I flew to Washington D.C. to attend the NACo Legislative Conference
This morning the owner’s representative of the Cinnabar Mine property and I met with Natural Resource staff in Senator Crapo’s and Senator Risch’s offices. The topic discussed was the access for the landowner to their private property when you have to cross public lands. We provided the history of Cinnabar to the respective offices and the safety of attempting an access across other private property when the Sugar Creek Road has been the historic access for many years.
I also attended a National Association of Counties (NACo) Ambassador’s meeting to learn the details of tomorrow morning’s NACo First Time Attendee Breakfast meeting.
8:00 AM: I attended the First Time Attendees breakfast meeting to help those coming to the NACo Conference answer questions they had about the conference. With over 250 first timers there were veteran county elected officials there to visit with them about NACo and explain the conference agendas.
9:00 AM: I attended the Transportation Policy Steering Committee meeting to review resolutions. Resolutions on Transit Options, Electronic Logging Devices (Log Books for Hours Traveled) and Alternative Congestion Mitigation were presented.
10:00 AM: I attended the Transportation Policy Subcommittee meeting where we heard from former Congressman John Mica who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He discussed being optimistic with the new administration, the pace not happening faster, spoke on aviation in relationship to TSA and how TSA is still not fail-safe, toll roads are not fair if taxes already paid the bill and how fuel taxes don’t solve all the revenue problems.
Then we heard from Larry Minor with the Federal Motor Carrier Division addressing Truck and Bus safety. He spoke on Driver qualifications, Drug and Alcohol testing, hours of service when driving and the new Electronic Log In Devices.
Next was Anthony Bedell, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Intergovernmental Affairs, US DOT. He spoke on the need to look at the future needs for National Transportation Infrastructure. He applauded NACo for their assistance and relationship with transportation issues. His goals are Safety, Infrastructure and Transformative Innovation. Some concern with the definition of Rural was discussed as it relates to the President’s Infrastructure Package.
1:30 PM: I attended the NACo Executive Board of Directors Meeting. In this meeting, we had an audit report and financial report, including investment of the funds and gains by the investments. Next was the Executive Director’s report where we discussed the weather creating flight delays and attendees cancelling their registration as a result, NACo membership is almost at a record high, speakers who have cancelled at the last minute for this conference, 135 Billion in funding for disasters this past year more than any prior year, speakers who have confirmed for this conference are Senator Booker from New Jersey and Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina, NACo’s Press Conference on PILT and SRS, Hill Briefings on Poverty and Infrastructure, thanked the NACo staff for the great work they do for the membership and building relationships with congressional offices, leadership opportunities by members and media relationships by NACo staff.
5:00 PM: I attended the NACo Policy Coordinating Meeting #2. At this meeting we heard what resolutions passed and what resolutions failed before being brought to the NACo Board of Directors.
6:30 PM: I attended the NACo Financial Services Corporation dinner.
7:00 AM: I attended the Non-Denominational Worship Services.
10:00 AM: I attended the NACo Rural Action Caucus (RAC) meeting. NACo 1st Vice President Greg Cox and NACo President Roy Charles Brooks spoke on Generational Poverty and about the upcoming Farm Bill Summit.
Gina Sheets, Chief Innovation Officer, USDA spoke on three priorities they are working on which include Infrastructure, Partnerships and Innovation for rural areas across the United States. She has created a Task Force to collect information and provide assistance for grants.
The next speaker was Betty-Ann Bryce, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, USDA. She spoke on Secretary Purdue wanting action however action requires talking to people to understand what action needs to be taken. Local discussions on opioids we were told is needed to support Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. 75% of farmers are impacted due to the opioid crisis.
We then heard from a representative of the Norch Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis who spoke on the diseases of despair and mapping the opioid crisis mortality rate.
At Noon the Leadership of NACo’s Western Interstate Region had the opportunity to have lunch with Tony Tooke, Chief of the Forest Service. We discussed the backlog of work to do by the Forest Service, he has never worked in the West however is learning all he can, need to work together across boundaries, be willing to listen and take criticism, fire funding needs fixed, access to the forest is physically challenging and infrastructure needs exist.
We asked questions on the Roadless Rule Boundaries, areas like the 4-Fry in Arizona after recommendations complete and contracts let there is little happening, disparity between forests, mortality of the trees, wildfire impacts and partnership conflicts.
The Chief responded with seeing more forest products automation, Timber Industry is looking at Arizona, some Line Officers more experienced than others, goals include better partnerships, fires will happen and create resource impacts, wants better working relationships and accountability and he closed with prescribed fire use will be needed as there is a large landscape to work on.
