Administration and congressional leaders highlight county role in serving residents
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lake County Board Member, Dick Barr, joined nearly 2,000 other county leaders in Washington, D.C. for the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual Legislative Conference March 2-6. Participants met with members of the Trump administration and Congress on key issues like disaster recovery, the opioid and substance abuse epidemic, Veteran issues and revitalizing American infrastructure.
“As a new County Board Member, I wanted to see the value that a nationwide conference of County officials could provide. I was blown away at the quality and quantity of information available, the A-List of speakers, and the personal contacts, not just U.S. Congressmen, Senators and their aids, but Federal agency, and other county official contacts from all over the country to share experiences with,” said Barr. “I must have walked away with 50-60 business cards of leaders throughout the country whom I can call on for valuable information, to bounce ideas off, and to see how they solved issues that are currently affecting Lake County.”
“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.
“When I first was introduced to the “County Explorer” tool, I was amazed at how much data is available to us through our association with NACo. At the click of a mouse we can compare our county, based on size, demographic, population, rural/urban landscape on metrics such as economy growth, opioid deaths, number of hospitals, veteran population, homeless, affordable housing, number of exports and imports, along with hundreds of other metrics,” said Barr. “Being able to access this data instantly, and printing a beautifully formatted and easy to read report is an invaluable tool for advocacy when speaking with our local, state and federal leaders.”
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.
Counties officials were very active on Capitol Hill, meeting with senators and representatives on key County issues. The conference 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.
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. 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.
“The NACo Conference was just the beginning. Now I need to take advantage of the information I learned and work with my colleagues on the Board to evaluate how Lake County can benefit from these best practices,” said Barr. “Cultivating the relationships obtained in Washington over the coming months will be instrumental in building on the concepts gathered at the conference and solidifying ideas to benefit all residents of Lake County.”