Lobbying can have an outsized influence on which bills get passed and, sometimes more importantly, which ones do not. But many people don’t know what lobbyists actually do. In this week’s episode, Amy Bresnen and Steve Bresnen of Bresnen Associates explain to Todd Smith and Jody Sanders how their careers combine legislation, public policy, and advocacy in ways that most people don’t consider. They share experiences both passing and preventing bills, and how lobbyists can help shape legislation to make sure that laws don’t have bad results or unintended consequences. They also discuss the incredible workload involved in monitoring legislative bills during a session and how they interact with clients, legislators, and legislative staff during that process.
Listen to the podcast here:
A Different Kind of Advocacy | Amy & Steve Bresnen
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
We wanted to have you on for those folks who don’t know you, Amy and Steve are both lawyer lobbyists here in town. The appellate Twitter crowd has seen their names because they’re both very active on Twitter. Just because they’re not appellate lawyers, it doesn’t mean they can’t participate in appellate Twitter. Let’s go through our usual routine on the show, which is to have you give a little short introduction of yourselves. Tell us about yourselves, your background, education and maybe some experience before you went to law school.
I started out life in retail when I was a very young person and got a hankering to do something that had a little more redeeming social value. I went and got an undergraduate degree in Education and worked in the inner city of Dallas. I ran some alternative schools over in East Texas. The school people got sick of me. I got hired by a legal services outfit to do voting rights workshops in 43 counties in East Texas. It’s because I had been the litigaant of the voting rights case along with the president of the NAACP in Nacogdoches. That led me to meet a guy named Paul Ragsdale, who was an African-American legislator from Dallas and had done that work a decade before me.
Paul and I hit it off and he invited me to come to Austin and go to work for him. He introduced me to Bob Bullock along the way. Then Comptroller Bullock called me to work over in his shop and then I helped him with his opposition research when he ran for lieutenant governor, and that helped me make my way to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office where I spent five years. I started lobbying in ’96 for a variety of different kinds of clients.
I grew up in Mount Vernon, Texas, which is important to note that growing up in a small town has helped me in politics. It’s easier for people who come from small towns to learn big city talk than vice versa. That’s paid off as far as relations in the legislature. My family was extremely political. Three members of my family ran for mayor or were mayor of Mount Vernon, my grandfather was a state representative, and my aunt Natra who’s no longer with us worked for Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff from the start. It was natural for me to go into politics but I went to TCU. From TCU, I went to Texas State University.
During that time, I worked in the House for State Representative Jim Keffer from Eastland. After grad school, I worked for Senator Carona. When I worked for Senator Carona in 2011, I knew that I was going to go to law school. I went to law school in 2012 at St. Mary’s. We were talking about this and people ask me, “Why didn’t you practice law?” Once you work in the legislature, it’s very hard to leave and enter a totally different realm. Law school to me was a third Public Policy degree. I knew that I would take it back and lobby and it’s paid off tremendously.
Steve, did we hear your law school story?
Representative Ragsdale, when he asked me to come to work for him, I asked him if I could go to law school while I did. He said I put the last White guy that worked for me through law school and I put you through law school, too, and he did. In addition, he introduced me to Bob Bullock. Paul gave me a career.
I’m greatly indebted to him. I miss him. He passed away several years ago. I went to UT Law after sitting out of undergraduate and graduate school for long periods of time. It’s the consternation of my parents. I don’t know why they were consternated. They weren’t paying for it but they were ready for me to get on and do something in life. I ended up at UT Law. I graduated from UT in ’86 and took the bar in ’88. I’ve been licensed since ’88.
We have some sense of how each of you got into lobbying. You went to law school after you were already doing lobbying work. Is that pretty common for lobbyists or maybe it’s all over the map?
I did not. I was working for a member of the House while I was in law school and then I went to the Comptroller’s Office and then the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. I finished law school while I was working for a member of the House. I took the bar in ’88 while I was still working at the Comptroller’s Office. I got my license at that time. I didn’t start lobbying until ’96.
To answer your question, it’s more common. Clearly, it’s not required that you have a law degree to lobby but it’s helpful. If you look at the top 20 to 30, Mike Hailey, he does a lobby ranking. It’s not even that half of them in the top ten are lawyers but it helps your overall lobbying skillset to be able to read bills more precisely and write legislation. We lobby for the family lawyers, TTLA and the court reporters. Before I went to law school, I knew that when I did lobby, a substantial amount of it would be in the work in the legal field. As far as that’s concerned, it’s been extremely helpful.
