Archive for March, 2011

IGNORE LOCAL GOVERNMENT: ACTIVISTS ARE COUNTING ON IT

March 29, 2011

Santa Clara County, California and the City of San Francisco last year enacted restrictions on the inclusion of toys, prizes and incentives in certain children’s meals.   In response, state legislatures in Arizona and Florida are considering legislation prohibiting local governments in their states from following suit.

In years past, local government initiatives addressing gun control, pesticide bans, living wage mandates and big box store restrictions have also inspired state pre-emption campaigns.

Likewise, many other issues being debated in state houses across the country today first appeared on local government agendas.  For example:

  • Numerous local jurisdictions tackled illegal immigration enforcement before the controversial Arizona law captured the spotlight on the issue. 
  • Several counties in New York State and the City of Chicago moved to ban Bisphenol-A in baby bottles and children’s beverage containers before the issue gained significant traction in state government.
  • In 2007 the City of San Francisco passed an ordinance to ban plastic shopping bags from all the grocery stores and pharmacies prompting similar proposals in cities, counties and states across the country.
  • Numerous building code and zoning requirements on issues ranging from energy efficiency and pollution control to safety and security started as ground-breaking local proposals.

And, in yet another variation, issues that have been rebuffed at the state level – such as Do Not Mail – have been re-packaged for local government adoption. 

Across the U.S. there are 3,033 counties, 19,492 municipalities and 16,519 towns and townships. While it is easy to see the value in monitoring major cities like New York and Chicago and large counties such as Dade in Florida or Clark in Nevada, the collective impact of smaller jurisdictions, considering and adopting new policy proposals can be equally influential. 

Activists know this and take advantage of industry inattention or inaction to establish beachheads for their policies at the local level. 

Do you know what your town is doing?

I’d like to hear from others who are following local governments and identify issues that may be the next living wage, toy ban or Do Not Mail.

EPA AND THE STATES: Can’t We All Just get along?

March 24, 2011

When “Getting Along with your EPA Regional Official” is a session topic for new state environmental commissioners, you know there is a problem.  On March 28, state environmental commissioners will convene in Alexandria, Virginia for the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) Spring Meeting.   The meeting, which is always robust in policy discussions and best practices sharing, also provides an opportunity for the states to meet with both headquarter EPA officials and their regional EPA Administrators.  In fact, ECOS has assumed some responsibility for ensuring a collaborative relationship between the states and EPA.  As a prelude to the meeting, ECOS is holding a half-day closed meeting for new environmental commissioners, which includes the session mentioned above.

It hasn’t always been this way.  Over the past several years, EPA/state interaction at the ECOS meetings has been a rather tame affair.  While public disagreements over state authority and over-reaching EPA rulemakings were the hallmark of early ECOS meetings, this animosity has given way to a much more positive relationship at those meetings in recent years.

I think the mood at this meeting will be different.

In January, 28 new governors took office.  Most came into office with pledges to cut state spending, balance state budgets and create jobs.  Early on, some of these new (and two sitting) governors acted on these pledges with regard to state agencies.  Six Governors–in Arizona, Florida, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington– believed unduly burdensome regulations were such a detriment to economic growth that they imposed moratoriums on rulemakings and ordered reviews of existing regulations. 

So how might this focus on jobs and the economy play out among the environmental commissioners at the ECOS meeting?  The agenda itself gives a solid indication. 

The Monday lunch speaker is EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who undoubtedly will talk about her partnership with the states (having been an ECOS member as the Commissioner of New Jersey DEP).  With commissioners from many of those states with newly elected governors, Administrator Jackson could be in for some pointed questions.  In sharp contrast, the Tuesday lunch speaker is Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who will discuss EPA over-reaching its authority, including what is being called the “Train Wreck” regulations such as the EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.  The two speakers couldn’t have more divergent views on EPA’s activities.

Of course there is some political motivation behind the “Train Wreck” issue; but not all of the disagreements are partisan.  For example, the states, almost in lock-step, have opposed the direction EPA is taking with the coal-ash rulemaking.   The states believe that it is unnecessary and will overwhelm dwindling state resources.  This item is the main topic of discussion during the Waste Committee meeting, and is certain to be contentious.

