Archive for the ‘Local Government’ Category

Are Cities Grabbing Your State Issues?

July 16, 2014

By Heather Williams, Vice President and William Higgins, Manager, Local Government Services

blog - localgovernmentsLocal government is growing, and fast.

No, we’re not referring to the number of newly chartered cities or the nearly ninety-thousand city, county, township and special district governments that establish codes and regulations. Rather, we are noting the rapid growth of Groups in the local space and the implications they are already having on public policy. In the last two years we have seen two major local political Groups, Community Leaders of America (CLA) and Democratic Municipal Officials (DMO) begin to flourish; and with the creation of the American City County Exchange (ACCE), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) becomes the newest Group to enter into the local space.

ACCE was created to advance limited government, free-market and federalist principles in local government. It achieves this through model policies, conferences and online collaboration, operating within the organizational structure of ALEC. ACCE’s Director Jon Russell, who also currently serves as a Town Council Member in Culpepper, Virginia, summed up the need for a Group such as ACCE stating “As a conservative, as somebody who believes in more of a limited government and free-market solutions to some of the problems that exist in government, I found myself frustrated in my council experience because there weren’t resources available to me.”

The establishment of ACCE, along with the interest both CLA and DMO have in creating platforms to share policy ideas across their memberships is a significant development. As local officials continue to address a broad range of issues, knowing and understanding how they are sharing policy ideas, and what engagement opportunities exist becomes increasingly important.

ALEC’s entry into the local Groups space is just one more indicator that state issues are becoming local issues.

What’s the connection? Until ALEC’s entry into local Groups, most policy directives approved by local Groups were directed at the Federal Government. National Association of Counties (NACo)National League of Cities (NLC) and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) do not create model policies or create policies intended to be used by local governments. Unlike the aforementioned Groups, ACCE’s membership of local elected officials will draft, approve, and share policies, which are intended to be used as models. ACCE will also provide new engagement opportunities for private sector members with an interest in local government policy.

We monitor hundreds of issues for our clients across thousands of local jurisdictions, and we see firsthand the increasing impact that local government is having. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for industry to look past the content of local government agendas and minutes, and the issues being discussed at local Groups meetings.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray had this to say about the need for local government to action: “The people who work for a living have basically seen no increase in their incomes since the 1970s. With the federal government fairly stuck, and as we see states more and more adopting that same dysfunction, cities are the place to lead right now.”

Local officials like Murray and Russell continue to express their frustration for the lack of progress being made within both federal and state governments. While there are examples of this happening all over the country, here are a few examples of the issues that local governments and the Groups of local officials are acting on.

The City of Boulder, Colorado, is currently in the process of forcefully acquiring Xcel Energy’s local distribution network through ballot measures and eminent domain. Boulder’s government wishes to create a municipalized utility specifically for the purpose of reducing the community’s carbon footprint.

In 2014, Beverly Hills became the first city in California to ban fracking outright, and Los Angeles became the largest city in the country to prohibit fracking via a moratorium.

Despite the lawsuits facing the 2012 Alameda County Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance and the 2013 Kauai County bill 2491, relating to pesticides and genetically modified organisms, localities across the country continue to discuss and take action on these issues either directly or indirectly. On June 24, the Santa Cruz, California Board of Supervisors approved the adoption of an ordinance requiring the establishment of a sharps waste management program. Most recently, on July 10, Berkeley, California’s Community Health Commission discussed the creation of a local GMO labeling ordinance.

A recent example of activity at the Groups level occurred at the USCM Annual Meeting, which took place June 20-23. USCM President Sacramento, California Mayor Kevin Johnson and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Cities Opportunity Task Force, which will bring together mayors from across the nation to leverage the power of municipal governments to advance a national, common equity agenda. Additionally, at NACo’s Annual Conference which took place July 11-14, a proposed resolution was considered and approved amid much controversy asking Congress to address the minimum wage.  And, at the upcoming NLC Summer Policy Forum, taking place July 24-26 in St. Paul, Minnesota a joint NLC/NACo briefing on U.S. EPA Waters of the US Proposed Rule will take place.

Local officials are looking for platforms to share policy ideas with like-minded peers and the Groups are responding, and there is no doubt that we will see an increase in an already wide array of issues. Now more than ever, it is important that we as state government relations professionals arm ourselves with the resources necessary to remain aware of the discussions taking place in local governments, and take advantage of all opportunities to engage local officials on policy issues.

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Heather Williams is Vice President at Stateside Associates. She works to help clients manage state and local government issues. She also manages client relationships with key Groups, including her “alma mater,” the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), where she served as National Finance Director.

Will Higgins is Manager, Local Government Services at Stateside Associates. Prior to joining Stateside Associates as a Legislative Associate, Mr. Higgins worked for the Florida House of Representatives, as well as for a United States Senator. He also worked for several public affairs and communications firms supporting campaigns at the local, state and national levels.