Part of what we sell is our ability to move around between various policy subject matters. We have a very large client on the top of the heap, AT&T, down to some guys who own Bingo Halls on the tiny side and wide variety of healthcare, water and lots of things in the middle. Having that legal background allows you to move between subject matters. In a way, appellate lawyers are always working between subject matters. You would understand that. It’s helpful. We don’t sell ourselves as the biggest entertainers, schmoozers, biggest political participants by way of contributions or because of party affiliation or anything. We market and I hope to deliver a policy approach. Hopefully, that’ll always be needed in the legislature.
To add to that, it’s not like when the legislative session is over that we were finished with our work. The bulk of our work is done in the executive branch as far as agency rulemaking. To have a basic fundamental understanding of the Administrative Procedures Act is extremely helpful when you’re pivoting and going from the legislature to the executive branch.
I can imagine, you mentioned in terms of bill analysis and all that, having that legal training would benefit you in ways. You’re not looking at the law or the bills the same way that a layperson would be. I’m sure an experienced layperson lobbyist would get some understanding of how this process works over time but you’re starting off at a little different level when you’ve had to maybe deal with it. If you didn’t practice law as a litigator, you at least went through the rigors of legal education to understand how judges think about lots of different issues, like a lot of common law and even statutory issues. It has to be an advantage.
Particularly on the statutory construction front. Also, every lawyer I know, when the client comes in and the client thinks they know what their problem is and what they need. By the time you get the whole story and you think of ways maybe to go about solving their problem or addressing their problem that is more in the client’s interest.
By way of our background, we frequently are confronted with people that want to parachute in and get the legislature or an executive branch agency to do something about their problem. Frequently, it’s not the problem, or their proposed solution is one that’s not doable or unwise, whatever the diagnosis might be. Being able to move around between the subject matters and having that legal perspective is helpful towards the service of the client in that regard.
I was going to ask you all to give us a high level overview because you hear the word lobbyist and you get a lot of different images and connotations to that. How would you explain to a layperson what you do?
Amy, you wrote a graduate thesis on it. Why don’t you talk about it?
In 2010 I wrote a paper in grad school and used gambling as a prism to describe what lobbyists do. If I were discussing it with a stranger at an airport, I would describe it first from an electoral standpoint, as far as campaign work. Steve and I do work on campaigns. A lot of times, what we do goes way beyond contributing. If we’re asked or if we feel so moved we will assist with the opposition research. If you want to be a good opposition researcher, it’s important to understand property law. For example, when you’re researching property records, having an overall grasp of where the banana peels might be with the potential candidate is very much helped by having that background.
As far as grassroots lobbying, that ties more into the electoral part, building relationships and research. Steve and I both read everything we can get our hands on. That’s probably our way of understanding things. Everybody has a different approach to it but researching, building relationships and work on campaigns would be how I would describe what a lobbyist is. At least that’s what we do. There are a lot of lobbyists who entertain a lot more. There are lobbyists who are much more active on campaigns at all levels than we are.
A lot of it is not very sexy and may not even be that influential but a certain amount of it is what I refer to as shoe leather lobbying. In effect, it’s door-to-door sales. You have to be able to go into the Capitol building and go into an office cold. They may have no interest in what you’ve got to tell them and then break something down to people who may have no understanding whatsoever of the subject matter that you’re talking about.
Being able to translate and to do it promptly, many messages are conveyed walking through the hall of the Capitol building with a member of the legislature or a staff member, where you’ve got 30 seconds to 1 minute or 1.5 minutes to convey what it is you’re interested in and what your ask is. If you follow Jerry Bullard’s reports on the legislature, he does a fantastic job of breaking down, explaining and you can get a sense from his reports of the volume that you’re dealing with.
There may be In excess of 8,000 bills filed between the houses. You have to be cognizant of every one of them. A lot of things that you’re working on could be amended into a bill but you don’t have any idea. You have no expectation that that bill is going to be a vehicle to do something. Watching all the bills as they’re filed, reading them all and dispersing them to people like clients who can tell you, does this affect you or not, then tracking them through the legislative process, looking for amendments, tending to committee hearings, monitoring, communicating to clients and others about what transpired at that committee hearing and all of those sorts of things go into it. It’s a much more nuts-and-bolts type of job than most people usually think of.
The term lobbyist comes from an area outside of each chamber of the legislature. It’s the lobby. People who stand around in the lobby are lobbyists. The only thing you have to do to be a lobbyist, other than a citizen lobbyist, is to have a client. There’s no particular training, background, license or any of that required.
We do file ethics reports and things like that but that’s a matter of registration. If you’re doing it right, you – either yourself or if you have the capability, your support staff – will be doing all those nuts-and-bolts functions that are central to why the thing works. Amy found this out as well. My experience being on the field is probably about 85% to 90% in the game. I personally believe that familiarity breeds consent. We try to be familiar because we’re in the Capitol, in offices talking to staff, talking to members.
