WASHINGTON, D.C. – Alexander County Commissioners Jeff Peal, Marty Pennell, Ronnie Reese, and Larry Yoder, along with County Manager Rick French, 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. Attendees 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.
During the conference, Alexander County officials attended numerous meetings and events. They attended a briefing in the Longwirth House Office Building on “Fixing the FAST Act” (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation); a North Carolina reception attended by Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, with a discussion about an infrastructure bill which includes transportation, water, sewer, and broadband; a North Carolina Caucus at the Washington Hilton; and a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The NACo Legislative Conference was a great opportunity to meet with other county leaders from across the nation,” said Alexander County Commission Chairman Jeff Peal. “The conference also provided an avenue to meet with our elected officials, and discuss our needs and goals in Alexander County, which many counties in the United States share with us.”
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 counties
- Promoting mental health, substance use disorders treatment and criminal justice reform, and
- Boosting broadband deployment and accessibility while preserving local zoning authority.
“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.”
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 accessible and user-friendly.
Conference attendees 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 transforming policy and practice at the local level featuring U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady; one on the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act; and another briefing on how counties are reimagining health care in county jails featuring U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko.
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. The press conference included U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Bruce Westerman, Derek Kilmer, Louis Gohmert, Salud Carbajal, Ross Fulcher, and Jaime Herrera Beutler.
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.