Failed Upon Adjournment

May 20, 2014

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

canstockphoto6453644Are there three more beautiful words to a state government relations professional? Maybe there are, but for business reasons, this triplet means the danger has passed.

Or, has it?

Legislative ideas–especially the new, innovative, and crazy–do not find their footing immediately. Ideas take time to break in and to become comfortable or at least acceptable. Rough versions of proposals become polished over time as stakeholders and advocates weigh in. Think about some ‘crazy’ notions that are now law–like bans on incandescent light bulbs, living wages, calorie disclosures at restaurants and state regulation of the Internet.

Consider that the campaigns for ideas have become more sophisticated and more integrated. Advocates open the bidding with a study. A legislator tweets approval and promises action. Fellow legislators join in. Advocates note the “trending” issue as proof the idea is gaining acceptance. The bill is introduced. More tweets and posts herald the initiative and the traditional media provides the column inches necessary to create buzz around the Capitol.

Fortunately for most businesses, the legislative process is still deliberative and new, radical ideas do not immediately find their majority and do fail upon adjournment.

Is that a red light signaling that you can stop and relax? It should not be.

Forward thinking SGR professionals would be well advised to look for these new ideas on the scrap pile and evaluate their potential for future success.

Here is the 5-point test to determine if today’s wacky idea is tomorrow’s public policy:

  1. Consider the source. Is the advocate a well-established NGO with a history of legislative success? If so, plus one point.
  2. Is the legislative sponsor a serious, committed, successful lawmaker? If so, plus one point.
  3. Has the legislature experienced a significant turnover in membership or leadership that now tilts it more towards the philosophy of the proposal? If so, plus one point.
  4. Is social media at-large or among legislators (check that out via TellTale) buzzing about the topic? If so, plus one point.
  5. Has the real media picked up the topic and supported the underpinnings of the proposal? If so, plus one point.

If your evaluation of this failed bill or idea yields four or more points, the chances are very likely that you will see this bill again and you will see this idea again elsewhere.

So, when you get the report that a bill failed upon adjournment, don’t read that as a red light. Read it as a yellow light and go faster to get ahead of the trend.

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Constance Campanella is the Founder, President and CEO of Stateside Associates. A veteran of 30 years of state and federal issue management experience, Ms. Campanella managed Stateside’s growth from a one-person firm to what one trade publication has called, “a behemoth in state lobbying.”

Odds Are You Are Not Doing This

May 13, 2014

By Josh Fisher, Esq., Manager of State Issues

blog-silhouette-of-peopleEarlier this year, the Public Affairs Council (PAC) released its 2013 State Government Relations Benchmarking Report, which is filled with great information on the corporate and association state government relations (SGR) practices. In particular, the PAC report found that “SGR work is usually broad in scope and in territory covered, so those surveyed rely heavily upon external relationships and services for the fullest coverage and tracking of their particular public policy concerns.”

Examples of these external services include contract lobbyists and consultants. We are consultants at Stateside and much of our work involves helping clients hire and manage lobbyists. During the course of the year we provide dozens of qualified lobbyist referrals to our clients. Consequently, we know the importance of consultants and lobbyists to SGR professionals.

With that in mind, what really stood out in the report was the finding that about half of corporate and nearly three-quarters of association respondents have NO formal process for evaluating their contract lobbyists and consultants.

Let me cite some more figures to draw out why this is a surprising number. The PAC report found that for its corporate members the average SGR operating budget allocated 22% of its resources for contract lobbyists and 5% on consultants and vendors. Additionally, the ratio of contract lobbyists/consultants to total SGR staff is typically 2:1 according to the PAC report. Association respondents, on average, allocated 19% of their SGR operating budget to contract lobbyists and 9% on consultants and vendors. For associations, the typical staffing ratio is 1.8:1. These numbers demonstrate lobbyists and consultants outnumber your SGR staff nearly 2 to 1 and account for about a quarter of your budget. And there is no formal evaluation?

It is clear that a large portion of resources are devoted to contract lobbyists and consultants. And yet the report tells us that 54% of surveyed corporations and, even more striking, 73% of associations do not have a formal evaluation process. Both corporations and associations cited results as one of the top evaluation criteria for their contract lobbyists and consultants. It seems most people just want to know if the bill passed or failed. Bottom lines are impossible to avoid, but one day your bottom line may be in danger if you cannot justify the expense of a lobbyist or consultant you hired. To judge performance solely on outcome misses the mark.

In previous blog posts we have examined the importance of audits and the reasons you should use them. Let these numbers be a not-so-subtle reminder of the importance of being able to support your decision to hire a contract lobbyist or consultant beyond saying the bill passed. While the time for evaluations and audits is typically after sessions have ended and budgeting for the next year begins, now is a great time to gather the information you need as part of the audit process. Let’s be honest, how much of the whirlwind session will you remember come September?

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Josh Fisher is Manager of State Issues. His work at Stateside Associates has given him an intimate knowledge of the legislative process in all 50 states. He works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues and was most recently Manager of the Legislative Information Division at Stateside Associates.