Despite policy differences, there are  environmental commissioners who have concluded that a better partnership and working relationship between EPA and the states is beneficial for the states (or at least their state) in the long run.    ECOS’ “how to get along” session is an attempt to foster that sentiment. 

But, the dire state of the economy and budgets in most states may force ECOS to be the venue for states to stand up to EPA rather than standing down.

~Mark Anderson

State Budgets Create Virtual Groups

March 3, 2011

The Council of State Governments announced Monday that it was shifting its annual Spring Meeting (this year’s Growth & Prosperity Summit of the States) from the usual large, in-person conference to an online format.  While a dramatic move and, I am sure, disappointing to the senior staff and leadership of CSG who had to make the difficult decision, the  move reflects some of the “new normal” in this climate of cash-strapped states, travel-restricted policymakers and a growing trend toward virtual meetings.

Now, this is not the first time that a large legislative Groups forum has been threatened by the new state budget and travel realities, nor the first time a Group has moved all or part of a meeting into cyberspace.  The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has now moved its Standing Committee Officers Orientation Meeting – a once very popular networking opportunity with NCSL’s up-and-coming committee members – to a webinar format and it cancelled this year’s stand-alone Winter Executive Committee meeting.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) briefly considered cancelling its 2010 Spring Task Force Summit as a result of cost concerns, but then modified the agenda to hold both in-person and online Task Force meetings to accommodate members who could not travel.  Other Groups have scaled-back their once large meetings, amended or suspended quorum rules regarding policymaking or have created a hybrid format, allowing policymakers to “dial-in” to meetings in addition to physically attending. 

These changes will ultimately test the Groups’ ability to compete for future private sector sponsorships and attract busy state policy leaders.  And they will also dramatically impact those of us government affairs managers who are accustomed to the face-to-face meetings the Groups facilitate and who rely on the Groups as an integral part of our issue management programs. 

These considerations must necessarily play into your overall Groups planning and your priority Groups should be re-evaluated, especially those most vulnerable to travel restrictions and budget cut-backs.  But in the meantime, how can you adjust your Groups participation to return value to your program, especially if the Group forums you are targeting have moved into cyberspace?

The immediate practical problem of “virtual” meetings is that it translates into less face time with targeted policymakers.  Relationship-building – one of the key reasons we participate in the Groups – becomes more challenging.  Those relationships with policymakers you made at past Groups events, or by visiting state capitols, are now more important to nurture than ever.  Continue to reconnect with these policymakers offline and stay in touch; email them or call and ask how you can assist them; support their reelection efforts; and generally find ways to remind them WHO YOU ARE.  You should also use this opportunity to place new emphasis on familiarizing yourself with Groups staff.  Their value to the Group is very likely to increase as elected and appointed official members reduce their commitment and participation as a result of travel restrictions.

Even in the virtual world, the Groups will continue to make and advance policy.  But meetings held in cyberspace inevitably make it more difficult to influence the process.  You must know the rules of engagement – guessing is not good enough when you cannot be in the room or are out of reach of one of your champions.  Knowing who will be participating in the forums, and in advance of the forums, will be more important than ever (this is true, online or off).  Put a premium on contacting these policymakers in advance and leveraging staff relationships – this will be important to your success at online forums. 

Finally, consider becoming more involved in a “leadership” role of the Group.  The continuity of your participation in between meetings – and especially in a leadership role – adds both credibility to you and your organization and raises your profile as a known and respected quantity among the Groups staff.  Several of the policy-oriented Groups have a foundation, advisory committee or some vehicle by which the private sector can provide input into the policymaking, contribute to the education of their constituent members or, at the very least, be better informed about the Groups’ activities online and off.  Find opportunities to host small hospitality events or issue briefings at the Groups meetings, outside of the official agenda – once frowned upon, these outside events are becoming more important to the Groups, as their own hospitality and reception dollars shrink.  And even if the Group you are targeting does not offer this opportunity – or your own tight budget does not permit a contribution – you can always “lead” by providing expertise, resources or bringing new policymakers from your state to the Group – these gestures can yield high returns in terms of political capital, especially during this lean time.


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