Oregon county commissioners, judges, and staff from 22 counties joined nearly 2,000 other county leaders in Washington, D.C. for the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual Legislative Conference March 2-6, 2019. 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.
NACo’s major caucuses – the Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) and the Rural Action Caucus (RAC) – were among NACo’s standing committees that met during the event to discuss issues ranging from the 2020 Census, bridging the economic divide, broadband, and homelessness and housing. LUCC Vice Chair, AOC President, and Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader participated in the panel discussion sharing ways Clackamas Count is working to conquer homelessness and housing in her community.
During the RAC meeting, Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts introduced a resolution to the NACo Public Lands Steering Committee to support greater coordination between federal land management agencies and locate governments in implementing wildland fire suppression policies and strategies. The NACo Public Lands Steering Committee and NACo Board of Directors approved this interim policy resolution, along with many others. Interim policy resolutions will supplement existing NACo policy until NACo’s 2019 Annual Conference, at which point all policy resolutions expire and must be renewed.
Counties officials were also very active on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of Oregon’s federal delegation on issues including timber management, marijuana policy, transportation and infrastructure, and water. Commissioners, judges, and county staff in attendance met with all seven members of Oregon’s Federal delegation.
The conference also 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.
Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas spoke on the briefing on fixing the FAST Act and the unique infrastructure challenges local governments face.
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 (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) spoke at the press conference and urged counties to advocate for permanent funding of SRS and PILT through the New Forest Payment Endowment Bill. Commissioner Mark Owens introduced Sen. Wyden and Sen. Merkely at the press conference. 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.
Contributed by: Mckenzie Farrell | Public Affairs Director