County News

NACo members adopt new policy resolutions

NACo Board members stand to register their vote during the resolutions process. Photo by Leon Lawrence III

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NACo members, at their Annual Meeting, reaffirmed or adopted 107 new policy positions, touching on issues as diverse as sexual abuse in families to remediation of abandoned uranium mines.

Thirty-one policies were submitted for adoption at the Annual Conference proceedings in Davidson/Nashville, Tenn. The remainder had first been adopted as interim policy at NACo Legislative Conference in March. 

Delegates also approved  20 platform changes, including an addition to the Justice and Public Safety section that acknowledges the authority of the federal government to regulate and enforce against illegal drug traffic, while also respecting states’ actions to decriminalize marijuana under state law.

The newest policy positions follow.

 

AGRICULTURE AND RURAL AFFAIRS

Reform H-2A administrative rules

Issue: The U.S. Department of Labor should consider reforms to existing H-2A administrative rules by addressing the following items: 1) Streamlining housing, transportation, and worker certification approvals; 2) Re-evaluating housing program components to include a discussion of vouchers, wage offsets, and a pre-employment housing needs survey; 3) Clarifying the term “seasonality” and providing flexibility for farm worker movement to respond to production needs; 4) Creating a simplified application processing system with a central portal housed under the United States Department of Agriculture; and 5) Modernizing farm worker recruitment methods to ensure timely certification of and arrival of farm workers.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges the U.S. Department of Labor to reform existing H-2A administrative rules to modernize and simplify the H-2A application and certification processes and expand farm worker flexibility to ensure that a reliable and capable workforce is available for the nation’s farmers and ranchers.

 

Rural broadband

Issue: Rural residents lag behind their urban counterparts with respect to access to reliable and high-speed Internet services.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to strengthen sustained funding for rural broadband deployment and support cooperatives deploying telecommunications services by leveraging and streamlining key federal programs: the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS); the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Connect America Funds (CAF); U.S. Economic Development Administration grant program; and the Rural Infrastructure Program.

 

COMMUNITY, ECONOMIC AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Protect the health and safety of sober home residents

Issue: Local governments continue to see a proliferation of sober homes within their boundaries and need additional clarity from the federal government on how they can protect the health and safety of sober home residents through reasonable regulations.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports further U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) clarification on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to allow local governments to enact reasonable regulations to protect the health and safety of sober home residents, and the residents of the surrounding communities.

NACo also supports federal legislation to establish patient protection and best practices for sober homes.

 

Affordable housing in federal infrastructure packages

Issue: Support the inclusion of affordable housing investments in any federal infrastructure package.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to include affordable housing investments in any federal infrastructure package to provide counties with the resources necessary to create and preserve more affordable homes in the United States.

 

Flexibility for the Registered Apprenticeships Program

Issue: Support flexibility for registered apprenticeships, academic and hands-on training.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to provide more flexibility for the Registered Apprenticeships Program to allow for more hours to be achieved through relevant college and workshop classroom instruction, rather than all hours having to be recorded working with a journeyman.

Commissioner Kitty Barnes, chair, Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee, presents her committee’s report to the Board of Directors. Photo by Leon Lawrence III

ENVIRONMENT, ENERGY AND LAND USE

Regulate groundwater under the Clean Water Act

Issue: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering regulating pollutants originating from point sources that eventually reach surface water through groundwater via a “direct hydrologic connection.”

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges the EPA to work closely with state and local governments on potential regulations, guidance or clarifications on the agency’s authority to regulate groundwater connections under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

 

Coral Reef Conservation Act

Issue: Coral reefs throughout the United States are threatened. In particular, the Florida Reef Tract, the third largest barrier reef in the world and the only living coral reef in the continental United States, is currently facing an unprecedented disease outbreak.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports the Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act and any similar legislation that will dedicate needed resources to improving the health of coral reefs. Specifically, NACo supports legislation that would:

  • Strengthen the federal response to coral reef emergencies, such as the current disease outbreak in Florida;
  • Direct new federal grant making for local coral reef conservation projects;
  • Provide Congressional authorization for the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, which gives full representation to state and territorial governments;
  • Support public-private partnerships that advance coral reef conservation and stewardship;
  • Authorize the U.S. Department of the Interior to conserve coral reefs in our national parks, national wildlife refuges, and marine national monuments; and
  • Engage our nation’s marine laboratories, aquariums, and coral reef institutes in cutting-edge, federally funded research that advances our scientific understanding of coral reef biodiversity and resiliency. Current research has not been able to properly identify or find a cure for the current disease outbreak.