The legislature probably needs a high level of supervision. Even if you show up to a committee hearing to let those legislators know that you’re paying attention and that if they’re working, you’re working, that’s the main message that you want to convey to legislators. They have been here, there’s going to be a fourth called special session. They’re exhausted and we’re exhausted. For you to show up at the committee hearing and to convey like, “We’re all in this together. Don’t hurt our clients,” goes a long way. We’re not the type of lobbyists who phone it in. For those who can do that, more power to them but that’s not how we operate.
Literally, phone it in. They’re not hanging out down on the committee hearings and so forth like you are. They’re calling the legislator’s offices?
Texting a member, that thing. Not that we don’t text members if we’re lucky enough to have their phone numbers. There’s a certain amount of being there that they appreciate that you’re invested personally in the process. We don’t have anything, well we’ve got a little project to work on next week, but for the most part during these special sessions, we haven’t had anything that’s biting us.
If we show up down there and wave at them, inevitably, they’ll say, “Why are you around here?” “You’re here. We thought we’d drop in and say hello.” People appreciate it. It’s a people business and all the ways in which you can think that people appreciate other people at a very normal, social interaction, nothing fancy, extravagant or nefarious.
In some ways, it doesn’t sound all that different than lawyering because you’re still trying to persuade. Lawyering, in many ways, is a people business. Whether it be relationships with the decision-maker or client, which I would imagine there are some similarities in your client relationships, too, with respect to how those work versus an attorney-client relationship. How do you go about getting clients?
Usually, through word of mouth. In that regard, it’s very similar to a traditional practice of law. There have been times where we’ve garnered clients through an interview process where three lobby teams will be up and then the potential client chooses between those lobby teams but 70% of it is word of mouth.
Back to what you’ve done about how it’s a lot like the practice law, if you go into the courthouse and you go to the clerk’s office, if you know that clerk that’s out there that’s going to take your documents and get them stamped and filed. Although that’s being done electronically now. I’m dating myself but those kinds of things. Knowing the court coordinator and attending to his or her needs, which is critical. We value staff very much. We were both staff. We understand the importance and the honorable nature of staff work. We pay lots of attention to that aspect.
The longer that I’ve lobbied, the more I realized this works for and against you. Unlike a court of law, everything at the legislature is admissible. Whether it’s character evidence, hearsay. In some ways that makes it easier but it also makes it harder because if there’s a witness testifying who is opposite of your view and they quote something that is wrong from some amicus brief, then you’re on the spit to go and immediately correct it because it’s already in the so-called record. That cuts both ways.
One of the things we do that’s nuts-and-bolts is creating our own exhibits. We do bullet points and talking points for witnesses. We testify. We make charts, graphs and all the sorts of things that you would try to admit into a lawsuit, lots of letter writing. There are some commonalities but people who lie will be gone in a week. That you cannot get away with for very long.
Unless they contribute substantial amounts of money in some cases.
It’s been my experience that lying is frowned on, you might get away with it in the short term but you will not.
In the long run.
It’s obvious that you all do consume just mountains of information during the regular session. You’re trying to see and be seen, shake hands, meet with legislators and advocate for your clients in the ways that lobbyists do. Do you do it the two of you? Do you have folks that help you out with some of the logistical aspects of it like preparing the bullet points and things like that?
In 2021 and this is true of all lobby groups, we suspended. For example, we represent the Texas Family Law Foundation and we usually have two family lawyers come in each week during the legislative session because we’re working on defense and we’re also trying to pass legislation at the same time. We normally have helpers each week to be mostly working on defense while we’re trying to pass the foundation’s agenda. We also usually have an assistant who does administrative work, makes appointments and gets lunches. We didn’t have an assistant in 2021. To answer your question, we normally do have some type of assistance whether it’s administrative or working on substantive law and talking points.
It depends on the client too. You’ve got some clients that have a whole shop that’s designed to crank out talking points, provide the information that you need and dispense it and you’re usually a part of a team there. Some clients are very well-suited to crank out amendments for something that needs to be amended.
Those are lawyer associations that are in the best position to do that.
Major corporations that have ongoing government affairs business.
You mentioned the family lawyers, Amy, and that’s a group that you work with regularly. They sign up for a certain period of time and they’re coming down to be your support when you’re lobbying on their behalf. Is that accurate?
Yes. The Advanced Family Law Course is every August in San Antonio and during an even number of years. 4 to 5 months before the legislative session, there’s an opportunity. You have to be a member of the Texas Family Law Foundation. There’s an opportunity for you to sign up to be a bill reviewer or a volunteer. Which means you would physically come down to Austin and go door to door. Those opportunities are available. It’s important. You’re representing your entire law practice.
We’ll hold a legislative bootcamp forum before the session starts and give them practice being witnesses. Take them into a committee room and have a mock legislative committee hearing.
