How the Roberts Court Has Affected Local Governments for 10 Years

The Roberts Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States since 2005, under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Roberts Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States since 2005, under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ten years ago today, John Glover Roberts, Jr. became the 17th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Roberts Court decisions have affected everyone from average Americans to Guantanamo Bay detainees. But what about state and local governments?

This article provides a brief analysis of how the Roberts Court has impacted 10 areas of interest to states and local governments: federalism, pre-emption, race, free speech, religion, public employment, qualified immunity, the Eighth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and gun control.

Regarding the first five topics, the Roberts Court has in recent years decided a number of important cases involving federalism; generally, federalism has fared well in these big cases. While the Court’s preemption doctrine has been thin, lately the Court has decided (with mixed results) a series of cases involving drug labeling. The Roberts Court has taken a keen interest in deciding cases involving race; generally, race-related decision making has fared poorly. The Roberts Court is well-known as pro-free speech (see Citizens United v. FEC) and its recent sign case is no exception (see Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona). While the Roberts Court hasn’t decided a lot of religion cases, generally it has been tolerant of religion in public spaces.

As for the other five topics, the Court has only decided an average of one public employment case every other term; all but one have been in favor of public employers. State and local governments have done well in qualified immunity cases, likely because the qualified immunity standard is very deferential to government and the Court tends to not take close cases. More death penalty cases have favored the defendant than the state, at least partially because Justice Kennedy tends to join his more liberal colleagues in these cases. The Roberts Court’s most significant contribution to Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is making it clear that it isn’t going to allow new technology to undermine traditional Fourth Amendment protections. Finally, the Roberts Court gun control cases were landmark decisions.

How the Roberts Courts will decide cases over the next 10 years for state and local governments — and everyone else — may be largely in the hands of future Justices who will be appointed during that time period.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Let’s Move! From Fort Collins, Colo., to Washington, D.C.

This is a guest post by Gino Campana, councilmember, Fort Collins, Colo.

Open Streets Fort Collins

A family participates in Open Streets 2015 in Fort Collins, Colo. (photo: City of Fort Collins)

It was an honor to participate in a daylong celebratory event at the White House for the Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) movement. Together with First Lady Michelle Obama, we celebrated the milestone of 500 communities joining LMCTC, as well as the 52 communities that have received gold medals in each of the five LMCTC goals.

I was struck by the diversity of approaches represented among participants in achieving a common goal to ensure all children grow up healthy and have the ability to reach their full potential. To me, this event spoke to the importance of the first lady’s vision to eliminate childhood obesity.

I took on the Let’s MoveI Cities Towns and Counties program in Fort Collins because I believe in a healthy community. It is important that community leaders model good nutrition and physical activity for our youth. Based on all the people I met in Washington, local leaders are affecting positive change in communities throughout the nation, and working to make the healthy choice the easy choice for their residents.

Another takeaway from the White House meeting occurred in my morning breakout session when a participant touched on a theme I had not fully considered in the context of LMCTC. He said that healthy communities are safer communities, and directly correlated the availability of healthy foods, enough of the right things to eat and access to exercise with a reduction in crime.

Simply put, people who are not hungry make better decisions. This highlighted how widespread the impacts of Let’s Move! can be; when we make the healthy choice and encourage our constituents to do the same, we are also making the safer and more budget-friendly choice.

I left Washington with a renewed drive to become an LMCTC All-Star community. This movement is achieving measurable results in lowering childhood obesity rates by fostering alignment and cooperation among local agencies. The best part of the celebratory event at the White House was the affirmation I received from the First Lady and my peers in other cities that we’re on the right track and that we’re on this journey together.

In the spirit of collaboration, Fort Collins offered several elements of our program to the participants in our small group session. I would love to hear from communities either interested in the work we are doing or who can suggest ways we can improve our results. NLC staff work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services staff on a peer sharing network where communities can identify areas of interest and share ideas and solutions to succeed in sustaining their efforts. This collaboration is critical to the next five years of LMCTC and to the health of our communities.

Bike Fort Collins

(photo: City of Fort Collins)

For Fort Collins to become an LMCTC All-Star community, we are moving forward on:

  • Bicycle friendly community programs, multi-modal infrastructure and slow zones
  • Urban farming, demonstration gardens and community garden programs
  • Meeting policies that incentivize not only healthy food but locally-produced foods
  • Integrating food production into economic strategies
  • Wellness program development
  • Business recognition programs

To learn more about Fort Collins’ efforts, visit our LMCTC profile page. To see if your city, town or county is involved in LMCTC, visit HealthyCommunitiesHealthyFuture.org.