1:00 PM: I attended the Western Interstate Region Board of Directors meeting. We heard more from the Chief of the Forest Service as he spoke to the full board on the use of good science, the risk of fire, impacts to watersheds and wildlife in today’s year-round fires happening. We need to increase recreation access which is one of the highest priorities, lack of sustained maintenance has created hard choices to be made, partnerships to do more work and understand the need of infrastructure.
Comments were made by board members on we all agree the infrastructure needs are there, thanks from Ventura County, California for the Forest Service help with fires, the need for 10 year commitment by the Forest Service on timber harvest so financial help will be available, Resource Advisory Committee’s (RAC) not functioning due to no approved applications with money waiting to be approved by the RAC’s, the need to litigate to get the Forest Service attention, grazing allotments less than prior years and can be used for fire prevention and post fire management is lacking.
The Chief responded with difficult to harvest with limited infrastructure, collaborations help to build trust, Environmental Assessments and Categorical Exclusions get work done. Litigation is less today, post fire mitigation should happen as this is a safety issue and working on the RAC appointment issue.
The Cynthia Mosses-Nedd spoke on the BLM Re-organization of Regions, moving Department of the Interior (DOI) offices to the West so folks are closer to the majority of the BLM administered Public Lands, and intent is to get the DOI folks on the ground so they see the conditions first hand and not from an office in Washington D.C.
Jack Morgan with NACo spoke on strengthening the local economy and creating jobs by tapping the energy economy.
Jordon Smith with the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition provided an update on ESA. He discussed recent regulatory, legislative and judicial actions related to the ESA.
Mike Zupko, Executive Director, Wildland Fire Leadership Council and Katie Lighthall, Western Region Coordinator, National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy spoke on Wildfire Preparedness.
Mike said the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are committed to rangeland management, post fire impacts, increasing the pace and scale of treatment, smoke and air quality management and the use of prescribed fire.
Katie spoke on the upcoming Cohesive Wildfire Strategy Conference in Reno, NV on March 27th through the 29th. She is looking at how they can assist counties with creating a program to deal with wildfire, understand the risk of fire, preparing for a complete program at the WIR Conference in May to help more in the West understand fire risk and hoping many will attend.
Jonathan Shuffield, NACo Associate Legislative Director for WIR spoke on the President’s Infrastructure Package and what it entails for the West, reducing permit approval timeline and establishes some funding in specific area.
Next was Board discussion on an amendment to the WIR Budget.
3:30 PM: I attended the NACo Board Forum where we heard from Marian Wright Edelman the Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund. She spoke on childhood poverty and ways to improve by providing food nutrition and housing to uplift a child’s needs and show them a way to prosperity. A comment I wrote down was from Noah’s Ark, “Don’t Miss the Boat”. Many children today are unable to read at a sufficient level, 75% of 18-24 age class can’t enter the military due to poor reading ability. Another noted message I wrote down was “The Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals”. Marian was joined by two county officials Toni Carter and Nancy Sharpe who expressed the desire to see students go onto college and be successful however we also need to understand trade or tech schools are just as important. Toni mentions engaging the communities to help. Nancy says use the whole family approach to understand the entire picture of the child. All agreed we need to identify barriers that are holding people back.
Tonight I attended the NACo Board Reception held at the Organization of American States.
7:30 AM: I chaired the West Region Caucus Meeting. We had a packed room of attendees from the 15 Western States. We discussed issues states that had legalized marijuana were seeing as a result of people now using marijuana and then what the 4 states that had not legalized. Most of the discussion was on the impact of marijuana grows that smell during certain periods of the year. Those without legalized marijuana were seeing the products move through their states and seeing impacts to law enforcement. More discussion was needed if we had more time.
Next, we recognized the outgoing State Executive Directors and welcomed the new Executive Directors that were in attendance.
We then had a brief moment to hear from Erin Dickinson who spoke to the group on her firm working the litigation of the Opioids from the supply side.
We will still hold monthly West Region Calls on the 2nd Thursday of the month at MST or MDT whichever is in effect.
9:00 AM: General Session time. We heard from David J. Shulkin, U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs and Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Both spoke to the membership of their respective duties.
Noon I attended the membership luncheon with entertainment by The Capitol Steps who do comedy on the President, past and present, and other members of the administration or Congress.
