WASHINGTON, D.C. – 16 delegates from Idaho joined nearly 2,000 other county leaders in Washington, D.C. for the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual Legislative Conference March 2-6. Participants met with members of the Trump administration and Congress on key issues like disaster recovery, the opioid and substance abuse epidemic, broadband accessibility and revitalizing American infrastructure.
“Decisions made by the White House, Congress and federal courts have major impacts on our ability to lead our communities and pursue a better future,” said NACo President Greg Cox. “This conference is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our federal partners as we help residents forge pathways to live well and thrive.”
In meetings with lawmakers and administration officials, county leaders outlined several key federal policy priorities including:
* Promoting county infrastructure priorities in a comprehensive infrastructure package
* Supporting the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) programs, which honor federal commitments to public lands and timber counties
* Promoting mental health, substance use disorders treatment, and criminal justice reform, and
* Boosting broadband deployment and accessibility while preserving local zoning authority.
As part of its policy advocacy, NACo launched an updated “Counties Matter” campaign to illustrate counties’ vast role in advancing America’s policy priorities at the local level. NACo also launched a new and improved County Explorer. The tool, which allows users to map data at the county level, now works on mobile devices and is more user-friendly.
Conference participants heard from congressional and administration leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst, Amy Klobuchar, and Marco Rubio, Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway and Co-Founder of America Online Steve Case.
The conference featured three briefings on Capitol Hill: one on strengthening human services; one on fixing the FAST Act, focusing on transportation infrastructure; and another on how counties are reimaging health care in county jails. NACo also announced a joint task force with the National Sheriffs’ Association to examine the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy, which strips federal health and veterans’ benefits from individuals upon admission to jail – not upon conviction – leading to increased recidivism.
Dozens of county officials also rallied at a press conference with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to underscore support for key public lands programs, Secure Rural Schools and Payments in Lieu of Taxes. Watch the press conference here.
There were more than two dozen policy workshops featuring county officials and other leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. They focused on topics like the opioid crisis; early childhood investments; workforce and economic development; transportation and infrastructure; public health and safety; mental health and jails; and cybersecurity and technology.
Below please find Gordon Cruickshank’s report on his time in DC as the NACo Representative from Idaho.
I flew to Washington DC to attend the 2019 NACo Legislative Conference. Upon arriving I attended a meeting with representatives of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition to hear what they had learned during their Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Fly-In and meeting with Congressional Offices. Their comments were all positive on the support they felt to reauthorize SRS. I also learned that the 2018 SRS payments should be sent out in the next month or so.
This morning I attended a meeting at the National Association of Counties (NACo) headquarters with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corp of Engineers staff to discuss the definitions on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS). We were told by EPA and Army Corp that our meeting was the best dialog they had had on clarifying WOTUS rules and appreciated our comments and suggestions.
This afternoon I attended a meeting of NACo Ambassadors who will be meeting with the First Time Attendees tomorrow morning to understand the schedule we would be working from. This evening was a dinner event with the NACo Finance and Audit Committee as the NACo Executive Committee was invited to join them.
I attended the First Time Attendees breakfast to help those coming to a NACo Conference understand what the conference is all about and how to attend workshops, committee meetings, general sessions and going to Capitol Hill to meet with their Congressional folks. I then attended the NACo Transportation meetings this morning to hear Legislative Updates and review proposed Resolutions. Presentations were heard by the Office of Governmental Affairs for U.S. DOT on infrastructure, fuel tax, rail safety and broadband. The President of the Transportation Technology Center Inc. spoke on rail safety and how accidents are down considerable over the last few years for both rail cars and employees. The Director of Highways and Roads, HDR spoke on the effort of Toward Zero Deaths and what is being worked on to help reduce highway accidents that end with a death.
I attended the Resilient Counties Luncheon where we heard presentations on Addressing Ongoing and Emerging Threats Due to Adverse Weather Patterns. Sea level rise is happening in Florida which creates impacts to drinking water, hurricanes, wildfire and climate was also discussed.