Every session especially with the new volunteers, at some point during a committee hearing, they will call the chairperson of the committee “your honor.” Everybody cracks up. They get it.
I can see how that would happen. I don’t want to go too far down this road but it’s worth mentioning. about the Family Law Foundation. There’s a reason why it’s not like the Family Law Association who is working with you all directly. That’s because the bar association groups themselves are very restricted in what they can do in terms of lobbying efforts.
I also know, from having observed, that Family Law Foundation, that advanced course that you mentioned, they’re super highly attended and there’s a very strong presence within that organization because those folks have a certain interest in what’s going on in the legislature, which I imagine every session, there’s something related to family law.
Hundreds of bills every session.
There were more family law bills filed in 2021 during a pandemic and freeze than in 2019. I need to check the statistics on that but it might be that 2021 was a record-setting family law bill filing session. I need to go back and look at it. 2017 was pretty rough, too.
Our bill review committee is managed by a guy named Chris Wrampelmeier out of Amarillo. Mostly Amy will go through and screen all the bills as they’re filed and send the appropriate ones to Mr. Wrampelmeier who has 50 or 60 people who have signed up. We use a cloud-based app and we’ll review the bill and analyze it and break it down into everyday language that Amy and our volunteers, when they show up, can use to go take a position.
Do we amend or oppose this bill? Do we care or not care? Do we support the bill? The family lawyers are well-organized in that regard and have been effective but they have to be because they’re busy. They say if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Being deployed is a hugely important thing and that’s generally true for everybody that’s going to have the legislature mucking around in their business.
On this cloud-based app, which will go unnamed, a lot of times, there will be a very passionate discussion about what position to take on a bill and what the issues are. Going back to how having a law degree helps you lobby, this would be an example of how having a legal education helps you to know what questions to ask.
When you enter the discussion, you’re not coming at it from a lobbying standpoint but you’re trying to understand more in-depth from a practitioner standpoint on what the issue is. Having that background is important to know what questions to ask the client in that situation.
How does the advocacy differ? It can be adversarial but generally, it’s not necessarily adversarial at the start. Your role sounds almost more like an amicus where you’re bringing in unique interests that have a perspective that can maybe shape the way that these things develop.
It depends on who your opponent or adversary is. For example, there have been in the past a lot of ad hominem or character attacks with regards to this issue known as 50/50. It’s mostly fathers who have either been wronged by the court system or in a lot of cases think that if they get 50/50, they don’t have to pay child support. Sometimes they can get ugly. In 2017 they issued a death threat on Facebook. That’s a little personal. You do go on the offensive when your life is threatened and you attack back. For the most part, it’s an intense atmosphere but it’s not hostile.
The one thing to understand about the legislative process is it’s a lot harder to pass a bill than it is to kill a bill. There are lots of places in the process where a bill can find its resting place and there’s only one way that you’re going to get across the finish line. That’s at least some vehicle that passed both houses had the same language in it and made its way to the governor.
Some of it is more adversarial than others. We have people in the process who we have routinely been against over the years or sparred with who we’ve become very good friends. Even though things started out a little tense at the beginning, those things tend to get worked out over time, at least at the personal level, much the way lawyers do. You see the same people around cases, even when they’re not being their best selves. It usually comes back to it. We do too.
The advocacy is a little bit different partly because there are so many places for the thing to go into the tank. That’s great if you’re trying to kill bills. If there are 400 or 500 family law bills filed, there’s going to be a fair chunk of them that we’re going to work hard and make sure don’t become law. There’s a bunch of them that can be fixed.
Nobody’s an expert in everything. You may have somebody who’s built a big business and they know their business. I’ll talk about a friend of ours who deals with the brass and steel valves for use in plumbing and industrial processes and all of that. That guy knows that this is inside and out and we don’t.
Bridging that gap is maybe a little bit different. You all know. You show up in a courtroom particularly at the appellate level. You got nine people sitting up there who may or may not know anything about steel valves and what’s a manufacturing defect and what’s not and you’ve got to explain it to them. That’s very similar to the legislative process, at least getting the context and some rudimentary understanding across.
The idea of being actively engaged in trying to kill a bill is fascinating to me. We don’t see that part of it whether you’re a lawyer or a layperson. We read Jerry’s reports and we see what’s going on and we know that the committee hearings are happening but we’re not seeing that behind the scene things going on that I would imagine you would do to try and kill a bill. That creates this image in my mind and it’s interesting. Talk about a different kind of advocacy.