1:45 PM: I attended the NACo Board of Directors Meeting which was our business meeting for the conference. We approved Audit and Finance reports. The Executive Director spoke on the efforts some took to get to the conference when flights were canceled. Some got in their vehicles and drove 14 hours to be able to attend, he spoke on not wasting time on what portion of the President’s budget is okay as it will all change before it is over, disasters better funded than before, the NACo Press Conference with 6 Representatives and I Senator speaking as well as county officials, Briefings on Transportation and Poverty and making the most of your time while in Washington D.C.
Bill Jasien with NACo Financial Services spoke on the wellbeing of their part of NACo with 80% participation by counties and 20% whom he asked to please come visit with him.
We then heard from White House administrative staff on their open door policy to hear from county officials. They know infrastructure is a major issue and have heard the concerns of folks when told the funding is now 80% county and 20% Federal however existing 20%/80% programs still receive their funding if already approved. Understand the need for a quicker time line for permitting and have addressed that with one agency one review.
The NACo Board then heard reports from the Steering Committees on Resolutions, followed by the Large Urban Counties Caucus and Rural Action Caucus Reports. To end the meeting the President of the Western Interstate Region provided his report.
5:00 PM: I attended the National Conference of Republican County Officials business meeting. Most of the meeting was with elections of officers and discussion on the upcoming elections.
Tonight I attended the Nevada County Officials Dinner. While there I was introduced to many new Nevada folks I had never met and to meet Robyn Whitney, Legislative Analyst, Office of Congressional Relations, USDA. I along with the Nevada folks had a great discussion on many issues.
10:30 AM: While attending NACo Conferences you always expect change. I was invited to attend a meeting with the Department of the Interior (DOI), Senior Advisor, Susan Combs along with other WIR Leadership folks and NACo staff to discuss more of the re-organization of the DOI and what that means to rural America. The re-organization attempted to stay with State boundaries however in some cases watersheds needed to remain together. Susan had just returned from visiting Alaska where they have created a pilot program to see how this will work. How nice to hear someone is going and seeing firsthand the results of their work. We discussed knowing the conditions before making decisions and she agreed. Grazing was discussed about the BLM hard and fast rule of when you can turn out and when you had to be off the land when conditions are not right. She listened very well and appeared to be willing to allow some flexibility in the dates. We mentioned that counties are willing to assist if they have a say in the decisions. Counties and states have created plans that will work and will provide them to her. I felt good about this meeting as I understood there is a need to hear our concerns and work to find some balance.
1:00 PM: I participated in the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Press Conference hosted by NACo. 6 of our Nations Representatives and One Oregon Senator spoke on the need for SRS and PILT for our counties and schools to continue. Several County Elected Officials from New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Washington and I from Idaho spoke on the importance of these two programs.
3:00 PM: I attended the NACo Hill Briefing on Transportation Infrastructure where key NACo Transportation Committee Leadership spoke on the value of maintaining our nation’s infrastructure and how much the counties are involved.
7:00 PM: Tonight was the NACo President’s Reception.
9:30 AM: I along with IAC Director of Operations, Kristin and Custer County, Idaho Commissioner Wayne met with Congressman Labrador and staff. We discussed when additional funding was approved there was a change in the attitude of Congress with feeling they can do more. Many still are avoiding doing tough decisions due to an election year. Expect to see an Omnibus by March 23rd which should include SRS funding unless forest management isn’t wanted. The House has always supported management while the Senate seems less willing. PILT has always been an easier sell as more counties receive this and not primarily in the west. We also discussed the concern of private lands being purchased and then donated to the Federal Government which creates a tax shift when these lands become tax exempt. Even the PILT payment is small compared to what was there before. Small rural populated counties with large tracts of Public Lands are impacted the most as they have no taxable land to draw from. Custer County is struggling to keep a Jail open and can’t afford to send offenders out of county to house them.
11:00 AM: I then attended a meeting with the USDA Innovation Center with many Rural Action Caucus members and NACo staff. Gina Sheets whom we met in our conference meeting wanted to visit with some of us on rural innovation. Her main focus of interest is in Housing, Business and Utilities. Each of these is part of the Rural Economy and provides a value to the communities. She wants to build on their resources to assist where ever the need is. Out of 47 USDA state offices she has 44 of them staffed. Looking to improve the rural prosperity by collecting good data, share stories, find the highest need, create a one stop shop for assistance, keeping people in their homes and work for community agreement.
3:00 PM: I participated in a National Forest Counties Schools Coalition Conference call where we discussed yesterday’s Press Conference.
Tonight I learned that the Chief of the Forest Service whom we just met this week resigned.
I flew home from Washington D.C.
Thanks for allowing me to represent Idaho Association of Counties as their NACo Representative.
Gordon Cruickshank, Valley County Commissioner