The Legislature passed both of the local foods bills that the WV Food and Farm Coalition and the WV Farmers Market Association worked on this year, with support provided by The Hub. Both of those bills served as useful examples of advocacy efforts that can lead to success. And they are especially interesting because different methods were used to get each bill passed!
We took away some major lessons about successful advocacy from each of these efforts this year:
- Have a strong coalition that works well together and is willing to do the hard grunt work of taking a bill from an idea to a law.
- Having a full-time lobbyists helps! It’s not mandatory but you certainly need someone who can be in Charleston on a regular basis and working the Capitol hallways for many hours multiple times a week to shepherd a bill along and help it avoid pitfalls.
- None of this can happen if you don’t have a passionate elected advocate on your side. Identify that advocate early and work closely with him or her to achieve success.
Cooperative Bill Shows the Importance of Collaboration
The cooperative business bill (SB 352) passed because a unique and powerful coalition formed and collaborated successfully on getting the bill through the session.
The WV Food and Farm Coalition (WVFFC) had identified the establishment of cooperative local food businesses as a priority for the coming year in the spring of 2014. A number of businesses and food hubs around the state were interested in mimicking similar businesses in other states and forming as a cooperative. The only problem was – West Virginia didn’t allow for businesses to structure themselves as cooperatives!
WVFFC did a significant amount of research and base-building work over the next six months to learn about cooperatives, understand the law surrounding them and begin to build a campaign to pass a co-op law. They worked with the House Minority Leader’s office (both while he was Speaker and after the election) to begin to craft language that would allow for the creation of co-ops in West Virginia.
WVFFC was focused on passing a comprehensive statute to create multi-stakeholder cooperatives, allowing for any type of business to form as a cooperative. While there was no opposition that could be identified prior to the session to this idea, it did not gain significant traction and WVFFC struggled to find a legislator who was passionate enough about the idea to take the lead on it – particularly after the election. It looked like the bill would have to wait until next year, and WVFFC began to build a 15 month advocacy plan with the intention of getting the bill passed in the 2016 session.
Around the time WVFFC stepped back to look at a longer vision for passage, the WV Citizens Action Group (CAG) began to consider cooperative businesses as a model that might provide a solution for recycling challenges across the state. CAG proposed a more limited cooperative business introduction, amending the agriculture code to expand producer cooperatives (currently allowed but limited specifically to food growers) to include all businesses that relate to foods and beverages, arts and crafts, woodworking and recycling, composting and repurposing of materials. It was a hodge-podge of activities that brought together a coalition of support, including the WV Chamber of Commerce.
With the Chamber, CAG and WVFFC working together, they were able to move the expanded cooperative business bill through the Senate and through the House – achieving final passage on Friday the 13th. Without the full-time lobbying of CAG, this bill would not have passed. It had to go through multiple amendments and revisions to address concerns that legislators raised and it seemed dead at least a couple of times before reviving and moving on. This bill taught us that powerful collaborations are important and, often, full-time lobbyists are key to keeping a tough bill from dying.
Farmers Market Bill Shows the Importance of Stakeholder Engagement
The WV Farmers Market Association (WVFMA) concentrated on a single bill this year. SB 304 created a single statewide permitting process for farmers market vendors, improving and clarifying the permitting process for these vendors. While WVFMA considered this a clear and simple bill, it did not easily sail through the Legislature for passage – it took hard work to get it done this year.
WVFMA started over two years ago on this bill, identifying the problem of permitting for vendors by surveying farmers markets across the state and talking to vendors who were getting pushed out of markets because of onerous permitting processes. The WVFMA worked with the Senate in the 2014 session to get a study resolution passed to help the Legislature more closely examine the topic and draft a bill to address it.
The organization also began to meet with the WV Department of Agriculture and the WV Department of Health & Human Resources (DHHR) to talk about the challenges and identify how each agency related to the problem – and what solutions they would each be supportive of. Originally this led to the creation of a guidance memo by the DHHR on farmers market permitting but the problem still persisted because of local health department autonomy.
Participating in the study resolution process required a significant amount of time from the WVFMA. On multiple occasions, the organization brought stakeholders to speak to the Joint Agriculture Committee about this issue and other local foods issues during the 2014 interim sessions. WVFMA also worked closely with Senator Ron Miller (Greenbrier Co.) and the Agriculture Committee staff to begin drafting language to create a statewide permit.
While the organization brought expertise and local voices to the drafting process, it also worked hard to keep stakeholders (the affected vendors) deeply involved and up-to-date on each part of the process. This was in part to make sure they stayed engaged and, in larger part, to make sure that we stayed on the right track with our drafting. We wanted to make sure we crafted a solution that would really work for people on the ground.
The Joint Agriculture Committee introduced an interim bill on farmers market vendor permits during the January interim session and passed it out of committee with recommendation to the full House and Senate that it pass during the 2015 session. The Committee chairmen are normally lead sponsors on interim committee bills and help make sure those bills get through during the session.
This year was significantly different though because of the flip in leadership. Suddenly the committee chairmen that the WVFMA had been working closely with (Senator Miller and Delegates Mike Manypenny and David Walker) were no longer in power. Delegates Manypenny and Walker had both lost their elections and weren’t even going to be at the 2015 session! While there was support from the new majority party for the farmers market billl, there was not the same level of leadership and drive to move the bill forward that had been built with the Democrat chairmen. The WVFMA had to scramble to help the incoming chairmen prioritize this bill and make sure it moved forward.
Both new Agriculture Committee Chairmen, Senator Daniel Hall (Wyoming Co.) and Delegate Allen Evans (Grant Co.), were supportive and provided assistance in helping move the bill forward in the session. The WVFMA was very appreciative of their leadership on this issue. Additional support and significant help for the bill was provided by Delegate Larry Faircloth (Berkeley Co.), who was extremely familiar with the farmers markets in his district and understood the importance of this legislation. The WVFMA was also deeply appreciative of the leadership and support that Senator Miller and Senator Bob Williams (Taylor Co.) provided to move this bill forward.
Our relationships with these legislators were critical to passing this bill. Without their leadership and support, the farmers market bill would not have made it beyond introduction, and would have died a number of times during the session when challenges arose.
An additional driver for this bill were the stakeholders that the WVFMA had engaged and organized over the previous two year process. Farmers Market Association members and leaders called their legislators, up to the final week of the session, letting them know how important this bill was to them personally and to their businesses. They even called when a bad amendment was added to the bill, and demanded it be removed or that the bill be killed. With their help we were able to remove the amendment, save the bill and help push it to passage on Friday the 13th.
While the cooperative business bill showed the importance of a strong collaboration of advocacy groups working together to pass a bill, the farmers market bill demonstrated how important stakeholder engagement and a few key legislative leaders can be to getting a bill passed.
The Hub aims to serve as the conduit to help strengthen those connections between stakeholders and legislative leaders. We’re proud of our successes on these two bills this year and are looking forward to new battles next year. What are the issues you or your group are thinking about for next year? What are the problems that we need policy solutions to? Share your ideas in the comments!