Gino CampanaAbout the Author: Gino Campana is a councilmember representing District 3 in Fort Collins, Colo.

Cities Are Taking a Regional Approach to Closing the Skills Gap

This post is the fifth installment in a series focused on NLC’s Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Middle skills occupationApprentice working with engineer to inspect manufacturing machinery. (Getty Images)

Economic development consistently ranks as a high priority for local officials across the country. Alongside this priority is a growing focus on the need for increased postsecondary education opportunities at two and four year colleges and career and technical education institutes. The leadership of local officials is critical to increasing these opportunities, which in turn can provide a substantial return on investment for their community.

In July 2015, NLC partnered with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce to hold a mayoral summit on postsecondary success in Los Angeles, supported by The Kresge Foundation and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Source: JP Morgan Chase

Source: JP Morgan Chase

The summit marked the release of the Los Angeles Skills Gap Report, which shows that Los Angeles County has a diverse economy with a wide array of middle-skills jobs – those that require a high school diploma and technical training, but not necessarily a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, it also shows that many Los Angeles residents lack the education and skills that employers are looking for. This means that many industries are struggling to fill key middle-skills positions, while many potential workers remain either unemployed or underemployed.

Studies show that this dilemma is playing out in communities across the country. NLC’s own Cities and Unequal Recovery indicates that despite the significant economic growth in cities over the past two years, there continues to be a skills gap.

At the summit, city leaders highlighted the postsecondary success initiatives they are using to combat this skills gap. Robert Garcia, mayor, Long Beach, Calif., showcased the Long Beach College Promise and the Long Beach Internship Challenge to expand on-the-job learning opportunities for young people. Rusty Bailey, mayor, Riverside, Calif., talked about Completion Counts, an initiative that helps students apply for, attend and complete community college.

The city of Los Angeles is in the process of establishing local goals for college success with a number of partners, including the Los Angeles Community College District and several universities in the region. These goals will help ensure that young people have the resources they need to achieve postsecondary success and create a stable and thriving workforce in the city and the greater Los Angeles region.

Like Los Angeles, many cities are adopting a regional approach to close this skills gap. In San Antonio, Mayor Ivy Taylor supports the SA Works initiative, which has a goal of creating 20,000 new applied learning opportunities, including a countywide STEM degree accelerator project through the Alamo colleges, as well as a place-based training program for 300 Eastside San Antonio residents.

This initiative is part of SA2020, a nonprofit whose mission is to help connect the community for a stronger San Antonio. SA2020 has helped create an alliance between City Hall and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce that focuses on regional industry needs, and works to ensure that workforce needs and postsecondary offerings are aligned so that residents have the training they need to take on middle-skilled, well-paying jobs in San Antonio and Bexar County.

A C Wharton, mayor of Memphis, Tenn., established the nation’s first Office of Talent and Human Capital within the mayor’s office to provide dedicated staff focused on developing, retaining and attracting talented workers to Memphis and Shelby County. The mayor has also connected with the business community to provide pathways for residents to access jobs in Memphis’ growing service, healthcare and knowledge-based industries.

Local leaders can play an essential role in developing this approach by investing in activities that strengthen their region’s competitive advantage by:

  • Establishing and maintaining a leadership structure to guide and sustain college access and completion efforts.
  • Setting community goals and rally necessary partners.
  • Maintaining and analyzing real time data on postsecondary attainment.
  • Aligning local industry needs with community colleges and credentialing courses.

To learn more, check out NLC’s page on postsecondary success.

Miles Sandler
About the Author:
Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at Sandler@nlc.org.

First Lady Announces 500 Communities Have Joined Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties

The National League of Cities recently joined First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House to announce that 500 cities, towns and counties are now participating in the Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) initiative.

First Lady Michelle Obama

A key part of the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, LMCTC helps local elected officials, their staff and communities in their efforts to ensure all children grow up healthy and have the ability to reach their full potential. (Jason Dixson)

The 500 cities, towns and counties honored at the White House come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. To date, approximately 80 million Americans live in a city, town or county participating in LMCTC. That’s one in four Americans!

Let's Move city

(Jason Dixson)

More than 100 mayors, councilmembers and city/county staff participated in an exciting day of activities at the White House. In the morning, attendees networked with their peers, discussed their achievements to date, brainstormed solutions to current challenges and planned next steps with assistance from staff from NLC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other federal and national nonprofit partners.

