The start of the 2015-16 legislative session is just about seven weeks away, which means special interest groups are starting to craft bills for the coming year. To get some insights into what they do, we conducted an email interview with Gail Stewart-Brockman, the lobbyist for the San Diego County district attorney. Our conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How do you determine what your legislative priorities for a given year or two-year cycle is going be? Obviously, if there’s something pressing on the horizon, you’ll address that. But often issues that end up on a given interest’s legislative agenda have been percolating for years. What sort of process or analysis do you use to choose what your priorities will be?

The Office of the San Diego District Attorney solicits legislative ideas from our deputy district attorneys. Our DDAs also proactively submit legislative proposals to address issues they face in the courtroom (loopholes in the law) or sometimes, our proposals stem from recent California Supreme Court rulings, in which the court urges a legislative fix. We also receive requests from citizens who want a law passed. In addition, we co-sponsor bills that originate from other DA offices and/or  with the California District Attorneys Association.

Of course, if there is an issue that the DA feels strongly about ( i.e. sex offenders, human trafficking), our experts will draft these proposals and they become part of the OSDDA legislative agenda. We recently formed an internal legislative committee to also help us review not only our bills,  but the hundreds of public safety-related bills that are introduced each year in the Legislature. I also work closely with San Diego County’s Office of Strategy and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Once you’ve picked this issue or that as your priority for the year, how do you determine what strategy you’ll use to try to further that agenda? In other words, how do you decide this is an issue in which we need to run a bill, while this is an issue in which we only need to worry about playing defense?  

Regardless of the issue, it is critical to make sure the rest of law enforcement is on board with us. Each month, law enforcement from throughout the state meet to share information on proposals. I attend these meetings on a regular basis. It is just as critical to get other stakeholders to the table and ask for their support i.e. (Crime Victims United, Crime Victims Action Alliance). The subject matters determines whom I reach out to during the legislative session.  Besides sponsoring several bills to enhance public safety each year, we “support” many others. We also oppose several bills each year that we believe jeopardize public safety.

Assuming you want to run a bill, how do you go about finding lawmaker to sponsor your bill idea? What are you looking for in a sponsor?  

For clarification: The OSDDA would be the “sponsor” — a member of the legislature would be the “author.”  It sounds strange because we actually draft the bill, but we are called the sponsor. They are the author. I have a very good working relationship with our entire Sacramento delegation.  Usually in mid-November or late December, I begin to “shop” our proposals.

Sometimes, we have an author in mind because they have a keen interest in a particular subject matter. It’s important to find a legislator who is knowledgeable about the subject matter, one who is passionate and will work the bill to get the needed support, not only in each committee, but on the floor of their house. We are fortunate in San Diego because our delegation is very dedicated and, of course, we now have Toni Atkins as speaker of the Assembly.

How do you communicate with lawmakers about your issue? Is this through formal meetings and letters or is it, as popular culture would have you believe, through casual conversations over drinks at fundraisers? 

The district attorney and I make the rounds to the offices of our Assembly members and senators in San Diego and/or Sacramento to discuss our upcoming legislative agenda. Throughout the session, I work with the delegations’ Capitol staff. Once we have selected our “authors,” I continue to have informal meetings with the legislative staff to ensure we address any issues prior to upcoming committee hearings. Often times, the author’s staff  and I will also have more formal meetings with each committee consultant to address any issues the chair of the committee may have.

What happens when one of your legislative priorities faces stiff opposition? 

We face tough opposition on our proposals all the time. There are some associations that usually do not support law enforcement-related legislation. We try to work with them, but if they disapprove of our proposals on philosophical grounds, there’s often no compromise to be found. Other times, I will set up meetings with those who oppose our bill and talk it out. It’s been my experience that once I meet them face-to-face and listen to their concerns, it is easier to find mutual ground. On occasion, we end up tweaking the proposal to address their concerns without jeopardizing the original intent of our legislation.

I also work closely with my counterparts at the district attorney offices of Riverside, Alameda, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Fortunately, the San Diego district attorney is willing to make phone calls or travel to Sacramento to talk with a legislator in person and explain how important a particular issue is to our office and to public safety in general.

The Buzz in Sactown

• The UC Board of Regents voted to raise tuition, over objections by Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who said in a statement that “There are other steps we can take to get UC the funding it needs.” (Sacramento Bee)

• The Legislative Analyst’s Office says an improving economy will soften the blow when temporary tax hikes begin to expire. (Associated Press)

• This year’s state budget is on track to come in $2 billion above estimates! (Sacramento Bee)

• California’s budget reserves are expected to grow by $4 billion over the next two years. (Reuters)

• Brown is still fundraising for his already-won campaign. (L.A. Times)

Election Stuff

• The game of legislative musical chairs has begun! (Sacramento Bee)

• The state’s political watchdog is investigating the GOP’s spending in a Central Valley Assembly district. (Sacramento Bee)

• Speaking of the political watchdog, it examined every advertisement related to state and local ballot measures before the Nov. 4 election — there were 172 total — and ordered corrections on 19 of ’em. (Capitol Weekly)

• Someday, everyone could be vote-by-mail voters. (Sacramento Bee)

• Big money is flowing to an effort to overturn the state’s plastic bag ban. (S.F. Chronicle)

Quick Hits

• Here’s an exit interview with termed-out state Sen. Mark Wyland of Oceanside. (U-T)

• A federal judge has ordered the state to release more prison inmates early. (L.A. Times)

• A side effect of the passage of Prop. 47 could be the loss of drug treatment funds to counties. (S.F. Chronicle)

• With the passage of Prop. 36 in 2012, prisoners by the hundreds are asking to be re-sentenced. But it ain’t easy for authorities to figure out who should be released. (L.A. Times)

• California’s illegal immigrant population decreased from 2009 to 2012, but remains the largest in the country, according to the Pew Research Center. (Sacramento Bee)

• California ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of dealing with homeless children, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. (S.F. Chronicle)

• Wait, what? For a couple of weeks, former Assembly Speaker John A. Perez will be both a lawmaker and a UC regent. (Sacramento Bee)

What’s Next?

Prediction: A forthcoming battle over the plastic bag ban will overwhelm your TVs and radios like few campaigns before it.

Brian Joseph

Brian Joesph is a Voice of San Diego contributor. He has covered the state capitol for more than seven years. You can reach him at bjoseph1@gmail.com.

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