership renewal for the 2024 calendar year, please go ahead and make the payment as soon as possible to avoid your account being inactive in the online directory. If you have any trouble signing into your account, contact Stephen, and he can send you a new password.
The 2023 Long Session brought us more legislation impacting the lobbying community than any year in recent memory. While some of those provisions could provide exciting opportunities for the profession, they also present unique challenges for our association and members. It is certainly a busy chapter in NCPLA's history and we appreciate the great engagement from the membership on these important issues.
Wishing you all a happy and productive start to the new year!
Whitney Campbell Christensen, NCPLA President