Following a networking lunch, the afternoon session consisted of a plenary Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health; Deb Eschmeyer, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition; and Jerry Abramson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and a panel of city leaders. And of course, First Lady Michelle Obama, who led the crowd in celebration of this historic milestone:

“Together, over the past five years, we have built what we call a movement on behalf of our kids’ health. We have changed the culture in this country in the way we live and eat,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “This is about giving our children a fair shot in life. It’s about ensuring that they have everything they need… to help them fulfill their boundless potential.”

LMCTC calls upon local elected officials to adopt long-term, sustainable and holistic approaches to addressing childhood obesity. Local elected officials and their communities can receive bronze, silver and gold medals from NLC for their implementation of the five goal areas of LMCTC.

The goals include providing access to healthy meals through school and summer meal programs, expanding opportunities for physical activity during and outside of school, promoting healthier early care and education programs, and encouraging healthy snack and beverage choices using local government purchasing policies and practices.

Across the nation, 52 communities have achieved gold medals in each of the five goal areas. Local leaders have met all five goal areas by engaging in a variety of systems and policy changes locally. For example:

  • In Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Michael B. Coleman has taken great strides to increase opportunities for physical activity and promote healthy eating. New parks and recreation centers, parklets, an Open Streets initiative, new bike paths, outdoor fitness equipment and numerous natural play spaces help city departments make the healthy choice the easy choice for residents.
  • In response to being named the most obese metropolitan area in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012, McAllen, Texas, has intensified its strategies to build a healthier city. Spearheaded in part by Mayor James Darling, their work involves numerous community partnerships and has earned the city national accolades. The city of McAllen has transferred vending machines in city facilities to a vending company that offers healthier options, and has placed MyPlate as well as the Let’s Move McAllen! logo in all city-owned facilities. The city has been named a Playful City USA by KaBOOM! five years in a row, and has been a regional leader in promoting bicycle-friendly communities.
  • In Missoula County, Mont., Let’s Move! Missoula uses education, policy development, advocacy and environmental change to build and enhance healthy environments for all residents. Their efforts, heavily supported by County Commissioner Jean Curtiss, include the creation of additional trails and parks, Let’s Move! Child Care trainings for child care providers, in-classroom physical activity training for teachers and increased access to healthy food through the development and implementation of a healthy vending policy for all county-owned and operated facilities.

Learn more about Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties and find out if your community is signed up at www.HealthyCommunitiesHealthyFuture.org.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides generous support to NLC to provide technical assistance to local elected officials working to create healthier communities and prevent childhood obesity, including those participating in LMCTC.

About the Authors:
Elena Hoffnagle
Elena Hoffnagle is the Senior Associate for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties at the National League of Cities. Contact Elena at Hoffnagle@nlc.org.

Izzy Jorgensen

Izzy Jorgensen was a 2015 summer intern with NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Supreme Court Preview for Local Governments – October 2015

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments.

*Indicates a case where the SLLC has or will file an amicus brief.

(Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s last term was big for local governments because the Court decided a number of important cases against them, most notably Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona (2015), holding that strict scrutiny applies to content-based sign ordinances. The October 2015 term is one to watch, and not just because the Court has accepted numerous cases on controversial topics affecting local governments. Adding to the intrigue, many of the Court’s decisions this term are likely to be discussed by the 2016 presidential candidates as the election heats up. Here is a preview of the most significant cases for local governments that the Court has agreed to decide so far.

Public Sector Collective Bargaining

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association the Court will decide whether to overrule a nearly 40-year old precedent requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. More than 20 states have enacted statutes authorizing “fair share.”

In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not prevent public employees who do not join the union from being required to pay their “fair share” of union dues for collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment. The rationale is that the union may not discriminate between members and nonmembers in performing these functions. So, no free-riders are allowed.

In two recent cases, the Court’s more conservative Justices, including Justice Kennedy, have criticized Abood.

If the Court doesn’t overrule Abood, it may instead rule that public employees may be allowed to opt-in rather than required to opt-out of paying “nonchargeable” union expenditures, in which case presumably fewer will opt-in.

“Fair share” and opt-out are foundational principles for public sector collective bargaining in the United States. Overturning either of them would mean a major change in the law that would substantially weaken public sector unions.

