It Pays to Pay Attention to Local Government: Three Ways Your Organization Can Start Now

This article was written by Stephanie Reich, Senior Vice President of State and Local Issues, and published by the Washington Business Journal Leadership Trust.

My company monitors and engages hundreds of issues for our clients across thousands of local jurisdictions, and we see firsthand the increasing power and importance of local government. Local governments are becoming more active in tackling public policy issues that were once entirely the purview of state or federal governments. Why is this, and what can your company do to stay informed?

The shift in focus to local

The interplay between state and local governments on hot topics like data security, health care reform, e-cigarettes, minimum wage, chemical regulation and pharmaceutical waste has created a shift in policy decisions to localities and municipal governments.

Former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stated in a 2014 interview, “With the federal government fairly stuck, and as we see states more and more adopting that same dysfunction, cities are the place to lead right now.”

Putting the role of local legislation into perspective

Many large and small businesses hope they never face unwelcome surprises from local government. But tracking what is happening at the local level is becoming increasingly difficult because many of these issues are state issues that influence what happens in state capitols.

There are nearly 90,000 local governments in the U.S. These county, city, township and special district governments establish policies and procedures for everything from education and infrastructure to plastic bags at the grocery store, and more.

Below are a few examples of how local governments take charge of policy developments in their communities. (These examples are current as of October 2022.)

  • Climate change: Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. both passed ordinances this summer either phasing out or prohibiting natural gas in new construction. San Jose and Oakland have similar building electrification policies in place. Meanwhile, Raleigh and Austin adopted their first Climate Action Plans in the last year.

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  • Other environmental issues: Plastic bag bans or taxes have been passed in 128 California cities, Portland (Oregon), Chicago and SeattleMinneapolis and Portland (Maine) have passed foam container bans.
  • Labor issues: PhiladelphiaOaklandChicagoNew YorkSan Francisco and Seattle passed measures mandating paid sick leave, and all of Oregon and New Jersey just joined that list. In addition, San Francisco enacted a predictive scheduling measure in 2015 (and Seattle soon followed suit). Importantly, the same city supervisor who introduced the San Francisco legislation is now a member of the California Assembly, and he introduced a similar statewide bill this session. Local and state legislation are closely related.

Three ways to learn what local issues will affect your business

Not staying informed can leave you with no time to act. When faced with the opportunity or need to create a multi-state or national relationship strategy for local officials, there are a number of paths you can take:

  1. Go it alone: Travel to each jurisdiction to create a relationship with the local offices of interest. This strategy could be very expensive, inefficient and time-consuming.
  2. Use the relationships of state and local lobbyists by working through them to their Rolodex of local officials. Not sure where to start? Start building your contact list of state and local lobbyists through your membership in Business Journals Leadership Trust, joining local leadership or chambers or sourcing agencies that provide lobbyists.
  3. Employ a government relations firm specializing in local monitoring (full disclosure: my company offers these services, as do many others).

Final thoughts

Paying attention to local legislation is more important than ever. Industry leaders should be aware not only of the content of local government agendas and minutes, but of the issues being discussed at local Group meetings. These are associations of state and local officials that can be focused on policy or politics. Group meetings provide a forum for state and local officials to gather to exchange policy ideas, share best practices and build and maintain relationships with their counterparts in other states. Why not follow their lead and join up with other businesses in your industry to keep each other informed?

Click here to view the article on the Washington Business Journal Leadership Trust website.