It’s like the Sherlock Holmes story about the dog that didn’t bark. You don’t hear it and see it and yet there was something happening. Of 8,000 bills getting filed, maybe 1,500 of them become law. The legislators file things all the time that they have no intention of pushing. Some of them died because of rabid advocacy. There are lots of different reasons for things to die but the hardest thing to convey to clients is what didn’t happen to them. A central deal about what lobbyists do is try to make sure bad things don’t happen or if something bad is going to happen, to try to take the sharp point off of it.
Let’s stick to the anti-SLAPP statute reform bill of 2019. We’ve made so many friends on appellate Twitter because of that bill. We’ve had friends email us and reach out and say, “What’s up with this provision? Why is this in there? We will be completely honest with them in the law review article that we wrote.
What’s it going to say? You wrote an article about it?
It was a labor of love. It was great timing because we were in the last stages of editing during the beginning of the pandemic. You can’t leave your home. You might as well write a law review article. We do try to convey in that law review article, “This is what was happening behind the scenes. So and so asked for this exemption and this other exemption,” and give a little bit of legislative history.
This is an opportune time for me to get some information from you all. Before the anti-SLAPP statute reform, we were very much aware that Chapter 27 was gobbling up the world of litigation out there. Do you sense that anymore? Have we not neutered it? Did we make appropriate use of that statute instead of the way it was? What do you think?
Todd’s partner is the best person to answer this, Amanda G. Taylor.
I love Amanda Taylor. She would be one of the ones I was talking about.
Anecdotally, I have seen less of it and I have seen it not shoved in places where it didn’t seem like it fit and you had to fight against that. You talk about killing a bill. Much of my involvement with the anti-SLAPP stuff was trying to kill it from being applied in cases where it didn’t make sense but there wasn’t a clear answer. I don’t see that as much.
I agree with that. I have not seen it and have not heard about it as frequently. The literal language of the former version of the statute was so all-encompassing of everything. It was a classic tail-wagging the dog situation. There are other areas of that statute that some would say could be curbed some more but in terms of the areas where there was a difference made and some of the definitions of dealing with some of the scope of the statute, it has made a difference.
That’s good to hear. Many times, when we work on things, they get the governor’s signature and they go off into the universe. One of our clients sells off wrecked cars for insurance companies. That involves a lot of motor vehicle titling work and things. We go work on stuff, how they get the information to find the owner, get the title and do all that stuff.
You get all that in the statute and it goes off but we don’t ever hear because it’s not in the title, we’re not in that business. We’re not on-site with them. This particular one is because of our representation of the trial lawyers, the family lawyers and AT&T. It’s an interesting story. If anybody is reading, you had seen the law review article. It’s available from St. Mary’s University, free of charge. You can download an electronic version. There have been over 4,000 downloads.
You’ll see AT&T as a company that had a very keen interest in being able to enforce non-compete agreements or non-disclosure agreements. On the other hand, in the middle of the session in 2019, their merger with WarnerMedia was approved by the courts in the Antitrust Department and all of a sudden, they became a media company overnight.
The protection of the media’s interests as speakers and conveyors of speech, they wanted to make sure they had that protection, which was what the original SLAPP statute was about. In that case because we’re very close to the company and have lots of involvement with them, we can see a little bit about how things have been playing out.
That’s another example of while you all are out writing briefs, you’re in the courtroom and we’re at the Capitol and we’re seeing bills. I remember in 2011 when the original anti-SLAPP statute legislation was filed and I wasn’t even in law school yet. I remember looking at it and thinking, “This is very broad,” and asking one of my colleagues about it and they’re like, “It’s for the media,” and I’m like, “It doesn’t read like it’s for the media.”
We’re literally at ground zero of potentially harmful legislation or at least influential legislation regarding the practice of law. We’re there. We’re at the front end. There was a bill filed that is original as far as its standing provision, any person anywhere. When it was filed, I was like, “Steve, you might want to look at this. This is not just another abortion bill.” As you can see, I’m not advocating for restricting, expanding what’s standing in Texas but know that this is huge and it’s fascinating.
Its forerunner was a bill in the 2019 session that dealt with discrimination against people for their participation in a supportive religious entity. That is a case that will be argued that standing is a key issue in it and may very well tell us what the court would do on standing in the Senate Bill 8, the Abortion Bill. That one’s called the Von Dohlen et al. versus City of San Antonio. If your readers are not up to speed on it, they should rapidly get up to speed on it because it’s of monumental importance.
I can’t imagine if you’re in appellate law that standing is not something that you wake up thinking about and go to bed thinking about.
Todd, I can tell from your face, there’s something you want to say about this.
I was going to say that’s what they officially call the Chick-fil-A bill.
This guy, Von Dohlen and his chums, their attorney claims that you don’t have to have any injury for the legislature to confer standing but if they’re required to have one, there are people who use the San Antonio Airport and would eat a Chick-fil-A sandwich at the airport if it were there. That’s their injury.
Name a better chicken sandwich. I dare you.