Redistricting

The U.S. Constitution Equal Protection Clause “one-person one-vote” principle requires that voting districts have roughly the same population so that votes in each district count equally. But what population is relevant — total population or total voting population — and who gets to decide? The Court will answer these questions in Evenwel v. Abbott.

Over the last 25 years the Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to decide (in cases all involving local governments) whether total voter population must be equalized in state and local legislative districts.

Plaintiffs claim that total voter population must be the metric. They argue their votes are worth less than other voters because they live in districts that substantially deviate from the “ideal” in terms of number of voters or potential voters.

The lower court disagreed because the Supreme Court has never held that any particular population metric is unconstitutional. Most state legislatures use total population, not total voting population data.

Asset Forfeiture

The question in Luis v. United States* is whether not allowing a criminal defendant to use assets not traceable to a criminal offense to hire counsel of choice violates the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Local law enforcement often receive asset forfeitures related to drug crime.

This case comes on the heels of Kaley v. United States (2014) where the Supreme Court held 6-3 that defendants may not use frozen assets which are the fruits of criminal activities to pay for an attorney.

Luis argues that it is “inconceivable” that she may not use “her own legitimately-earned assets to retain counsel.” The federal government responded that per her reasoning criminal defendants “could effectively deprive [their] victims of any opportunity for compensation simply by dissipating [their] ill-gotten gains.”

The Eleventh Circuit ruled against Luis, who was indicted on charges related to $45 million in Medicare fraud.

Local Governments Sued Out-of-State

In Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt* the Court will decide whether states must extend the same immunities that apply to them to foreign local governments (and states) sued in their state courts. Hyatt is important to local governments who are often sued out-of-state.

The Franchise Tax Board (FTB) of California concluded that Gilbert Hyatt didn’t relocate to Nevada when his tax returns indicated he did and assessed him $10.5 million in taxes and interest. Hyatt sued FTB in Nevada for fraud among other claims.

In Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt (2003) the Supreme Court held that the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require Nevada to offer FTB the full immunity that California law provides.

A Nevada jury ultimately awarded Hyatt nearly $400 million in damages.

The Nevada Supreme Court refused to apply Nevada’s statutory cap on damages to Hyatt’s fraud claim, reasoning that Nevada has a policy interest in ensuring adequate redress for Nevada citizens that overrides providing FTB the statutory cap because California operates outside the control of Nevada.

Hyatt has also asked the Supreme Court to overrule Nevada v. Hall (1979), holding that a state may be sued in another states’ courts without consent. If the Court overrules this case, the question of whether the immunities a state enjoys must be offered to a foreign local government (or state) will be moot.

Affirmative Action

For the second time the Court has agreed to decide whether the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy is unconstitutional in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

Even though this case arises in the higher education context, the Supreme Court decides relatively few affirmative action cases so all are of interest to local governments that use race as a factor in decision-making.

Per Texas’s Top Ten Percent Plan, the top ten percent of Texas high school graduates are automatically admitted to UT Austin, which fills about 80 percent of the class. Most other applicants are evaluated through a holistic review where race is one of a number of factors.

Abigail Fisher claims that using race in admissions is unnecessary because, in the year she applied, UT Austin admitted 21.5 percent minority students per the Top Ten Percent Plan.

The Supreme Court has held that the use of race in college admissions is constitutional if race is used to further the compelling government interest of diversity and is narrowly tailored.

In Fisher I the Court held that the Fifth Circuit, which upheld UT Austin’s admissions policy, should not have deferred to UT Austin’s argument that its use of race is narrowly tailored.

When the Fifth Circuit relooked at the plan again it concluded that it is narrowly tailored.

Only time will tell whether the Court agrees.

Conclusion

The Court’s docket is only about half full right now. Interestingly, the Court hasn’t accepted a Fourth Amendment or qualified immunity case yet — but no term would be complete without a few such cases. Of interest to the Court may be a case involving whether cell phone location data may be obtained without a warrant.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Joplin Takes Action on E-Fairness

This is a guest blog post by Councilmember Melodee Colbert-Kean.

People in Joplin, Mo., know how to adapt to change.

Our city got its start in 1873 as a mining boom town, and we’ve been growing and changing ever since. We’ve seen Bonnie and Clyde, built our Main Street around historic Route 66, and became a diverse, developed city with a beautiful network of parks and museums.