 

Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) impact on human health, environment

Issue: Addressing the potential human health and environmental threat caused by per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies to study health and environmental impacts of PFAS compounds. Additionally, as the administration moves toward potential regulatory action, NACo urges the administration to work closely with state and local governments throughout the rule-making process.

 

FINANCE, PENSIONS AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS

Fully fund the 2002 Help America Vote Act

Issue: States have used or obligated funds appropriated by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) to implement the requirements of the law and to improve the administration of elections. However, fulfilling the original intention of HAVA and fully funding the law is necessary to ensure states have the financial resources they need to sustain the improvements they have made since 2002.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to fully fund the required payments of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). These funds are allocated to states to continuously upgrade voting systems, registering voters in statewide voter registration databases, provide provisional voting options, improve voter accessibility and implement other improvements to the administration of elections. Continuous funding of election administration, beyond the one-time infusion of federal dollars from HAVA, is also critical. NACo urges the federal government to provide more funding to county governments for functional voting machines and to create awareness for increased voter participation. Continuous funding from the federal government sustains local election jurisdictions (counties and municipalities) to procure voting equipment that is critical to the nation’s election infrastructure.

 

SEC’s Municipal Advisor rule

Issue: The Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Municipal Advisor rule under the Dodd Frank Act.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports the 2013 rule released by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the Registration of Municipal Advisors (MA), as well as the operational guidance released by the SEC. Counties support regulations separating the duties between MAs and financial advisors to prevent manipulation of government finances or use of government financial transactions for personal gain.

 

HEALTH

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health services privatization

Issue: Several congressional initiatives have recommended that all medical and mental health services be privatized and treatment be provided by the private sector, totally eliminating direct medical and mental health services provided by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and community-based medical treatment facilities.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress not to enact any legislation that would privatize all medical and mental health services now provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to eligible veterans.

 

Immigrant eligibility for federal benefits

Issue: Immigrants’ use of public health benefits and the impact of changes to eligibility on county governments.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) opposes specific changes to existing immigration policy that would lead to increases in uncompensated care and shift federal and state costs and the administrative burden to counties, including preventing access to and/or penalizing immigrants for the use of federally-funded health care and public health programs including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Right:Dallas County, Texas Judge Clay Jenkins takes the microphone with his daughter alongside. Photo by Leon Lawrence III

 

Mental health, addiction care integration to address opioid crisis

Issue: Although opioid addiction very frequently follows the onset of depression, and opioid addiction frequently triggers depression within as few as 30 days, our patterns of care organization and funding do not make provision for a necessary linkage between mental health and substance use care.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges the federal government, specifically relevant agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to modify grant, technical assistance, and service funding programs that support the development and operation of integrated care to include provision for the integration of mental health and addiction care, including care for depression and opioid addiction.

 

Veterans Choice Accountability Act (H.R. 1797)

Issue: Support for the Veterans Choice Accountability Act (H.R. 1797)

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports the Veterans Choice Accountability Act (H.R. 1797) and urges Congress to ensure that reimbursements from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to non-VA facilities for the care they provide to eligible veterans through the Veterans Choice Program are processed in a timely manner. This will not involve any diversion of funds from other VA programs including, VA medical centers.

 

 

HUMAN SERVICES AND EDUCATION

Address sexual abuse in families

Issue: Resources and education to prevent sexual abuse in families

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Children’s Bureau to focus prevention money through, but not limited to, the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) for victims of sexual abuse, including commercially sexually exploited children, with evidence-based trauma informed care. NACo further supports programs, research and monitoring systems that prevent child abuse and neglect in families while ensuring that children who are victims receive treatment and care.

 

JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY

Emergency Management Performance Grant

Issue: The Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) is the sole all-hazards grant currently extant, and the most demonstrably successful Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant program for local governments. NACo has long supported the EMPG program. For nearly a decade, the EMPG program has remained steady at $350,000,000 per year while inflationary costs have risen, eroding the fund. The National Emergency Managers Association (NEMA) and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) are working with Congress in light of the new spending caps to increase the EMPG funding by at least 5 percent to account for inflation.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) requests that Congress provide for an inflationary increase of at least 5 percent in the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG).

 

FEMA’s emergency management strategic goals

Issue: In 2018 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a new five-year strategy for the agency. As part of that strategy, FEMA set forth a new concept for coping with the rising cost of major disasters and emergencies and the limited capacity of the agency to adequately manage all emergencies.