We’re digressing a little.
The point we’re trying to make is the times we see these things coming through the legislative process and we can see this is important. It’s going to play out over a period of time and reverberate.
I can only imagine. I did notice when you all had released that and we’re talking about it and I thought, “This is pretty cool.” We’ll make sure that we can help make it available to other people who want to give it a look.
It starts with a Hamilton quote, too so you got to love that.
We went to go see Hamilton when we finished writing it. That was right before the apocalypse. It has a special meaning.
That’s where I learned that Amy is a nut about cite form, too.
That’s that St. Mary’s Law education. I’m here to vouch for that. I have to ask you all. We’re not at the time we have allotted fully yet but we do need to be cognizant of time. I don’t want to let any more time go by without asking how you all wound up as a married couple lobbying together in the same firm.
To be consistent with my prior answers on this, your honor, I won her in a raffle.
Honestly, it involved a quart of Corona, a golf cart and the Country of Mexico. I knew Steve from a distance because I was a staffer and I knew he was competent but he was just another pushy and older lobbyist. We went to a birthday party separately for a mutual friend who works for Senator Whitmire and that’s where I saw him in another light.
He was no longer that older and pushy lobbyist. I liked him. We’re married but we’re also best friends and we clearly work together as well. I didn’t think that we would ever end up working together. As I said in the other podcast, during law school, I realized that there’s no way that we could live out the lives together that we intended to which involves a lot of travel.
You can’t walk into a law firm and say that you would like to take a month off. You know how that’s going to go. It worked out to where we can work together and it’s working well. Frankly, the age difference is very helpful with that. If we were the same age, I would probably be less deferential. Not that Steve requires deference but at the end of the day, he does in fact have more experience than I do. I’m now able to keep up with him on policy and I attribute that to St. Mary’s Law School but he does have 28 years on me. At the end of the day, I will listen to his point of view.
Good thing we’re not under oath. One thing I’ve realized is that as Amy has gained in experience, you can see the St Mary’s training coming out. Her Master’s in Public Administration coming out. Teach an old dog that you don’t have to do things the same way all the time, that there are other ways to do it and all of that. That’s been very rewarding but sometimes I have to be made to shut up.
What is your schedule in life like during the session or endless sessions as we’re having in 2021?
I love it. Steve does, too. We both love being busy but it’s around the clock. That’s true for the weekends as well. In January and February 2021, typically, you work 8 to 9 hours a day but when committee hearings are being held, you should bank on having to work eighteen-hour days. I’m not saying that you’re going to work eighteen hours a day but you need to plan to do it. We both lose weight during the session. We’re running on fumes and passion a lot of times, which is why there’s always one big fight during each session.
Between the two of you?
Yeah but it’s great. We’ll book a trip together and it’s all fine. Here’s what I didn’t know about lobbying even when I was a staffer. I didn’t realize how physical lobbying is. I literally chased a legislator before. I’ve had to run after this person and we’ve laughed about it. There’s a lot of walking and standing on marble floors for hours on end. During the interim, which we have not had this go around, you do get a lot of time off. During the legislative session, I guarantee you that we work as hard, if not harder than appellate lawyers. However, during the interim, that is not true.
You deserve it.
I’ll text my friends who are practicing law and I’m like, “You want to meet at 4:00?” They’re like, “No. I can’t meet you at 4:00.” I get it. It’s seasonal.
It’s like a 140-day trial.
That’s exactly right.
You ramp up a little bit before it. You still got to be deployed until the veto period is over twenty days after the session but that 140 days right there owns you during that time period.
What about non-session years? I know you got a lot of time off after the session ends in ordinary times. We’ve been in multiple special sessions with more even expected. How do you spend your time in non-session years?
Lobbying the client. We do that during a session but what I mean is that’s when we’re getting the legislative agenda and the legislation written. Some of the clients write the legislation themselves. Typically, our lawyer clients write it themselves. If non-lawyers, we’re sitting down, writing it and then we’ll have someone submit it to the legislative council. We’re also attending fundraisers out of town. There’s a lot of attention paid to clients during the interim because during sessions, that tends to be more directed at the legislature and the legislators.
With the administrative state playing such a big role in modern life, many times, after a session, we’re working with state agencies to get rules promulgated that take into account what we think the statute says. Sometimes that’s not exactly agreed upon. I don’t know what the agencies think.
Also, we have much more control of our time. Every odd-numbered year, we try to carve out a month and go somewhere and get to know the area. We went to the Balkans. We spent 30 days in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
We did get away with that. The reason why we got away with that is that the Democrats broke quorum. When that was announced, Steve and I literally opened a bottle of champagne and toasted. We gave some legislators a hard time via text.
We couldn’t take credit for it.
Got on a plane?