However, what we’re probably best known for is our resilience in the face of one of the worst tornadoes ever to hit the United States. On May 24, 2011, Joplin was hit by a Category X tornado that destroyed much of our town and cost 161 lives in just minutes. But our local government, businesses, and residents all pulled together in the immediate aftermath of that storm to recover, and we’ve been growing ever since. When 553 businesses were destroyed or severely damaged in the wake of the 2011 storm, we responded by rebuilding 500 of them – and opening 150 more new ones!

Our local businesses are the backbone of our city, and that’s why it’s so important to me personally to close the online sales tax loophole. I’m not just a city council member – I spend most of my time running a restaurant, and I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I understand the role local businesses play in a community.

While no city can afford to leave resources on the table, it’s been particularly important for Joplin to invest in the development and services our residents need, and to have a strong local economy. We’ve got a 7.825% sales tax rate in Joplin, which supports not only our efforts to rebuild, but also our work to invest in our roads and water system, and build our city for the 21st century.

But that’s also a 7.825% unfair disadvantage our local stores face against online sellers, who aren’t collecting that sales tax, and who are luring shoppers away from our downtown. Statewide, Missouri loses out on almost half a billion dollars in uncollected sales taxes.

That’s why this month, I brought together a group of people in Joplin to push for a solution: e-fairness legislation. I invited our U.S. Representative and our U.S. Senators to join members of the Joplin City Council and the Joplin Chamber of Commerce to talk about how the online sales tax loophole is hurting our city, and what to do about it.

One of our senators, Senator Roy Blunt, has long been a supporter of e-fairness, and is a sponsor of the current Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate. We appreciate his continued efforts on behalf of the residents and businesses in Joplin, and we’re looking forward to working with him to see this effort through to the finish line.

A group of ten people, including me, our mayor, city staff, and several local retailers met with representatives of our congressional delegation on August 20 to talk about e-fairness in our community. It was a valuable opportunity for our legislators to hear how the online sales tax loophole is specifically affecting Joplin.

For instance, one store owner observed that deliberate avoidance of sales taxes was changing the way that people shop. People are ordering large purchases online to avoid paying dozens or even hundreds of dollars in sales tax on that purchase. That means that the stores in our downtown and our mall see less foot traffic, and have fewer opportunities to make even small sales.

Joplin_eFairness_blog5Leadership from our local mall also pointed out that harm to individual retailers in the mall has an even bigger snowball effect on our community. The mall’s financial contribution to Joplin includes not only the impact of the sales taxes its stores collect, but also the hundreds of people employed there, and the property tax the mall pays.

Our city manager, also helped our legislators understand how passing e-fairness legislation would impact our city finances. We’ve been fortunate to have steadily increasing sales tax revenue in Joplin from the growth we’ve experienced as a community. However, we also rely on a use tax on large purchases, such as vehicles, which we need city voters to renew. If e-fairness legislation passed, and we were able to recover some of that uncollected sales tax, we might be able to streamline our system of taxes and fees, and maybe remove some of the existing taxes or fees we currently collect.

While e-fairness is not a new tax, it is up to community leaders to educate their residents about the current unfair system, and what the sales tax revenues in their communities support. While most people don’t want to pay more taxes, we do want roads free of potholes, working sewers, safe sidewalks, and emergency response services.

We also know that times are changing. Most of us shop online because it is convenient. Even with e-fairness, we know that more people will shop online every year. Our retailers are not afraid to adapt to a world in which we can order anything with the click of a mouse. We’re just asking Congress to close this online sales tax loophole, and enable us to have a fair shot in the future.

If you haven’t already, reach out to your legislators. Find out if they support e-fairness, and start a dialogue with your business community. You know they have a lot to say! If you need help, the staff at the National League of Cities can get you started.

Together, I truly believe that we can change minds and make a difference.

About the Author: Melodee Colbert-Kean is a councilmember from Joplin, Mo., and currently serves as NLC’s 1st Vice President.

3 Reasons Why Infrastructure Needed to Be Addressed in the GOP Debate

Last night, Republican presidential hopefuls again stood before the nation vying to be their party’s nominee. One issue was sorely missing from the debate.

16837601306_92fbdc7017_kA view of the podium bearing the presidential seal at NLC’s Congressional City Conference. (Jason Dixson)

For three hours last night at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., 11 Republican presidential hopefuls went back-and-forth on issues ranging from immigration, the nuclear deal with Iran and gay marriage. While the pundits engage in their own debate over who will next challenge frontrunner Donald Trump in the polls, issues of critical importance to the nation’s cities continue to go without the national spotlight they deserve.

