Winter 2014

NBCSL Goes to Washington

By Michael D. Reed, NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.

11-NBCSL Goes to Washington MainPhoto(left to right) Congressman G.K. Butterfield (NC); Congresswoman Eddie Berniece Johnson (TX); NBCSL President, Rep. Joe Armstrong (TN); CBC Chair, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH); Congressman Sanford Bishop (GA); and Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (OH)In September,  members convened in the the nation’s capital to take part in NBCSL on the Hill, a symposium held biennially in Washington, D.C. to foster dialogue between NBCSL leaders from across the country and members of Congress, Administration officials, and other national stakeholders. The symposium consists of issue forums for members to hear from national experts on a range of policy issues, as well as to discuss shared priorities with members of Congress. This year’s NBCSL on the Hill was held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, which gave members a greater opportunity to engage with their federal counterparts and other national leaders on issues of importance to African Americans.

NBCSL on the Hill participants began the meeting over lunch, where NBCSL President Joe Armstrong welcomed everyone and provided an outline of the purpose, goals, and agenda of the symposium. President Armstrong also initiated a discussion about NBCSL’s Federal Priorities, a document developed to guide NBCSL discussions with the Administration, Congress, and national stakeholders. The members were divided into teams based on their policy expertise and leadership within NBCSL to focus on specific aspects of the NBCSL Federal Priorities. Each team was tasked with generating questions and discussions on the topic areas over the course of the symposium.

Following lunch, NBCSL members went to the White House to meet with Obama Administration officials on a host of priorities of joint importance. The meeting opened with a welcome from Tara Corrigan, White House Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, who also served as moderator for the meetings. The first meeting was with Marlon Marshall, Special Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy Director of Public Engagement.

NBCSL’s Federal Priorities is a document that summarizes NBCSL’s positions on federal policy issues. Using NBCSL’s policy resolutions as a foundation, this document focuses on five (5) primary areas: civil rights, health, job creation & economic development, education, and environment & energy.

Mr. Marshall first updated legislators on implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  He indicated that October 2014 marked one year since ACA’s inaugural open enrollment period. Despite challenges with the website for the federal insurance exchange, as well as a handful of state exchanges, Mr. Marshall noted that the White House exceeded its goal of enrolling more than 7 million Americans in health care through the exchanges. He also noted that this year’s open enrollment period is approaching and lasts from November 15, 2014 through February 15, 2015. Despite a shortened open enrollment period, Mr. Marshall reiterated the White House’s goal to use this period to reduce the nation’s uninsured rate. He encouraged NBCSL on the Hill participants to partner with the White House to publicize the open enrollment in their communities, fight to expand Medicaid in states that have not yet done so, and identify local ACA success stories for the White House to highlight.

Mr. Marshall also provided an overview and update on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Initiative Initiative. He focused on the MBK Community Challenge, launched in September, which seeks to engage mayors and local executives to commit to carrying out the goals of the initiative. He called on NBCSL members to serve as ambassadors for MBK and the Community challenge, through social media, sharing information among other elected officials and community leaders, and encouraging businesses in their communities to commit to the initiatives as well.

Rohan Patel, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, spoke to the members on the administration’s climate change and environmental initiatives. Mr. Patel indicated that the President’s climate change strategy is geared toward working on a state-by-state basis, similar to ACA implementation. Instead of forcing states into a one-size-fits-all approach, President Obama’s goal has been to focus on implementing his Clean Power Plan, which takes into account unique energy and economic realities of each state. The Clean Power Plan also works with those states to craft energy strategies that work best for their circumstances. Mr. Patel also noted that African Americans are disproportionately harmed by pollution, which impacts their health, education, and safety. Mr. Patel shared the story of his own daughter, who suffers from respiratory issues, as one reason why this work has additional importance to him.

Following Mr. Patel, the legislators then heard from Roy L. Austin, Jr. (Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity) and Myesha Braden (Senior Policy Advisor, Executive Office of the President, serving a detail assignment from the U.S. Department of Justice), who focused on voting and civil rights. Ms. Braden began her presentation by noting NBCSL’s support for the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) and reiterating the Administration’s commitment to supporting EAC’s work and strengthening EAC’s engagement with election administrators across the nation. Mr. Austin focused his remarks on several law enforcement and criminal justice issues, primarily police militarization, over-incarceration, reentry, and accurate incident-based reporting. Mr. Austin reiterated the goal of President Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder to reduce mass incarceration in the United States, noting that in 2013 the federal prisoner population declined for the first time in history. He also acknowledged that to truly reverse over-incarceration, more work must be done to address the criminal justice system and inmate populations on the state and local levels, where two million prisoners are housed.

Mr. Austin highlighted the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a national database that tracks disaggregated data on crimes, victims, and suspects on a range of categories. He noted that NIBRS relies heavily on accurate reporting from state and local law enforcement agencies, but that inconsistent reporting between agencies limits the database’s efficiency and effectiveness. He recommended that legislators review their individual states’ reporting protocol to ensure that NIBRS can be a useful tool for law enforcement and policy makers.

