Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 | 2 a.m.
CARSON CITY — The Nevada Legislature is closed to in-person lobbying because of COVID-19 protocols during the recently started legislative session, leaving lobbyists searching for new ways to connect with lawmakers.
Lobbyists are tasked with advocating for their clients’ interests, and range from those representing the Clark County School District in talks on school funding to discussing curbside pickup rule changes for marijuana dispensaries. The halls of the statehouse are generally teeming with lobbyists hustling to make crucial connections, but that’s far from the case in 2021.
“Everyone understands and recognizes that we have to do whatever it takes to comply with the COVID protocols,” said Greg Ferraro, the president and founder of the Ferraro Group, a public relations firm specializing in public affairs.
The hope among lobbyists is that restrictions could be eventually lifted to allow people into the statehouse before the end of the 120-day session in late May. In the interim they are connecting by telephone and videoconferencing apps like Zoom.
Layke Martin, the executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said accessibility with scheduling a meeting or getting virtual face time with a lawmaker haven’t been an issue. She advocates for the state’s recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Even when there are technological issues, everyone is patient and professional and responsive,” she said.
In a normal session, lobbyists working inside the legislative building are required to register with the state, after which they must wear identifying badges while in the statehouse. They also are publicly logged into an online database, which shows 1,204 lobbyists registered for the last regular session in 2019. Some are there for the entire four months, others for a week at a time.
Lobbyists have not been required to register for the current session, although Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, is working on a bill that would require lobbyists to register from afar.
That potential legislation has the support of many lobbyists, whose job is to influence government decisions and policies. Being transparent is paramount and the public should know who is speaking to lawmakers, lobbyists said.
Will Adler, the principal of lobbying firm Silver State Government Relations, said that without the physical badge labeling him as a lobbyist he makes certain to identify himself with lawmakers during virtual meetings because it’s important they know the issue he is lobbying for.
The text of the upcoming bill should provide clarity because “we don’t want to step outside the proper norms of what is allowable,” Alder said.
Ferraro said that many lobbyists learned how to communicate and get information to legislators during the special sessions last summer, which were arguably a practice run in communication for the current regular session. Lobbyists also weren’t permitted in the statehouse during both emergency sessions.
“We had a little bit of a glimpse, a little bit of an idea how this would work by going through it last summer,” Ferraro said.
Ferraro credited legislators and staff for making a distanced session “as easy as it could possibly be,” and stressed that “it’s a heck of a burden on legislators to try to get back to everybody when otherwise they might be able to see them more frequently and more freely.”
“My experience so far, in the last week and a half, is that legislators have been very accommodating,” said Ferraro, adding that he had “at least” a dozen phone calls or Zoom meetings scheduled going into the Legislature’s third week.
Ferraro, who lives in Reno and whose firm maintains an office there, joked that there was one upside to the shutdown.
“The one benefit I will say … is that a lot of people don’t have to drive to Carson City every day,” he said.