Over the course of the election process, the National League of Cities (NLC) is helping city officials engage directly with the men and women hoping to be the next President as part of our Cities Lead 2016 campaign. We want to make sure the candidates know that city issues are America’s issues. One of those issues, infrastructure, hasn’t been mentioned once in the two debates. Here are three reasons why that’s a problem:

1. The Sad State of American Infrastructure is Becoming a Public Safety Issue

Many bridges and structures throughout the country, such as this damaged overpass in Pennsylvania, are in desperate need of repair. (Getty Images)

One in nine of our nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient; 240,000 water main breaks happen each year; the number of deficient dams is estimated at more than 4,000 — these stats are just a snapshot of the poor state of America’s infrastructure. On a recent trip to Concord, N.H., as part of our Cities Lead 2016 campaign, we heard directly from local officials on the precarious conditions poor infrastructure has created for the community.

In this city of over 40,000, local officials recently had to close a bridge on which it was no longer deemed safe for fire trucks to travel. The difficult decision to close the bridge has forced first responders to go on a detour through two cities, causing delays in response times. Due to the lack of adequate funding for infrastructure, local officials across the country are making difficult decisions like those made in Concord that impact the safety and well-being of residents — when they shouldn’t have to do so. The next President must tackle the unacceptable state of our nation’s critical infrastructure.

2. Climate Change is Exacerbating Existing Infrastructure Challenges

ThinkstockPhotos-525078077This flooded underpass in New York City illustrates the need for infrastructure improvements that reflect an awareness of the negative effects of climate change. (Getty Images) 

Adding to the concern about aging infrastructure is the impact of extreme weather events. Heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods and hurricanes are straining existing infrastructure challenges, and introducing new ones. With climate change and higher temperatures, extreme weather storms are arriving with greater frequency and intensity. Cities like Dubuque, Iowa, face chronic and severe flooding as a result and are adopting solutions to managing an increasing amount of stormwater runoff.

Extreme weather events, sea level rise, shifting precipitation patterns and temperature variability — all intensified by climate change — have significant implications for water quality and availability, roads, rail and airports, energy infrastructure and our cities’ building stock. These trends have real, everyday consequences for local governments, which are on the front lines when it comes to mitigation and adaptation efforts and making sure their community is resilient. We ask that the candidates give climate change, and the impact it has on local infrastructure, the attention it deserves.

3. The World Has Changed. Our Infrastructure Must Too.

As greater numbers of city residents access data using mobile phones, more cities are finding that apps are an ideal way to share public transport information. (Getty Images)

Together with a series of rapid technological advancements, recent demographic trends are changing the nature of transportation and mobility in cities. Over the last several years, Americans of all demographic groups have embraced new modes of transportation. Active transportation has seen a significant surge — from 2000-2012, the number of people who primarily bike to work increased 60 percent nationwide.

Better technology is also creating greater demand for public transit. There are currently 99 transit expansion projects and 23 major system renovations underway throughout the country, in addition to almost 100 other projects in the pipeline at some stage of the planning, finance and review process. In the very near future even our roads will need to adapt to new technologies, including support for self-driving cars.

We must reexamine how federal infrastructure dollars are supporting 21st century trends. Since 1992, roughly 80 percent of all federal transportation funding has been reserved for the highway system, at the expense of alternative modes. Cities ask that the candidates discuss their vision for the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities. Contact Tim at mudd@nlc.org.

New NLC Collaboration to Provide Mental Health Training to Police Officers Working in Schools

School resource officers and other police officers in schools can play a crucial role in affecting positive youth outcomes and improving public safety.

SRO and student

(Andersen Ross/Getty Images)

Police officers who respond to the developmental and mental health needs of youth in an informed and age-appropriate way help ensure the safety of everyone in schools, from students to teachers and staff. These officers also contribute to making neighborhoods and communities safer. However, like all law enforcement personnel, they need adequate training to do their jobs well.

In service of this, NLC is collaborating with the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change (Collaborative for Change) at the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice to build the capacity of school resource officers (SROs) in two cities, Minneapolis and Little Rock, Ark.

Following a competitive application process, the Collaborative for Change selected Minneapolis and Little Rock, Ark., based on their dedication to and leadership of city-led juvenile justice reform. These cities are currently engaged in NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform initiative, and will be among the first localities to receive the Collaborative for Change’s Adolescent Mental Health Training for SROs (AMHT-SRO), free of charge.

