Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Day in the Life of the Municipal Association’s Legislative Team

Every Monday before the legislative session begins on Tuesday, the Municipal Association’s Manager for Municipal Advocacy Casey Fields provides members of the Association’s legislative team — Melissa Carter, Scott Slatton and Tiger Wells — with their schedules.

The Association tracks every bill in the House and the Senate which touches the operations of South Carolina’s cities and towns, an amount currently totaling 260 proposals. Any of these bills may be on a subcommittee or committee agenda, and the legislative team may need to testify on them. As Fields puts it, “anytime one of the bills is before a committee or subcommittee, we are there.” Planning the schedules becomes all the more challenging when multiple hearings are happening at the same time. 

After their strategy meeting on Monday, the team hosts its 4 p.m. phone call to discuss strategy with municipal managers, administrators and city lobbyists. Then, from Tuesday to Thursday, they’re off to meetings, which can be anything from an early-morning subcommittee hearing at the State House to an evening reception. At the end of the day Thursday, they all take a look at the Association’s legislative report, From the Dome to Your Home, which goes live Friday, around the same time that one or more of them may be recording information to send out through the City Quick Connect podcast. 

The session ends in the midst of Annual Meeting planning, after which they’re planning the fall’s Regional Advocacy Meetings around the state, which guide the Association’s Advocacy Initiatives in the next year. In other words, the full preparations for the 2020 session will begin as soon as the 2019 session ends. 

Each member of the team has advocated on behalf of municipalities for many years now, and they can point to many high points over time — the growing engagement of city leaders in advocating for legislative initiatives, the 2010 compromise that enabled local governments to put property on tax rolls at full market value when the property is sold, the 2012 law which preserved cities’ ability to collect a brokers tax, and the successful extension of the SC Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act.

The legislative team routinely stresses that achievements require patiently planting seeds. At the 2019 Hometown Legislative Action Day, Melissa Carter noted that “our work here is a marathon. Unfortunately, we never get to sprint in this business,” while Tiger Wells likened the process to planting bamboo, which can require watering for years before it shoots up. 

In a recent podcast, Scott Slatton had this to say about the usually quick progress seen with legislative initiatives at the beginning of the session: 

“The action that we’ve seen so far and the wins we’ve accumulated so far have been the result of work not just since prefiles took place in December. They’re the result of several years’ worth of work that our legislative team and our cities and towns — municipal officials and mayors and councils — have been laying over the last couple of years, not the last couple of months.” 

Even so, the team says their efforts are made easier by the steadfast development of a reputation of being “honest brokers of accurate information” and the growing involvement of local elected officials in the advocacy process. 

Follow Melissa Carter (@MelissaMuniSC), Scott Slatton (@ScottMuniSC) and Tiger Wells (@TigerMuniSC) on Twitter for updates.