The keystone of this new strategic approach is that FEMA will oversee major emergencies and disasters in a new way, which is federally funded, state managed and locally executed. The FEMA strategy document does not, however, detail any partnership between FEMA and local government in the policy, prevention, planning, response, and mitigation and recovery realms.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress and the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure that FEMA actively consults with and involves counties in the development, analysis and implementation of emergency management policy and procedures in the United States to ensure that “state management” of emergencies and disasters is carried out with transparency and due attention to the needs of local government, and that due attention is given to the development of adequate local capacity to execute appropriate activity.


Rural EMS Needs Act

Issue: Rural fire and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies currently struggle to fund their EMS operations. As a result, many agencies experience difficulties recruiting personnel, providing EMS licensure classes and obtaining sufficient medications and medical supplies.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to pass the Supporting and Improving Rural EMS Needs Act (SIREN Act, H.R. 5429/S. 2830). This bill would reauthorize and amend a grant program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide funding for rural fire and EMS agencies to recruit personnel, procure emergency medical supplies and provide EMS training classes. Only public and nonprofit agencies would be eligible to receive these funds.

Deflection initiatives

Issue: Communities across the country are facing a behavioral health crisis related to substance abuse. In an effort to provide resources needed to combat the devastating impacts of the crisis, law enforcement agencies are implementing deflection program initiatives. These innovative programs — intended to divert non-violent individuals experiencing addiction, substance use, and mental health disorders from jails into community treatment programs while protecting public safety — connect individuals directly to the services needed.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to increase financial support for measures that maximize the ability of counties to develop and support programs that deflect non-violent individuals experiencing behavioral health crisis into treatment driven by a complete, integrated and accessible continuum of care. NACo encourages federal legislative action to expedite the creation of collaborative deflection initiatives that offer immediate pathways for non-violent individuals to treatment and other services as an alternative to traditional involvement in the criminal justice system.

Service life of fire protective clothing

Issue: The service life of firefighting personal protective equipment, which includes helmets, boots, coats and pants (“fire protective clothing” or “bunker gear”) is governed by a standard that mandates retirement of the gear based on manufacture date and not consideration of integrity, meeting applicable specifications or safe use.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to support efforts by the National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”), International Association of Fire Chiefs (“IAFC”), Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs”) and others working to: (1) amend NFPA Standard 1851 (“NFPA 1851”), the Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting; (2) evaluate the functionality, safety and integrity of the fire protective clothing for compliance with all applicable laws and standards; and (3) change standards that regulate the service life or use of bunker gear through objective technical specifications correlated to the capacity of the equipment to protect firefighters during its intended use.

Safe life cycle for fire fighter turnout gear

Issue:  The service life of firefighting personal protective equipment, which includes helmets, boots, coats and pants (“turnout gear” or “bunker gear”) is governed by a National Fire Protection Association standard that mandates retirement of the gear based on manufacture date and not consideration of integrity, meeting applicable specifications or safe use.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to direct the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) to expedite its research on firefighter turnout gear. NIOSH proposes to evaluate the functionality, safety and integrity of turnout gear by assessing its performance and effectiveness while being used in a number of varied conditions. This scientific data will be reviewed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and could assist the NFPA with determining the safe service life or use of turnout gear by identifying objective technical specifications to be evaluated and correlated with the capacity of the equipment to protect firefighters during its intended use. Such data could also be used to inform amendments of NFPA Standard 1851 (“NFPA 1851”); Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting.

Cheshire County, N.H. Commissioner Charles Weed discusses policy resolutions at the Board of Directors meeting. Photo by Leon Lawrence III

PUBLIC LANDS

Abandoned uranium mines

Issue: Throughout numerous counties across the nation, for example the Navajo Nation within the Four Corners area, abandoned uranium mines continue to jeopardize public safety and the environment. Uranium mining has resulted in elevated uranium and radon radiation levels at over 400 locations on the Navajo Nation.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to enact legislation for the aggressive treatment of abandoned uranium mines across the United States to protect public health and the environment.

Forest thinning and restoration activities

Issue: The need for adequate, robust, and timely forest restoration to mitigate the threat of future catastrophic crown fires and reduce the risk associated from post wildfire flooding and debris flow events is critical to reducing the threat to public safety that many western forested counties confront.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) calls on Congress to pass legislation increasing appropriations for and allowing for the use of FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grant funding for forest thinning and restoration activities, including using FEMA flood mitigation assistance for forest restoration to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire, post wildfire flooding and debris flows.