“The police officers that serve in our schools are on the front lines of our youth public safety efforts. Giving these officers the right set of tools is critical to productive interactions and outcomes with youth, especially those with mental health needs,” said Betsy Hodges, mayor, Minneapolis. “Being selected to receive resources from the National League of Cities and the Collaborative for Change will help us succeed in our Juvenile Justice Reform efforts and ultimately in our pursuit of citywide safety.”

The Collaborative’s comprehensive, two-day curriculum provides training for SROs who work in middle and high school settings. The purpose of the training is to help SROs develop the critical skills and capacity for appropriately responding to the many predictable behavior issues that they often encounter among adolescents with mental health problems.

“Part of what motivated us to develop this training curriculum was concern that many SROs do not routinely receive any youth mental health or adolescent development training,” said Kathleen Skowyra, Associate Director of the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. “We believe it is critical that SROs receive training to help them identify the signs and symptoms of mental health issues among the students they supervise, and as well as training to improve their crisis intervention, de-escalation and communication skills.”

The Collaborative for Change provides multiple trainings for thousands of juvenile justice system professionals each year, including the popular Crisis Intervention Training for Youth and the Mental Health Training Curriculum for Juvenile Justice. Their training complements NLC’s juvenile justice reform initiative to support diversion of youth away from unnecessary arrest and toward a continuum of community-based services that better meet youth needs, improve outcomes and increase public safety.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative supports both NLC and the Collaborative for Change to help government leaders build a more effective juvenile justice system.

Laura Furr
About the Author:
Laura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr.

What Cities Need to Know to Provide Services to Runaway Youth

NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform project is increasing the capacity of city officials to address the needs of runaway youth and keep them out of the juvenile justice system. Join us for our upcoming webinar, Opportunities for City Leaders to Improve Outcomes for Runaway Youth Without Juvenile Justice System Involvement.

Runaway Life on the streets ain’t easy. (nathan4847/Getty Images)

The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that on any given night, there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth in America. Thousands of these youth are runaways, minors who left home without permission and stayed away for at least one night. Youth run away from home for many reasons, but often they choose to leave because home is not a safe place — over 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth are victims of abuse or neglect.

Local governments and their community partners have the opportunity to support runaways by diverting them from the juvenile justice system and providing services that meet their complex needs.

Challenges Facing Runaway Youth
After leaving home, a runaway may end up living on the street or staying with people who do not have her best interests in mind. Because runaways are often too young to sign a lease, get a hotel room or hold a job, many survive by selling drugs, panhandling or engaging in prostitution.

Thirty-nine states designate running away as a status offense, the common term for several non-criminal behaviors prohibited by law because of a young person’s age. Even where running away is not a status offense, most states authorize police to take runaways into custody without a court order. Consequently, although runaways may need support services, many do not seek help for fear of getting into trouble with the law or being forced to return home.

What Local Governments Can Do
In states where running away is considered a status offense, such as New Jersey and Georgia, runaways are at risk of being referred to the juvenile court system or sent to a detention center. Local governments can support runaways by diverting them from the juvenile justice system and connecting them to service providers that address their social, physical and mental health needs.

Local Examples

  • Gloucester Township, N.J., recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to interacting with runaway youth, created Project MARRS. Project MARRS is a set of strategies for law enforcement to use when working with runaways. One strategy involves the Juvenile Return Questionnaire. Police use the questionnaire responses to assess whether the youth is at risk of running away again or if abuse or neglect at home factored into her decision to leave. The Juvenile Investigation Unit, which includes a licensed clinical social worker, analyzes the runaway’s responses and any case history the runaway or her family may have in order to decide whether to refer the runaway to support services or return her home.
  • Clayton County, Ga., decreased the number of runaways entering the courts through a multi-system integration approach. When police pick a young person up for running away, the Clayton County Collaborative Child Study Team coordinates a response with local service providers before a petition can be filed in juvenile court. This allows a runaway’s needs to be addressed before legal action is taken, reducing her likelihood of getting involved with the justice system or running away again.
  • The Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY), which already has a drop-in center, an outreach program and a confidentially-located emergency shelter to connect runaway youth to community service providers, is now part of the stakeholder group establishing a juvenile assessment and service center in Las Vegas. When it is the best option, NPHY will also support runaways through the process of reuniting them with their families. Nevada’s Homeless Youth Right to Shelter Law gives runaway youth 12 years and older who don’t have a stable residence the legal right to a number of services, such as food and overnight shelter, counseling and access to medical care.

