Navigating Complex Multi-State Procurement Initiatives
As state insurance officials wrestled with tight budgets and older systems overwhelmed by unemployment claims, several southeastern states came together in 2010 to build a common unemployment insurance benefits system to be shared between the regional partners. Called the Southeast Consortium Unemployment Insurance Benefits Initiative (SCUBI), the consortium included four states: Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Georgia.
While aiming to achieve efficiencies by sharing resources, creating a single system across multiple states presented numerous legal and governmental challenges. CivicPoint was hired to address many of these issues, from corporate governance and intellectual property to data privacy and security. We drafted key documents, including the memorandum of understanding and the cooperative purchasing agreement, and assisted in the complex procurement process. By the end of 2013, the IT vendor was selected, with the first state slated to go live in late 2015.
We have since been selected to support other similar initiatives, including the Maine, Rhode Island and Mississippi Consortium and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Information Technology Support Center, established as a national resource to assist all state Unemployment Insurance agencies in unemployment insurance information technology.
Bringing Sound Management to Tennessee Charter Schools
When two charter management companies, Michigan-based National Heritage Academies and Florida-based Charter Schools USA, set their sights on reforming Tennessee’s laws to allow full access to experienced, qualified school managers, they turned to CivicPoint to work with legislators skeptical of the issue. We wrote House Bill 1693, which would let nonprofit charter schools hire management companies, and passed it through the House and Senate education committees.
Energizing Opportunity for Property Owners: CivicPoint Leverages Relationships to Pass Energy Project Assessment Districts
Energy Project Assessment Districts (ePADs) allow building owners to finance energy efficiency improvements—a financing mechanism known in other states as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)—through a voluntary assessment on their property tax bill. But ePADs do much more than help protect the environment: they empower small businesses through real cost savings and create jobs. The CivicPoint team formed and represented the Kentucky ePAD Council, drafting legislation to authorize ePADs in the state in partnership with Frost Brown Todd attorneys.
Fighting for Local Businesses and the Environment
The complex bill faced staunch opposition given misperceptions that it would be mandatory and raise taxes. CivicPoint leveraged relationships and trust it had built with political officials and launched a comprehensive education and lobbying effort. The outcome: the bill was widely found to be beneficial to both local property owners and the economy.
In 2015, the bill passed with 85 votes in the House and only one dissenting vote in the Senate—no small feat in a state where bipartisanship is scarce and energy bills face opposition from local interests.
Putting Efficiency Into Action
The Kentucky ePAD Council is now working with developers and commercial property owners at the local level to identify and implement this innovative financing mechanism. ePAD projects are already under way in Bowling Green and Covington, and progress is being made to bring the program to the rest of the state.
Promoting Innovative Energy Efficiency Financing Mechanisms
We currently represent the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance in its efforts to secure passage of legislation authorizing Energy Property Assessment Districts, or ePADs. These mechanisms enable commercial, industrial and residential property owners to secure low-cost financing for energy-efficient building upgrades and then use the energy savings to repay the loan. We anticipate passing the legislation in 2015.
Reinventing a Tornado-Struck Town as Model for Energy Efficiency
In the heart of coal country stands the small town of West Liberty, Kentucky. Destroyed by a tornado in March 2012, with seven lives lost, 400 homes demolished and $50 million in damage, the town is now undergoing a radical transformation. CivicPoint represents Rebuilding West Liberty, the coalition redeveloping the town as a national model for sustainability. With state-of-the-art, energy efficient homes that utilize renewable technology, West Liberty’s rebuilding efforts are being promoted as a replicable, energy-diversified model for post-disaster recovery in rural communities throughout the country. The initiative has been recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America.
CivicPoint has served some of the largest public entities in our four-state region, including the cities of Franklin and Brentwood in Tennessee, Cincinnati and Dayton in Ohio, Lexington and Louisville in Kentucky, Indianapolis and Marion County in Indiana, as well as some of the largest townships and school districts in Indiana and Ohio.
Keeping the Chattanooga Community Together by Defeating De-annexation Legislation
Cities across the country have seen a wave of new challenges from legislatures increasingly involving themselves in local issues, fueling partisan political fire. In one such case, the Tennessee state legislature attempted to take away the City of Chattanooga’s ability to set its own boundaries by allowing residents to vote in self-initiated referendums to "de-annex" their areas. In other words, residents could literally vote themselves out of the city.
The city sought CivicPoint’s help to stop the legislation from being passed. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince legislators to reject a clearly populist measure, so we turned to the strength of political relationships, partnering with the mayor to work across the partisan aisle to resolve issues.
We built a coalition with representatives of Tennessee’s four largest cities – Chattanooga, Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville – which gained significant support statewide.
We also enlisted the help of local officials and the Tennessee Municipal League to provide testimonies, which presented real consequences of allowing residents to vote themselves out of city boundaries. We pointed out potential issues distributing police patrols, as well as the importance of the strategic placement of fire halls, libraries and schools.