My next meeting was a NACo Executive Board Meeting where we had an Audit Report, Finance Report, Executive Director Report that told us we had a new high of 2,400 counties now members of NACo, learned of a new program to show cell phone service is not what the industry says it is by using a new app, learned of a new Task Force with the National Sheriff’s Association on those arrested losing benefits prior to sentencing, reviewed the Capitol Hill Briefings and Press Release schedule for Tuesday and discussed meetings for the NACo Day of Rural Action Caucus (RAC) held following the Conference. We then had a presentation of the 2019 Legislative Highlights and proposed policies. We reviewed proposed locations for future NACo Annual Conferences. We discussed the NACo High Performance Leadership Academy future as this is well received as an online course. Many county employees are taking the courses. We heard a report of the many foundations that is working with NACo on specific areas. Tonight was a NACo Executive Board Dinner with a few past presidents and Invited guests of our Executive Director.
I started my morning by attending a Non-Denominational Service for Conference Attendees. Next was a meeting to discuss issues the NACo Western Interstate Region (WIR) Leadership wanted to visit with the Chief of the Forest Service about at our special luncheon.
I then attended a NACo RAC meeting where we discussed the lack of good internet coverage for rural America with Broadband, the TestIT app was introduced here as it will allow cell phone users to record the download and upload speeds for NACo so we can show Industry their data is incorrect. I also learned that if one cell phone has good service in a Zip Code then Industry considers them to have good coverage. We then had a presentation on the 2020 Census and learned that the Census Bureau is hoping to have many people fill out the forms online. We also learned that the notices to go online will not be sent to Post Office Boxes and only sent to Physical Addresses. I voice a concern for rural counties as I choose to have a P O Box instead of a rural box so I was being left out. Interesting enough the presenters had no solution even though they want a good census taken. They also felt counties should create their own Complete Count Committees to assist with the census taking.
At noon I attended a meeting with Vicki Christiansen, Chief of the Forest Service. Our small group discussed Stewardship Projects and where the funding is used as the counties don’t receive any of this funding, 20 year Stewardship Supply Contracts, sharing resources between agencies including States and other Organizations, Secretary Purdue’s Initiatives to do more Restoration Treatments, Increase Timber Harvest and Access to Public Lands.
I then attended the WIR Board Meeting where Chief Christiansen spoke to the full board. Again she focused on their concern of the 193 million acres of Public Lands with 80 million acres at risk of fire and disease. She spoke on better outcomes needed such as How do we show up, What do we do, Be a good neighbor and Shared Stewardship. She also asked us to help push when needed and to be patient when needed. We then heard from a FEMA representative who spoke on Hazard Mitigation Grants, Fire Management Assistance Grants and the Disaster Recovery Reform Act HR 302. Then it was the White House Intergovernmental Affairs Deputy Director thanking all the Elected Officials who came to the White House meetings when invited. 35 meetings were held and 2,000 people attended those meetings. The National Endangered Species Act Resource Council spoke on working with the U.S. House of Representatives Western Caucus on legislation concerning the Endangered Species Act regulatory issues. The Wildland Fire Leadership Council spoke on smoke management of Prescribed Fires and maps created to show where the high risk areas are.
I then attended a NACo Board of Directors Forum where new folks to the board heard about work with Human Services, Public Lands, Media involvement, Counties Matter programs, more on the TestIT app to show broadband speed, a new version of County Explorer being launched which shows the power of data and how to get there at explorer.naco.org. Tonight I attended the NACo Board of Directors Reception held at the Smithsonian African American Museum.
This morning was the NACo West Region Caucus meeting which being the NACo West Region Representative I facilitate. Jonathan, NACo Associate Legislative Director presented on the President’s Executive Order to work more with Forest Management on the National Forest. We also heard from the 3 NACo Candidates running for NACo 2nd Vice President this summer and discussed several items of interest of the group including wolves being proposed for introduction into Colorado.
The General Session started mid-morning with presentations by U.S. Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst and Special Assistant to the President Kelly Anne Conway. At noon was the Conference Attendee Luncheon where we were entertained by the Capitol Steps who do a comedy on politics in several skits and songs.
This afternoon I attended the NACo Full Board of Directors meeting. The White House Office of Governmental Affairs spoke to us on the 35 White House meetings with county elected officials, their work on the Opioid Epidemic, Disaster Resiliency, Infrastructure and how nothing major has been accomplished since the Eisenhower Presidency for Interstate Highways, Opportunity Zones for Economic Development and Workforce Development.