Participate in our Webinar to Learn More
To learn more about local government action being taken to help runaway youth, join us for Opportunities for City Leaders to Improve Outcomes for Runaway Youth Without Juvenile Justice System Involvement, on Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 3:00 pm Eastern.

Register today!

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative supports NLC’s juvenile justice reform project.

Izzy Jorgensen

About the Author: Izzy Jorgensen was a 2015 summer intern with NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

What Will Tax Abatement Disclosures Mean for Economic Development Groups?

This is a guest post written by Ellen Harpel. The post originally appeared on the Smart Incentives blog.

Economic development incentives such as tax abatements can allow cities to spur growth and encourage progress – but these incentives should be used effectively and responsibly. To that end, tax abatement disclosures can support greater transparency, although new disclosure standards may bring new challenges to economic developers. (silverjohn/Getty Images)

State and local governments will begin disclosing financial information about tax abatements under new guidance from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). The requirements take effect for financial statements for periods beginning after December 15, 2015.

Tax abatements are defined by GASB as agreements between one or more governments and an entity or individual that reduce the taxes the entity or individual would otherwise owe, and in which the business or individual promises to take a specific action that contributes to economic development or otherwise benefits the governments or their citizens.

Why?

Tax abatements can limit revenue-raising ability because a government has agreed not to collect taxes that it otherwise would be entitled to. GASB seeks “to make the financial impact of these transactions readily transparent”, stating:

“Financial statement users need information about certain limitations on a government’s ability to raise resources. This includes limitations on revenue-raising capacity resulting from government programs that use tax abatements to induce behavior by individuals and entities that is beneficial to the government or its citizens.”

GASB is not directly concerned with the effect of tax abatements on economic development or community-level outcomes.

What needs to be disclosed and what does not?

Information that must be disclosed includes:

  • Brief descriptive information, including
    • The tax being abated
    • Authority under which abatements are provided
    • Eligibility criteria
    • Mechanism by which taxes are abated
    • Provisions for recapture, and
    • Types of commitments made by recipients
  • Dollar amount of taxes abated during the reporting period (accrual basis)
  • Other commitments made by a government (such as providing infrastructure)
  • Tax abatements entered into by other governments that reduce the reporting entity’s tax revenues

Information that does not need to be disclosed includes:

  • Individual tax abatement agreements
  • Future amounts to be abated
  • Number of agreements entered into and effect during the reporting period (a change from the draft statement)
  • Information the government is legally prohibited from disclosing – but the general nature of the information omitted and the source of the legal prohibition must be provided

Of interest to economic development organizations

The guidance for disclosure is limited to tax abatements. It does not include all tax expenditures (only the subset that fit the definition) and it does not include many other forms of assistance to businesses, such as grants, loans or transfers of capital assets.

The disclosure rules are not limited to tax abatements for business attraction. Tax incentives designed to support economic development objectives such as historic preservation, brownfield cleanup or housing construction are also covered if they meet the other criteria.

Disclosure does not depend on the existence of a written, legally enforceable agreement. Abatements must be disclosed even if the government’s agreement to reduce the tax liability and the taxpayer’s agreement to perform a “certain beneficial action” is implicit.

The disclosures will be useful for transparency purposes but not for compliance, evaluation and accountability. GASB explained, “(I)t was not an objective of the Statement to provide information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of tax abatement programs.” Further, the Board noted that information on compliance may not be readily available for reporting purposes.

Our take

We support greater transparency in economic development incentive use and believe this standard is a good step in that direction even though it will not answer many key questions about incentive costs and benefits.

GASB cares about how tax abatements affect government finances. Our concern, by contrast, is effective and responsible use of economic development incentives to accomplish community objectives.

Challenges for economic developers will be 1) responding to financial reporting on tax abatements that lacks context on why incentives were provided and 2) telling a complete story about incentive use to demonstrate responsible use of those funds and to explain how they help achieve a community’s economic development goals.

The full GASB statement can be accessed here.

Ellen Harpel bio photoAbout the Author: Ellen Harpel is President of Business Development Advisors (BDA) and Founder of Smart Incentives. She has over 17 years of experience in the economic development field, working with leaders at the local, state and national levels to increase business investment and job growth in their communities. Contact Ellen at eharpel@businessdevelopmentadvisors.com or ellen@smartincentives.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at @SmartIncentives.