These testimonies ultimately persuaded legislators to put aside their partisan differences and focus on the real, local issues and how the de-annexation legislation would harm the city and its residents. CivicPoint and our coalition successfully defeated the de-annexation legislation in April 2015.
Fighting to Keep Tennessee Roads Safe
No one likes traffic cameras, as no one enjoys getting caught for speeding or running a red light. However, as disliked as they may be, traffic cams are extremely effective at reducing infractions and saving lives.
When a group of legislators sought to pass a bill to ban traffic cams, the city of Chattanooga enlisted CivicPoint’s help to fight the proposed legislation and protect its citizens.
In this case, we had dramatic data, particularly for one short stretch of road: an S-curve on a hilly Chattanooga highway that had claimed a dozen lives each year. Since the installation of traffic cams, however, that number dropped to zero.
The legislators seeking to ban them weren’t convinced by this staggering statistic, arguing that traffic cams aren’t always used or monitored, and are therefore a waste of money. We disproved that claim with a surprise testimony that no one could argue with: Chattanooga’s police chief produced the traffic ticket he received a few months prior when he was caught speeding on a traffic cam.
Despite the evidence, it was necessary to produce convincing testimony on short notice in the legislative session’s final hours. Leveraging our close relationship with Chattanooga’s police chief, we made it clear there were significant consequences to consider before passing this piece of legislation, which ultimately led to victory for our client. We fashioned an amendment to ensure speeding cams remain in use on roads with S-curves throughout the state — a measure that will continue to save lives in our client’s community.
Guiding Judicial Candidates through Complex Elections
The controversial judicial selection system in Marion County, Indiana, is unlike any other in the country. Both parties conduct "slating conventions" in which the precinct committeepersons vote to select the party's "slate." On primary day the party's foot soldiers then push this list of preferred candidates. For judicial candidates, it’s imperative to work with lobbyists who understand the process, hold relationships with key players, and have proven results marketing candidates to the parties. In addition to our decades-plus experience with the local party, we have successfully guided two candidates through primary and general elections for Marion County Superior Court Judge.
Providing Municipal Governments Relief from Rollback Taxes
In 2012, we successfully represented the City of Brentwood before the Tennessee General Assembly and passed SB 948/HB 1455, now codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 11-14-307(b)(1)(F). Written in a coalition that included such diverse interests as the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation and conservation groups including The Conservation Fund, SB 948 provides municipal governments relief from rollback taxes assessed when the government acquires private greenbelt lands for city parks.
Directing Passage of Landmark Conservation Legislation
In 2012, we helped create Tennessee’s first regional recreational authority, the Doe Mountain Regional Authority, helping conserve one of the largest remaining blocks of forest in private ownership in the Southern Blue Ridge region. Our client, the Nature Conservancy, teamed with the state of Tennessee to purchase Doe Mountain, an undeveloped 8,600-acre property in Johnson County. Navigating complex issues involving all levels of state government and numerous agencies, including the U.S. bankruptcy courts, we drafted the authorizing legislation and deepened our client’s relationship as a trusted partner with the state of Tennessee on conservation matters.
Expanding Financing Options for Renovation, Expansion of Baseball Facilities
Working closely with the municipal government in Jackson on behalf of the Diamond JAXX Baseball Club, our team successfully passed legislation in 2009 expanding authorization of tax-increment financing to encourage renovation and expansion of publicly owned minor league baseball facilities.
Drafting Legislation to Protect Government Zoning Codes
In 2009, a citizens group sued a Tennessee county government, claiming the local planning code inaccurately stated the law with respect to a particular zoning classification. Because Tennessee case law favored challenges to the validity of published zoning codes by placing the burden on the government to prove the codes’ veracity, we wrote and passed HB 2116/SB 2177, now codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-7-212, shifting the burden of proof onto persons challenging the accuracy of government-published zoning codes. The lawsuit against the county government was shortly dismissed.
Defeating Proposed New Taxes
In 2010, the governor of Tennessee proposed new taxes on cable television subscribers. To defeat the tax, Tom Lee built a coalition that included locally elected officials and employed tools ranging from television production to grassroots organizing. Likewise, in 2009, when the governor proposed a new tax on family-owned small businesses, known as the FONCE (Family Owned Corporate Entity) tax, we led lobbying efforts against the new tax.
Strong Track Record of Defeating Legislation
While we pride ourselves on meeting the challenge to draft and pass legislation benefitting our clients, a significant part of a successful government relations practice is also the defeat of legislation adverse to our clients’ interests. The CivicPoint team has a strong track record of protecting our clients from potentially harmful legislation.
Sowing Opportunity for Kentucky Farmers: CivicPoint Helps Pass Hemp Bill
Globally, hemp is used in more than 25,000 products. While derived from the same species of plant—cannabis sativa—hemp contains a negligible amount of THC. Although hemp is not marijuana, it fell widely out of favor among Americans during the war on drugs.
