Posts Tagged ‘local legislative tracking’

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.

Burning Water

April 17, 2014

By John Howell, Esq., Vice President

blog - burningwater

The debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is hot…almost as hot as burning water. At the federal, state, and local levels a battle is being waged and there seems to be no middle ground, no room for negotiation. While fracking has been around for decades, this battle over its future viability is just beginning. Pitting the environment against energy independence, a stream of documentaries and even a feature film, has certainly led to greater awareness and, perhaps, greater vitriol on both sides of the issue. If nothing else, watching this debate and monitoring the regulatory activity across the country is a fascinating exercise as the federal government, state legislatures, governors, local municipalities and courts are all active participants.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) published its Task Force Report on FracFocus 2.0. FracFocus is the reporting mechanism through which companies engaged in fracking disclose the chemicals added to their respective fracking fluid. This disclosure is intended to provide stakeholders with sufficient information to make informed decisions concerning environmental impacts due to fracking. FracFocus is maintained by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) lending credibility to the data contained in FracFocus.

The Task Force Report is informative and I believe it is a good tool to limit the environmental impacts of fracking fluid…but, absent a willingness to find a middle ground concerning fracking, will it be effective? Claims of sickness, higher concentrations of cancer, undrinkable water, and even earthquakes have been attributed to fracking by its opponents. Will detailed and effective reporting of chemical use somehow lessen the import of these claims when those same claims are based on the use of chemicals? Not in Butte County California.

Last week, the Butte County Board of Supervisors voted to draft an ordinance that could ban fracking in the county. If this ordinance is ultimately passed Butte County will be the first county in California to enact a ban. One Supervisor, speaking in support of drafting an ordinance, cited a concern that fracking “is moving a lot of stuff underneath us that’s holding us up…by taking the foundation away, we’ll crumble”. Can middle ground exist if people are concerned with falling into the earth? It is worth noting that there have been no fracking operations in Butte County to date so, perhaps, everyone is safe.

Texas – a solidly pro-fracking state – utilizes a framework of sophisticated industry-friendly regulation that governs recycling practices for fracking flowback fluids and for casing, cementing, and well control of fracking well holes. Similarly, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality adopted rules in 2013 to regulate disposal of certain radioactive tracers used in the exploration, development, and production of oil and gas resources. In Flower Mound Texas that may not be enough. Last week the Flower Mound City Council convened to “discuss and consider action related to gas drilling and development” with a focus on “community health issues related to hydraulic fracturing.” In Denton, Texas, a local activist group is working to place an ordinance banning fracking on ballots. The ordinance may result in a possible legal battle over the authority of local governments to ban fracking in Texas. In New York State, the November elections appear to be keeping the fracking discussion to a slow crawl. Now in the 6th year of a moratorium to study the effects of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, New York is not expected to issue final regulations anytime soon….certainly not before the elections. Despite dozens of bills sitting in the State Legislature and claims that the lack of movement in New York on the issue is having a significant economic impact and stunting job creation, final regulations are not expected from the Department of Environmental Conservation until at least April 2015. As a result, in February, a pro-fracking group filed suit against Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) to compel the state to complete its review of high volume hydraulic fracturing. In addition, the New York Court of Appeals is expected to hear cases soon regarding whether municipal governments have the authority to ban fracking within their borders.

While the fracking battle is being waged in these states and others across the country, money is flooding into North Dakota due to roughly 1 million barrels of oil production per day from the Bakken shale formation. This oil boom transformed North Dakota into the second largest oil producer in the country, only surpassed by Texas in terms of oil production. As a result, the unemployment rate in North Dakota is the lowest in the nation and the state has the most counties with increases to median household income. While North Dakota supports disclosure of fracking fluid chemical use in FracFocus and has recently adopted rules addressing oil and gas exploration, neither the court of law nor the court of public opinion seem to be impeding the state’s economic velocity.

Effectively monitoring state legislative and regulatory activity surrounding fracking is a true national effort. We are aware of the same dynamic playing out in Maryland, Minnesota, Los Angeles and everywhere else in between. Rarely have we monitored an issue this polarizing and divisive. Federal activity and the jurisdictional battles being waged in courtrooms across the country only add complexity and dimension to this effort. While issues often start out contentious and resolve with a predictable compromise, we do not see a compromise on the fracking horizon. Rather, we see the hydraulic fracturing debate being waged for years to come by two sides firmly entrenched in their beliefs.