The legislators then heard from Eugene Cornelius, Jr., Deputy Associate Administrator for Field Operations for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), who discussed work that SBA has done in the African-American community. He provided examples of creative strategies some communities had used to accomplish major community redevelopment projects. To close the meeting, Adrian Saenz, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs thanked the speakers and NBCSL members in attendance, and pledged his offices’ support for any additional follow-up or question that may arise.

The same evening, legislators and corporate sponsors enjoyed a reception held in partnership with the State Government Affairs Council (SGAC). The SGAC is a non-profit composed of corporations and industry associations with multi-state government affairs operations. The SGAC’s sponsorship of NBCSL on the Hill allowed NBCSL exposure to new potential corporate members during the reception, while also exposing SGAC’s members to new legislators from around the country. President Armstrong introduced SGAC Executive Director Beth Loudy, who brought warm remarks and touted the partnership.

Click to enlarge image 01_GroupShot.JPG

(Seated, left to right) Sen. Hillman Frazier (MS); Sen. Arthenia Joyner (FL); Rep. Greg Porter (IN), President-Elect, Sen. Catherine Pugh (MD); President, Rep. Joe Armstrong (TN); Immediate Past President, Rep. Barbara Ballard (KS); Past President, Rep. Calvin Smyre (GA); Rep. Laura Hall (AL); and Rep. Howard Mosby (GA). (Standing, left to right) Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (GA), Sen. Gerald Neal (KY), Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (NV), Sen. Constance Johnson (OK), Del. Talmadge Branch (MD), and Rep. Cherrish Pryor (IN)

The following morning, SGAC also sponsored a joint social media boot camp allowing its members to learn along with NBCSL legislators. The boot camp featured experts who shared the latest in technology and strategic messaging for key social media platforms.  The purpose of the session was to help NBCSL members explore digital opportunities, learn how to better use social media tools for campaign initiatives and strategic communications, and to learn the range of social media platforms.

Representative Alan Williams (FL), NBCSL’s Secretary and an active user of several social media platforms, moderated the session. Representative Williams highlighted that African Americans are more likely to use social media and mobile phones to access the internet than most Americans, and he shared how social media has positively impacted his work as a legislator. Despite being an active social media user, Representative Williams admitted that youth in his community, including his children, tend to understand, embrace, and use social media “all day every day.”  The result is that they stay connected to each other and the issues that are important to them in ways that have previously been unimaginable.

The first trainer was Robyn Orth, Manager, Digital and Social Media Communications at Eli Lilly and Company. Ms. Orth provided an overview of the explosion of social media in public and political discourse, particularly since 2008. In her presentation, she noted that 60% of U.S. adults are active on a social networking website or platform, and that nearly 40% of those users engaged in some form of political activity through social media during the 2012 elections. Ms. Orth related to the group that there are several ways policymakers can engage in campaigns to reach social media users and to build on the natural benefits social media presents. As an example, Ms. Orth highlighted Eli Lilly’s LillyPad digital platform, which the company uses to share its message, engage with customers, and shape business decisions. The goals of LillyPad are to educate stakeholders on Lilly’s public policy priorities, empower supporters, engage policymakers, and evolve its efforts. LillyPad uses social media tools such as Facebook posts, blogs, and cross-promotion of partners.

The legislators also heard from David Lipscomb, Director of the Writing Center at Georgetown University. Mr. Lipscomb provided technical assistance to the lawmakers on how they can customize their own social media campaigns. Dr. Lipscomb explained that while there are many issues a lawmaker may be interested in leveraging via social media, without adequate planning these efforts may not yield the expected results. Dr. Lipscomp provided the members with several templates to help legislators craft the most appropriate social media campaign to meet their needs, including guidance on how to establish engagement goals, target audiences, timelines, message building, and platform options.

The final trainer was Don Seymour, Jr., who handles U.S. Politics & Government Outreach for Facebook. Mr. Seymour went in depth on many of the merging tools Facebook provides for policymakers to optimize their engagement with communities and constituents.

The next panel was entitled “Working Together to Tackle Obesity.” The purpose of the panel was to educate NBCSL members on state, federal, and private sector solutions lawmakers can utilize to reduce obesity in their communities, particularly communities of color. Senator Constance Johnson (OK), Chair of NBCSL Health and Human Services Committee, moderated the session. In Senator Johnson’s opening remarks, she discussed the impact of obesity in the African-American community, as nearly half of all African Americans are classified as obese, with obesity-related diseases trending as one of the most deadly diseases for African Americans. Senator Johnson also addressed the significant cost of obesity, which amounts to $147 billion annually for the nation.

The first speaker was Joy Johnson Wilson, Health and Human Services Policy Director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ms. Wilson provided an overview of state-by-state strategies to address obesity. Her first recommendation was to engage communities on obesity by folding it into a general wellness or health approach, to avoid stigmatizing target audiences. Ms. Wilson also recommended that lawmakers make a concerted effort to break down their strategies into subgroups, such as youth, prevention, weight loss, etc.  Ms. Wilson stressed that one of the most important things lawmakers can do is determine what is already being done in their state or community. She indicated that state public health departments receive federal funds through various streams that can be used to address obesity issues, which lawmakers can immediately tap into for their communities. Above all, Ms. Wilson recommended that whatever steps lawmakers take, they should be as easy as possible for target audiences to adapt, because even the programs most effective in theory will fall short if they are too disruptive to the lives of those targeted. 