The number-one producer of hemp in the 19th century, Kentucky looked to hemp as part of the state’s efforts to shift its farm economy away from tobacco.
Leveraging bipartisan relationships and political, public relations and legal expertise, CivicPoint partnered with Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer to help Kentucky lead the nation in efforts to legalize hemp for agriculture and manufacturing uses.
At Comer’s urging, CivicPoint leaders organized business leaders and farmers into the first-of-its-kind trade association—the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council (KHIC)—to educate the public and demonstrate to policymakers the economic value of legalized hemp. The KHIC successfully pushed for state legislation to create a legal regulatory structure in Kentucky, and then worked closely with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to facilitate the passage of federal legislation that authorized industrial hemp pilot projects in states such as Kentucky.
When the new law met serious opposition from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), CivicPoint’s colleagues at Frost Brown Todd successfully represented the industry in federal court, allowing the projects to progress.
This year, over 125 pilot projects are progressing in Kentucky, with some farmers already earning three times more per acre than they ever made with tobacco. There is a long way to go—and the KHIC will continue to push for the historic feat of full legalization of industrial hemp. But CivicPoint has already played an invaluable role in revitalizing an industry that had been dormant for nearly a century.
Combating Cruelty: A Battle Won With 25x Stronger Penalties For Attending Animal Fights
Cockfighting has been a sport in this country since as far back as the 1600s. Illegal in all 50 states, the “sport” is still very much engrained in the culture in parts of the South. While some argue that it’s part of their heritage, these events are hotbeds for much more than animal cruelty—including drugs, organized crime, prostitution and human trafficking.
Tennessee is located in the “Cockfight Corridor” of the South, where at $50 per occurrence, fines for attending an animal fight of any kind were barely worth the paper they were written on. And since neighboring states had already stiffened penalties for attending animal fights, many promoters moved their operations to Tennessee. The Humane Society of the United States sought the expertise of CivicPoint to help minimize the amount of animal fighting that was taking place in the state.
Over the course of the prior seven years, other unsuccessful attempts had been made to stiffen penalties for animal fighting in Tennessee. CivicPoint decided to take a different approach this go round, strategically creating a bill that would garner extensive support from influential groups in the area. CivicPoint then aligned the Humane Society and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission for a goal they could both support, protecting animals while keeping children out of harm’s way.
With tremendous grassroots support from the Humane Society, Tennessee Voters for Animal Protection and Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission, the bill passed with a 90-2 vote in the House and a 24-1 vote in the Senate. The bill went into effect in July 2015, making it a Class A misdemeanor (and $2,500 fine) to attend an animal fight, and a Class A misdemeanor (and $1,000 fine) to bring a child under 18 to one.
Defending Telemedicine Through Legislation
In early 2014, the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners proposed a set of rules that would virtually put an end to the state’s telemedicine industry. If the Board got its way, patients interested in telemedicine would first have to see a doctor in person. Thus telemedicine — where patients can access cost-effective healthcare via phone, video or other technologies — would essentially be rendered useless.
A leader in the telemedicine industry approached us — and we quickly got to work to stop the proposed rules.
Leveraging existing relationships in relevant industries, we spread the word. Attendance at the rulemaking hearing was outstanding, with 40 different entities protesting alongside our client, including other telemedicine companies, hospital systems, physicians — even school systems. Despite overwhelming objections, the board proceeded with its plans.
Later that same day, we met with the chairman of a key Tennessee Senate committee to voice our concerns. That chairman, along with the chairman of the House Health Committee, became the champions we needed.
Realizing the only way to preserve telemedicine would be through proactive legislation, we formed a coalition of major medical care providers and insurers to garner support for a bill. We drafted legislation, talking points, and scheduled meetings with state officials.
The vote to approve our bill was unanimous. This was especially important for our client, who was on the verge of going public and needed to demonstrate the strength of its business model.
Since then, our client has gone public, expanding its reach and continues to work with us to secure the right to operate in other states including Indiana and Kentucky.
Building an Advocacy Network to Advance Legislation
In its fight over the burgeoning secondary ticket scalping market—where professional scalpers sell inflated or even fake tickets—Ticketmaster engaged CivicPoint in a comprehensive advocacy and lobbying effort. To build industry support, CivicPoint formed the Tennessee Sports & Entertainment Industry Coalition, a coalition of Nashville’s major entertainment venues and dozens of major artists, including Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney. Many of these parties have exclusive agreements with Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation. The group was instrumental in the drafting of the Fairness in Ticketing Act, which would require professional ticket scalpers to register with the state among other things.
Building Long-Term Client Relationships
For nearly a decade we’ve represented WellPoint subsidiary Amerigroup Corporation, one of the nation’s leading managed care companies focused on the Medicaid population. In addition to lobbying at the general assembly, we have assisted in the company’s successful re-procurement of its state contract for many years.