Our Republican friends who are still here waiting still seem to like Amy’s pictures on Instagram and Facebook that we paid no price for it. We do like to travel so we try to carve out the time to do that.
It makes sense what Amy was saying. If you want to put it in the same category of law practice or any other profession, you would have a difficult time taking those stretches of time. I don’t think there are too many lawyers out there who do have 140-day trials but if they did, they would certainly deserve to take time off the way that you all do. That’s a schedule that will break you, I would imagine if you’re not careful. It’s great that you all get to get away, spend time together and relax after such a period of hard work.
We have no plants, kids and pets. Literally, if we empty the refrigerator, everything that will go bad, then we could leave for as long as we could get away with.
We’ve talked about getting a succulent. It’s in discussion.
She killed the bamboo so we’re thinking maybe a cactus or something.
That’s pretty impressive because bamboo likes to grow.
I was impressed.
Before we wrap up, there are a lot of different ways to measure accomplishments as a lobbyist. Are there any accomplishments or things that you’re proud of that you want to share?
Our biggest accomplishment together has been the anti-SLAPP statute reform. Honestly, there were Fridays where I would lock the bathroom door and start crying. I did not think that we were going to be able to pass it. It took so much work because I always thought killing bills felt great. It is nothing compared to passing a bill that you’re passionate about. That has been my most rewarding experience at the legislature. Steve, what do you think?
It’s not a lobby job but one of the reasons that I’m proud of it is because it’s not a lobby job. We took on some very bad actors who were contaminating the political process and lying, cheating, stealing and doing things politically that were harmful to the institution. We both pride ourselves in these institutions, the House and the Senate in particular.
What I thought at the time could be a considerable risk to us, we yielded and rendered them insignificant in a separate entity out of the state and completely out of business after the guy had to take the 5th 85 times at a deposition. Members of the legislature, I won’t go into any further detail unless you guys question me.
Maybe we should.
We stood up for the institution and it worked. Where we thought we were at risk, legislators applauded it and still applaud it, even though we pull back. After a while, we thought, “What if somebody else takes on this good job?” People did. I’m pleased that we’ve been able to be ourselves a little bit and defend the institutions, even though it’s out of the box for what lobbyists normally do. We were able to be Texans and defend the institutions that we work in and care about. I’m proud of those things.
We always traditionally end with a tip or a war story. I don’t know if you all have had ones that you want to share or anything.
If you all don’t know Senfronia Thompson, all you people on this show do a little research about Senfronia Thompson. You should have her on. Ms. Thompson is an African-American legislator, first elected in ’72. She’s certainly the longest-serving woman ever in the legislature. If Speaker Craddick ever decides to hang it up, she’ll be the longest serving person ever in the legislature.
When Ms. Thompson was trying to pass the Hate Crimes Bill, Governor Perry was governor and there were seven Anglo legislators whose votes she wanted. I was a fairly newly admitted lobbyist. We’d been friends since I showed up around the legislature in ’81. She called me into her office and she said, “I need you to do something for me.” You don’t tell Ms. Thompson no. Ms. Thompson said, “I got seven White guys. I need you to go get their votes for this Hate Crimes Bill.”
I’m sure I was not the only one with that assignment because she’s notorious for giving multiple people the same assignment. Working with other unknown or not named individuals, when that bill came up on the House floor, every one of those people walked down to the podium at the front and announced that it might cost them their House seats but they were going to do the right thing, vote for that Hate Crimes Bill. It’s a moving time and important to the state and to Ms. Thompson and to those people who honored the institution and did the right thing. It’s a non-Bob Bullock war story, too. It must be warm to tell Bullock’s war story.
I bet there are a few of those. I want another episode for that.
What about you, Amy?
I’m not going to go into detail but it involves family law and a lot of coordination with a certain senate staffer. He knows who he is and one day we will live to tell it. We put some issues to bed that have been a burden for the legislature for a while. It was done in a very sophisticated and honest way at the same time but I’m not going to go into detail.
We had treated the righteous result because of Amy’s efforts. You said to people who are the beneficiaries of it, have not yet realized that they’re the beneficiaries of it. One of these days, maybe they’ll wake up.
Plus, the primary season is around the corner. I’m going to refrain from going into details.
Say no more. Thank you so much to both of you for being with us. I knew when we approached you all about coming on that we would learn a lot because this is not an area that we know much about. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally to us because as you all know, we’re all about talking to the judges about the law and not about working the lobbies and all the kinds of things that you all do over at the building not too far away from my office. It’s been very enlightening. We’re sure grateful to you all for spending the time with us.
We are pleased to be with you.
I’m happy to do it.
Hello to all our appellate friends out there. Jerry, if you’re reading, we plugged you.
We’ll make sure Jerry gets into this. That’s great.