Ms. Shelley Stewart, Federal Government Affairs Director at Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, discussed her role in the Treat and Reduce Obesity Coalition, which advocates for a range of pharmaceutical solutions that can be used to reduce obesity. Currently, Medicare Part D excludes certain classes of drugs for coverage, including obesity medication. Ms. Stewart gave an overview of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which is legislation pending before Congress that would permit Medicare Part D to cover FDA-approved obesity medication and increase access to certain behavioral health treatments for patients suffering from obesity.

The final speaker was Ms. Acacia Bamberg Salatti, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Salatti discussed efforts that the administration has taken to engage the faith community to implement small changes to improve health outcomes. She emphasized that faith leaders play a major role in addressing these issues and noted that her team works with faith leaders to share best practices, proven models, or even anecdotal evidence to encourage healthy practices.

At a luncheon hosted by General Motors, NBCSL members heard remarks from Wayne Weikel, Director of State Affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Mr. Weikel was introduced by Senator Kelvin Atkinson (NV). In his remarks, Mr. Weikel discussed emerging issues facing lawmakers relating to automobile manufacturing and regulation. Specifically, Mr. Weikel focused on technological advancements in cars such as broadband, satellite, and smart data that manufacturers are integrating into vehicles and how these advancements lead to additional public policy concerns over privacy of data collection. Mr. Weikel also discussed self-driving automobiles and briefed the members on new areas on which state lawmakers and regulators will likely focus in the near future.

On Wednesday afternoon, the NBCSL on the Hill delegation met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to foster further collaboration between NBCSL and the CBC, share NBCSL’s federal priorities, and discuss policy issues of joint importance. The lawmakers also focused heavily on civic engagement in African American communities, and how to develop comprehensive Black policy agenda across multiple layers of government. 

The meeting opened with President Joe Armstrong and CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH).  Both President Armstrong and Representative Fudge reemphasized the historic relationship between NBCSL and the CBC, noting that 21 of the 43 members of the CBC are former state legislators. Other CBC members who joined Representative Fudge included Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Chair Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA), CBC First Vice-Chair Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Representative Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Representative Steven Horsford (D-NV), and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

That evening, the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) held an informal reception and interactive dinner allowing members to connect with CDIA representatives around areas of mutual concern. Conversations included consumer credit, expanding access to credit and financial institutions, and credit scores broadly. 

For the final session, NBCSL on the Hill participants attended a session titled "Improving Brain Health in Our Communities," during which experts presented on Alzheimer ’s disease and other forms of dementia. The purpose of the panel was to educate legislators on policy solutions and other best practices to prevent, address, and reduce Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain diseases impacting their communities. The panel was moderated by NBCSL Financial Secretary, Representative Laura Hall (AL), who has been a leader on Alzheimer’s legislative initiatives in Alabama.

The first speaker was Stephanie Monroe, Executive Director of the African American Network Against Alzheimer’s. Ms. Monroe remarks focused on the health disparities facing African Americans as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. Ms. Monroe noted that approximately one million African Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and that African Americans are more than twice as likely to develop the disease and four times as likely to develop early cognitive impairment.  Ms. Monroe also warned that the African American community suffers from inaccurate diagnoses of Alzheimer’s due to inadequate screenings and lack of visits to a doctor’s office.  Ms. Monroe also highlighted the economic costs of Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to a $71.6 billion economic burden on the African American community alone, and estimated these costs would only grow as the baby boomer generation ages and the minority population in the United States grows.

Randi Chapman, Director of State Affairs and the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) spoke next and updated the members on work the AA carries out to reach individuals and families impacted by Alzheimer’s. Ms. Chapman highlighted AA’s State Plans, which provides individualized state-by-state data and recommendations for leaders to improve brain health outcomes in their communities and a roadmap on how to deal with emerging issues.

Ian Kremer, Executive Director of the Leaders Engaged on Alzheimer’s Disease (LEAD) Coalition, focused on prevention strategies to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and treatment options for those impacted. These recommendations included living a heart-healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition and exercise, maintaining intellectual vigor, getting proper sleep, and staying socially engaged. Mr. Kremer also noted there are indications that suggest there is a strong correlation and possible causation between diabetes and dementia. Kremer recommended that communities work together to educate individuals as young as pre-kindergarten in the preventative measures to avoid dementia, noting that while not a guarantee against dementias, instilling good habits can positively impact a range of health areas.

As NBCSL on the Hill concluded, participants were given time to visit with their members of Congress and other stakeholders in the District for ALC week. This unique opportunity allowed NBCSL members to share information on the policy discussions that were held during the symposium and to provide feedback.  In concluding the meeting, President Joe Armstrong thanked members in attendance and encouraged them to take lessons back to their respective states with the goal of successfully enacting policies in their legislatures.

NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.