By Wendy Weyer, SNS 2013-09-04 20:49:56
New Faces, Same Message Meet SNA’s new legislative partners in Washington, D.C. Early in July, SNA announced that it had retained the firm of Barnes & Thornburg LLP to provide advocacy and legislative services. One of the nation’s 100 largest full-service law firms, Barnes & Thornburg (BT) has offices in 12 cities; its Washington, D.C., office specializes in government relations. As the new chair of the Association’s Public Policy & Legislation (PPL) Committee, I’m excited to share this news with School Nutrition readers and preview some of the plans that are being put together for the coming months. Before introducing our new partners, let me share a little about how and why SNA’s leadership decided to make a change in its legislative team at this time. As most SN readers know, SNA had been represented in Washington very successfully for many years by Marshall Matz and his associates at OFW Law. But it is a healthy business practice to periodically review available options for contracted services, and there are a number of extremely influential lobbyists in Washington. Mindful of the difficulties of getting any kind of legislation passed in the increasingly contentious Congress and it being time to begin preparing for the next reauthorization process, SNA identified an official selection committee to review proposals and make a recommendation. I served as a member of that committee, which also included three other SNA Board members, the Association’s CEO and its staff vice president for child nutrition and policy. After reviewing six proposals and interviewing four top candidates, we determined that BT’s strategic vision and approach offered the best match for our advocacy goals. I want to emphasize that while our messenger has changed, the Association’s legislative messages remain the same. SNA is as committed as ever to advocating for all the critical issues we confront in school nutrition, from hunger to obesity. And we will continue to emphasize the value of an inclusive, grassroots-level approach that has been a critical element of our past advocacy achievements. I and the other members of the PPL Committee are looking forward to working with BT and exploring new tactics in these next two years of critical preparation for reauthorization. Barnes & Thornburg Our new team will be led by Peter Spanos, who has a long association with SNA, having served as our general counsel for more than a decade. Over that time, says Peter, “SNA has grown and progressed. It’s been rewarding to be a part of that process. Looking to the future, my partners who specialize in governmental relations services and I welcome the opportunity to apply our firm’s considerable experience and connections with federal and local government legislatures and executive agencies to enhance SNA’s position as a respected and effective advocate for child nutrition programs. We are now able to combine the roles of primary outside legal counsel and governmental relations counsel into a single team, while greatly expanding the resources available to SNA in legislative and regulatory matters.” As Peter notes, he will continue to serve in the capacity of general counsel, while also being the key liaison, as one who knows us inside and out, to our two BT lobbyists: Richard Boykin and Craig Burkhardt, who bring to our team very strong, established ties to both political parties. Richard has extensive Hill experience and close connections with Democratic leaders. Craig is national president of the Republican National Lawyers Association and has served as parliamentarian for several national Republican conventions. “BT has assembled a team of six government relations experts with a combined total of more than 100 years of experience working in Congress, working in federal agencies and working in lobbying activities,” explains Peter. SNA’s leadership is excited about the opportunity to tap the connections and expertise of lobbyists with influence on both sides of the aisle. What a perfect demonstration of the bipartisan approach that has long been a hallmark of SNA’s legislative success! One of the first things on the agenda is the development of a comprehensive three-year strategic legislative and regulatory action plan that outlines the vision for our advocacy process. While this strategic plan won’t establish specific priorities and goals, it will help to provide a roadmap for identifying the most effective ways to move forward. “There will be challenges to face in connection with the 2015 Reauthorization of the National School Lunch Act, as well as regulations under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” notes Peter. “As a law firm, we share SNA’s vision to represent its members and sound child nutrition policy in a respected, effective and comprehensive way.” BT impressed us with examples of how they prepare and implement sophisticated legislative plans for their clients—and that they understand that it will be our members who will drive the efforts. “We look to our client, SNA, for the key issues and interests that define these legislative and regulatory efforts,” Peter adds. From establishing new methods of collecting and applying member feedback to putting members forward as partners working with our champions in the House and Senate, I am confident that our new legislative team is well positioned to help us plan a tactical approach, identifying landmines and plotting strategic responses. And they jumped right into the deep end of the pool, joining us at the 2013 Annual National Conference (ANC) in Kansas City in July. “Although ANC 2013 was not the first national level meeting that I have attended,” says Peter, “we were able to participate in the full range of membership activities for the first time. Craig and Richard particularly appreciated the chance to attend dozens of meetings and to talk with many members in the course of the five-day meeting. All three of us were impressed with the energy, dedication and commitment of the members and staff. This was a valuable education— our legislative and regulatory work with SNA is off to a fast start as a result.” Looking Forward After completing work on our legislative strategic plan, we still have a very full plate for the coming months! Following are just a few of the initiatives and priorities on deck. ■ Smart Snacks in Schools—In June, an interim final rule establishing nutrition standards for foods and beverages available in schools beyond the federal child nutrition programs was published. The Association reconvened its Competitive Foods Task Force, which had shepherded SNA’s official feedback on the proposed rule, and the group will conduct a similar process to provide comments on the interim rule by October 28, 2013. ■ Political Action Committee—SNA’s PAC plans to continue its tradition of hosting a significant fundraiser for one of its top child nutrition champions on Capitol Hill. In the past, such events have provided great visibility for SNA in the child health and nutrition community. Look for more details about the importance of our PAC in providing access to key legislators in a future Washington Watch column. ■ State-Level Support—Nichole Westin, SNA’s director of state legislative affairs, has been working on a number of projects, including a newly developed state policy tracking system. Her terrific efforts are allowing SNA to provide greater service to state affiliate legislative teams as they pursue various priorities and issues. ■ USDA State Agency Training Workshop—To help state agency personnel keep up with the many provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that are now being implemented, USDA and SNA are teaming up to turn its once biennial meeting into an annual workshop, scheduled for early in December 2013. ■ Legislative Issue Paper/Legislative Action Conference (LAC)—Our next LAC is just six months away, and PPL will be working closely with BT and our staff team at Headquarters to apply the initial tenets of our advocacy plan to the development of our 2014 Legislative Issue Paper. I hope you will stay abreast of our progress on this— and other policy projects—by subscribing to Tuesday Morning (see the box on page 66) for regular updates! As you can see, we’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’ll continue putting our partners at BT to the test right away. I’m looking forward to reporting back to you as SNA continues to rise to meet new challenges! Please mark your calendar for March 2-5, 2014, to join me and the rest of the PPL Committee in welcoming Peter, Richard and Craig to our team as we work together to further our mission and vision for school meal programs. Wendy Weyer is chair of SNA’s Public Policy & Legislation Committee.
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