Thank you all. I appreciate you.
About Amy & Steve Bresnen
Founded in 1996, BresnenAssociates has consistently ranked among the top governmental affairs firms in Texas. The firm consists of co-principals Amy and Steve Bresnen and associates with other professionals on a project-by-project basis, if needed to achieve its clients’ goals.
Steve Bresnen, has been intimately involved in Texas State Government for more than 35 years, addressing issues in both the Legislative and Executive Branches as a public official, as well as in the private sector by representing clients of every type and size on a wide variety of legislative and administrative issues. Mr. Bresnen has earned a reputation for results through hard work and his in-depth knowledge of an extensive range of policy areas. Having played a leadership role in drafting many of the Texas ethics laws, Mr. Bresnen’s advice on these and other issues is frequently sought by lawmakers, candidates and public and private sector clients.
Mr. Bresnen holds a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Texas School of Law. He has been licensed to practice law since 1988 and is a member in good standing of the State Bar of Texas. Mr. Bresnen also holds a B.S. in Secondary Education from the University of North Texas and completed 30 hours of masters-level work in elementary education at Stephen F. Austin State University. He is a former teacher at the secondary level, specializing in inner-city and alternative schools, and has taught at the graduate university level.
Mr. Bresnen’s private sector representation of clients has included major corporate and small businesses, local governments and non-profits, with such diverse matters as local government, ethics, civil justice, family law, public education, human rights, water, telecommunications, mental health care, regulation of various professions, eminent domain, the judiciary, gaming, pension systems, taxes and fees, technology, transportation, state appropriations, electric regulation and issues affecting public safety personnel.
Immediately prior to establishing his governmental affairs practice in 1996, Mr. Bresnen served as General Counsel and Policy Director to the late Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock (1990-1996). In that capacity, he assisted in shaping numerous state policy initiatives and managing the procedures of the Texas Senate, over which the Lieutenant Governor presides, including assisting the Parliamentarian and Presiding Officer to interpret and apply the Rules of the Senate. Under Governor Bullock’s direction, Mr. Bresnen also established the Senate Research Center, which provides well-regarded non-partisan, objective information in support of individual Senators and the Senate as a whole.
Before joining the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, Mr. Bresnen served as Executive Assistant to the Chief Deputy Comptroller of Public Accounts (1987-1990), where he developed expertise in agency administration and state tax, finance and accounting systems. Mr. Bresnen also served in the Comptroller’s Economic Analysis Center, which housed the all-important state revenue estimating function. Mr. Bresnen also served for six years as Chief of Staff to State Representative Paul B. Ragsdale. Mr. Bresnen staffed Rep. Ragsdale for his service on the House Public Education Committee during the hallmark Select Committee on Public Education chaired by Ross Perot in 1984.
Amy Bresnen holds a J.D. from St. Mary’s University, is licensed to practice law and a member in good standing of the State Bar of Texas. She also holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Texas State University, where she completed a thesis on advanced lobbying techniques (“A Preliminary Assessment of Lobbying Techniques: A Case Study in the Texas Expanded Gaming Lobby“) and a Bachelor of Science Degree from Texas Christian University (TCU) in Speech Communication and a minor in Political Science.
Ms. Bresnen served as a policy analyst for State Senator John Carona, where she specialized in Higher Education, Health and Human Services, Criminal Justice and other issues. She also worked for State Representative Jim Keffer, including staffing him as a member of the Select Committee on Public School Finance (Subcommittees on Cost Adjustments, Governance and Completion and Dropouts).
Ms. Bresnen is an appointee of the President of the State Bar of Texas to the Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda (CDRR), established by the Legislature to govern the ethics and conduct of Texas attorneys. Recently the CDRR crafted, among other new disciplinary rules, sweeping changes to the advertising rules for Texas lawyers. The State Bar members approved the new rules by referendum in March and approved by the Texas Supreme Court in May. She has also served as a member of the Board of the St. Mary’s University School of Law Alumni Association since 2017.
Ms. Bresnen has been published in the Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary (“Ethical Choices: Contested Case Procedures and Judicial Review Applicable to Politicians Versus Other Regulated Actors“). Most recently, Ms. Bresnen authored, alongside Lisa Kaufman and Steve Bresnen, “Targeting the Texas Citizen Participation Act: The 2019 Texas Legislature’s Amendments to a Most Consequential Law.” This St. Mary’s Law Journal article has been downloaded almost 4,000 times since its publication.
Ms. Bresnen has represented a variety of clients of BresnenAssociates in the legal and health care fields, local governments, special districts, transportation and administrative regulation. She represented a major hospital association prior to joining the firm and was a Graduate Fellow under the direction of the premier public relations firm, Public Strategies, where she primarily focused on health care.
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