Wood products industry in regions with low- to no-value trees

Issue: The wood products industry is a valued partner in restoring our forests and reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire. Without a viable wood products industry that can consume the forest products that are removed from the forest through various restoration activities, communities will continue to face an elevated threat of catastrophic wildfire.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports federal funding to promote and expedite the building of the wood products industry in regions with low to no-value trees to allow consumption of forest products as a pathway to forest restoration and reduction of the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

 

Federal public lands agencies’ tourism and recreation

Issue: Federal public land agency operating budgets have a substantial impact on county recreation-based economies through their tourism and visitation programs. Future decreases in spending for these agencies will restrict the continued growth and health of counties heavily dependent on tourism and recreation.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges Congress to maintain current funding levels, and if possible provide additional funding, for federal public lands agencies’ operating budgets. These agencies, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, have a positive impact on counties with economies heavily dependent on tourism and recreation.

 

Counts of Utah prairie dogs

Issue: Inventory counts of recovering Utah Prairie Dogs and other recovering Threatened and Endangered Species.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to modify its policies to include the counting of Utah Prairie Dogs and other recovering threatened and endangered wildlife on private lands and state trust lands as well as federal public lands for the purpose of measuring the success of species recovery efforts.

 

Permit-less gathering of wood products from areas planned for fire remediation treatments

Issue: Permit-less gathering of wood products by the public off of Forest Service and BLM lands, before the agencies destroy those wood products in a planned treatment project

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM to give members of the public notice and opportunity for permit-less gathering and private or commercial use of wood products from areas where the agencies are planning controlled burn, slashing, chipping, bull hogging and similar destructive treatments. This permit-less gathering of wood products by members of the public would occur during an announced window of time after agency final approval of the treatment project but before the project is actually carried out.

 

BLM, law enforcement and county sheriffs

Issue: The BLM has not followed the direction of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) to place maximum feasible reliance on available local law enforcement including county sheriffs and their officers for all the BLM’s law enforcement needs, before the BLM deploys its own law enforcement officers.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) urges all BLM field offices, district offices and state offices to follow FLPMA’s direction in 43 U.S.C. 1733(c)(1) to achieve maximum feasible reliance upon willing and available local law enforcement officials in enforcing federal land management laws and regulations, and paying fair amounts for available sheriff services pursuant to contracts entered into for those services, before the BLM deploys its own law enforcement officers. If the BLM refuses to follow FLPMA’s direction in this regard, then NACo urges Congress to amend 43 U.S.C. 1733(c)(1) to abolish the BLM law enforcement program altogether and require the BLM to turn to county sheriffs for all law enforcement assistance pursuant to fair contracts to pay for sheriff services.

 

Establishment of national monuments

Issue: The growing abuse of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to enable huge national monuments, amounting to one-sided presidential lockups of public lands with no input from Congress or the affected states and counties.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports congressional legislation modifying the Antiquities Act to prevent designating a national monument without the affected state’s and county’s approvals.

 

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments

Issue: The President’s authority to act on December 4, 2017 under the Antiquities Act to modify and reduce the boundaries and size of two national monuments in southern Utah, each over a million acres in size, and to order a new management plan for the reduced monuments, done at the behest of the state and counties wherein the national monuments are located.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) supports the actions and proclamations of the President on December 4, 2017 to modify and reduce the boundaries and size of the Bears Ears National Monument, designated in 2016, and of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated in 1996, under the authority of the Antiquities Act that requires any reservation of land as part of a national monument be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic or scientific interest to be protected, and to order the issuance of a new management plan for the reduced monuments .

 

Designation of White Sands National Monument as a National Park

Issue: Legislation was recently introduced to designate White Sands National Monument as a national park without the affected county’s approval.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) calls on Congress to consult with and seek the approval of the affected county before designating White Sands National Monument as a national park. If the affected county’s approval is given, then the affected county should be fully involved in the drafting and development of any legislation to designate White Sands National Monument as a national park, as well as any future management plan.

 

TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND TECHNOLOGY

911 service fees

Issue: Funding for 911 comes for a variety of sources, including monthly fees that are set by the state and paid on consumers’ telephone bills. Yet this rate may vary by phone type within a state. As consumers shift their telecommunications preferences from wired to wireless phones, some states have seen a dramatic decrease in dedicated 911 funding as existing statutes have not been updated to account for these shifts. Subsequently, it is not uncommon for the revenue from 911 fees to fall short of the cost of running a 911 call center, also known as a public safety answering point (PSAP). Additionally, many states collect 911 fees and remit the revenues to local governments. However, in 2015 over $220 million in 911 fees were diverted by states throughout the country for purposes other than maintaining and upgrading PSAPs. As counties receive less in dedicated 911 revenue due to both states withholding funds and shifts in telecommunications preferences they must turn to general fund money.

Policy: The National Association of Counties (NACo) encourages Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt legislation or take regulatory action that ensures that fees collected for local 911 services are only used to repair, replace or improve communications and security infrastructure technology at our nation’s public safety answering points or 911 call centers.

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