We approved reports from the Membership Committee, Information Technology Committee, Programs and Services Committee, Audit Committee and Finance Committee. We again heard about the High Performance Leadership Academy, the Executive Director’s report in more detail, NACo Foundation Partnerships, Federal Policy Agenda and Landscape and heard resolution reports from all our NACo Standing Committees and Caucuses.
This evening I attended the meeting of the National Conference of Republican County Officials Business meeting and Reception.
I attended a workshop on Repaving the Federal Permitting Process. Here we learned of efforts to streamline permitting by Federal Agencies by allowing all agencies to review at the same time instead of on different time frames. We also discussed repairing roads after washouts and not being able to increase the size of culverts without a permit.
Next was another General Session where we had presentations by Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue who mentioned the Broadband issue for Rural America, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and Co-Founder of America Online. My next event was a Conference Wide Attendees Photo Op on the U.S. Capitol Steps.
I then attended a Public Lands Leadership Meeting with Bipartisan Congressional Staff where we discussed a potential change in the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) formula to assist smaller populated counties with Public Lands in two different scenarios. We also discussed the need for the Secure Rural Schools program to continue with short term funding while looking at the long term solution being proposed by Idaho Senator Crapo and Oregon Senator Wyden. Both House and Senate staff were willing to discuss the potential changes as their respective committees meet. We also discussed forest management and Good Neighbor Authority work.
Immediately after this meeting was a Press Conference by the U.S. Capitol Building House Triangle on Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools. Speaking today in support of the programs were Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Congressman Derek Kilmer, Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman, California Congressman Salud Carbajal, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert and Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte. Other leadership folks from NACo Counties also spoke either to introduce the speakers or showing the need of the programs to continue. I was fortunate to also be one of the speakers at this press conference. Tonight I attended the NACo President’s reception held for all the Conference Attendees.
This morning I attended a NACo Rural Action Caucus (RAC) meeting with the Census Bureau folks to review the process of the 2020 Census. Again we voice our concern on not sending notices to Post Office boxes if they want a good count of the population.
I then had a meeting with Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson along with commissioners from Custer County and Teton County. We discussed PILT and SRS programs, financial impacts of people selling private property and then having it donated to Federal Agencies. The issue here is loss of tax base and economic stability of a county. We also discussed where funding could come from to fund various programs including PILT and SRS.
My next meeting was another NACo RAC meeting at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building where we met with more Administrative Directors for various departments. Intergovernmental Affairs, Tribes, Office of Drug Policy and Transportation/Infrastructure staff were there to visit with us on issues we see in Rural America. We discussed broadband fiber reaching the front door of a resident, students leaving a rural area as no broadband is good enough to compete with urban areas, Opioid utilization and efforts to control, EPA regulations that small counties struggle with as not enough staff to work through the process, Waters of the United States and clarification of definitions, using NACo as a resource to assist agencies with data, Wildfire Risk after seeing last year’s fires, the need to do more with Forest Fuel Reduction to lessen the risk of wildfire, Insurance Companies not renewing insurance in wildfire prone areas, flooding after a wildfire and future roundtable meetings to discuss these issues further.
My next meeting was with the Natural Resource Staff in Senator Risch’s Office. On my way to meet with Ayla I met Senator Risch in the hallway so he asked if I would be there when he returned from a meeting. I had a good conversation with Ayla and upon leaving Senator Risch returned and asked me to come into his office and visit. Topics discussed were SRS, PILT, Midas Gold’s Stibnite Project, Insurance in Wildland Urban Interface areas being cancelled, Wolves and impact to Livestock and Wildlife, Wilderness Study Areas being managed as if Wilderness and Medicaid Funding in Idaho.
I then met with Congressman Fulcher’s staff on Natural Resources and also met the Congressman’s Chief of Staff Mr. Beyer. Andrew and I discussed most of the same topics as I did with Senator Risch’s office. Andrew did mention that Congressman Fulcher has hit the ground running, asking questions of his fellow Congressional Offices, understands he has to play a lot of defense, is fiscally conservative and is learning more about Wilderness Study Areas.
It was a very long day for me of flying and driving home today.
I want to thank all of the Idaho Association of Counties members for allowing me to represent you at these important meetings during the NACo Legislative Conference.
Thanks again for the honor to represent Idaho,