About that burning water: in certain localities across the country, tap water can be lit on fire due to the level of methane in the water. Opponents of fracking claim methane in tap water as direct evidence that fracking fluid is poisoning groundwater and is not worth the environmental risks. Supporters of fracking point to the fact that tap water has been lit on fire since the 30’s – predating the first fracking operation. How, then, is fracking to blame? If we cannot agree on burning water, what can we possibly agree on?

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John Howell is Vice President of Regulatory Services at Stateside Associates. With substantial policy and legal experience, Mr. Howell guides Stateside Associates’ regulatory counsel and provides clients with hands on Regulatory Issue Management support from strategic planning, regulatory advocacy, and working with groups of state and local officials.

12 Local Officials Groups You Should Not Go Without

April 1, 2014

By Heather Williams, Vice President

local government monitoringAmerica is well organized. Almost 90,000 county, city, township and special district governments establish policies and procedures for everything from plastic bags at the grocery store to fracking and beyond. And, the interplay between state and local governments on hot topics like data security, fair share, e-cigarettes, minimum wage, procurement changes, health care reform, chemical regulation and pharmaceutical waste makes it increasingly impossible to focus efforts only at the state capitol.

Many state government relations professionals never face (or hope they never face) local government issues. And, that is an understandable sentiment. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to look past what is happening at the local level because the issues are, in many ways, state issues. And, they are influencing what we do in state capitols.

So, what can you do?

When faced with the opportunity or need to create a multi-state or national local officials relationship strategy, there are a number of paths that can be taken. One could take the “go it alone” strategy and travel to each of the jurisdictions of interest to create a relationship with the local official of interest, although this would be a monumental task and an ineffective way to reach this goal. Another route would be to use the relationships of state and local lobbyists by working through them to their rolodex of local officials. But if you are looking for a more coordinated and practical effort, I recommend engaging the relevant local officials Groups.

Let’s start with the three Groups with which we are all most familiar: National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities (NLC) and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM). These Groups are big and their membership is increasing. This is especially true of NACo and NLC, where recent senior level staff changes have refocused the Groups’ efforts on many things including growing their membership. These policy Groups use member driven policy directives to advocate the federal government on behalf of their membership. In addition they address current issues, monitor trends and serve as an incubator for policy ideas.

If relationships with local officials are what you are looking for, I challenge you to look beyond these three and into additional local Groups engagement opportunities. Looking beyond the three local policy Groups will increase the number of access points you have to local officials. The local officials involved in these Groups, especially within leadership, tend to be the more active, influential and vocal local officials.

Local Partisan Groups

These are the 527 Groups of local officials. Each political party has had a local officials Group since McCain Feingold campaign finance reform split the 527 Groups from the national party organizations. And, in parallel with the movement of state issues onto local agendas, these Groups are experiencing a political renaissance. Community Leaders of America (CLA) represents Republican mayors and other local elected executives. Democratic Municipal Officials (DMO) is the national association of Democratic mayors, council members, and other municipal leaders. Each Group has state chapters, providing a vast network of relationships to tap into.

State Leagues and Associations

There are 49 state municipal leagues – Hawaii does not have a state municipal league as Honolulu is the only city and it is governed by a consolidated city/county government – and 53 state associations of counties – 47 states have at least one state association and Arizona, Illinois, Washington and West Virginia have multiple. Each state league or association operates independently of the national Groups (NLC or NACo). Membership within the state leagues or associations are handled on an individual basis. If your objectives require a deeper dive into an individual state or a handful of states, consider joining the league or association within a particular state.

Constituency Groups and Affiliated Associations

Local officials also join constituency groups and affiliated organizations. These operate independently of but work collaboratively with NACo and NLC. Six Constituency Groups are associated with NACo and five are associated with NLC. Examples include the National Association of Black County Officials (NABCO), National Association of Hispanic County Officials (NAHCO) and their city counterparts National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) and Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO). Examples of the 25 affiliated associations that work with NACo include National Association for County Community & Economic Development (NACCED), National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and National Association of County Collectors, Treasurers & Finance Officers (NACCTFO). Membership in these Groups covers all 50 states.

There is no question that expanding to incorporate local government Groups into a government relations program requires significant resource commitment. Being more aware of the array of organizations with which you can work may make decisions easier. But, the fact remains – state issues are now local issues and that is not likely to change.

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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.