Connecting state and local government leaders
Among the topics being discussed at the National Governors Association and National Association of Counties meetings: Opioid abuse, rural poverty and fiscal challenges, among many others.
WASHINGTON — State and local leaders gathered in the nation’s capital this weekend for the National Governors Association winter meetings, which conclude Monday, and the National Association of Counties’ annual Legislative Conference, which wraps up on Wednesday.
For the nation’s governors, many whose state governments have been grappling with the acute impacts of the ongoing opioid crisis ravaging many local communities, figuring out effective strategies to combat drug abuse and curb deaths from overdoses has been a top policy priority.
On Saturday, the NGA’s Health and Human Services’ chair and vice chair, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, respectively, released a joint statement calling for stronger action by governors, state legislatures and physicians.
Baker, a Republican, Hassan, a Democrat, and the chair-elect of the American Medical Association, Dr. Patrice Harris, described the misuse and abuse of heroin and prescription opioids, which claims nearly 30,000 lives annually in the United States, as “unacceptable” and said it’s “time to put an end to this epidemic’s hold on our country.”
According to their joint statement:
We must prioritize treatment for substance use disorder, a medical disease that needs our care and compassion. Millions of Americans need help overcoming this disease, but the challenge lies in closing the treatment gap. That gap exists because of a lack of resources combined with too few physicians trained to provide medication-assisted treatment. Removing federal barriers to buprenorphine would go a long way toward closing that gap. The epidemic will continue to rage unless we expand our treatment systems and address the stigma that prevents so many individuals and families from seeking help.
On Friday, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, spoke about the opioid crisis during an event at the Washington, D.C., offices of The Pew Charitable Trusts, calling for strengthened rules on the prescription of painkillers.
“It isn’t the drug dealers from South America that are our biggest challenge, it’s our federally-approved drugs that we’re passing out like candy,” Shumlin said, as Route Fifty reported.
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Opioid abuse has also been a top agenda item for the nation’s county governments, which usually take the lead in delivering and managing public health and social services in local communities.
In January, NACo, along with the NGA, National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, announced a deal that offers state and local government agencies a new nasal spray that’s been shown effective in treating drug overdoses at a discounted price.
NACo, according to its conference schedule, is hosting two workshops on Monday on substance abuse. In many ways, the crisis involving opioids is intertwined with impoverished communities, especially in rural areas where county governments offer critical services.
On Monday afternoon, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, is scheduled to join four current governors, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Gary Herbert of Utah, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, for a special NACo roundtable discussion on how state and county governments can collaborate on ways to address rural poverty.
On Tuesday afternoon, the White House Rural Council will host a poverty summit at NACo’s Legislative Conference, aimed at examining the current state of poverty in the nation and “innovative and successful initiatives designed to combat rural poverty through multi-generational service delivery models,” according to NACo’s conference agenda.
Fiscal matters, always a leading concern for state and county officials, have been front and center at the NGA and NACo meetings. The budgetary forecast is challenging.
The governors heard some sobering fiscal news on Saturday from economists: While it’s unlikely that the nation will head into recession this year, an economic downturn will very likely happen by 2018.
“The governors here should be planning on that,” Gail Fosler, a former chief economist for the Senate Budget Committee, told the governors.
In an interview with Route Fifty, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said that his state has reached a point where its budget troubles can no longer go unaddressed, and described some of the ways he would like to see the state shift away from its heavy reliance on revenues from the oil industry.
President Obama hosted the governors for a dinner at the White House on Sunday, where, in his remarks, revisited his recent trip to the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, where he said that despite partisan differences, “we could assume the best in each other and not the worst, and find areas of common ground.”
As the nation’s governors met downtown at the White House and JW Marriott hotel, county officials gathered a few miles away at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel.
This weekend’s NACo policy sessions and committee and subcommittee meetings included discussions on topics like unmanned aircraft systems, public health, aging and veterans services, among many others. There was also a tech summit.
In a NACo Justice and Public Safety Committee law enforcement subcommittee meeting on Saturday, county officials discussed best practices for the implementation of body-worn cameras.
“It’s important to slow down and get things right,” Luther Reynolds, the assistant chief with the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland, told county officials, as Route Fifty reported.
NACo’s Closing General Session on Tuesday is scheduled to feature remarks from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Sen. John McCain, Vilsack, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Acting U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr.
ALSO on Route Fifty: Coverage from the National Governors Association Winter Meeting and National Association of Counties Legislative Conference
- "Alaska Governor Wants to Re-Plumb State’s Finances to Depend Less on Energy Sector"
- "Economists Tell Governors That a Recession Is on the Horizon"
- "Sound Advice When Implementing Police Body Camera Programs"
- "Vermont Governor: To Combat Opioid Crisis, the Way Pain Pills Are Prescribed Must Change"
PREVIOUSLY on Route Fifty: Coverage from the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2016 winter meetings.
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty.