A Governor Cracks Down On State Agencies Hiring Outside Lobbyists

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt restricted the ability of state agencies to hire lobbyists.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt restricted the ability of state agencies to hire lobbyists. Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Asking for federal help after California earthquakes … Oregon legislature funds SNAP benefits for farmers’ markets … Connecticut considers construction funding.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has ordered state agencies to stop hiring outside lobbying firms to lobby the legislature, saying the practice is an improper use of state funds. The move follows one of Stitt’s first executive orders, in which he made state agencies report the names of lobbyists state agencies had used and amount spent on them over the last five years. From that order, Stitt found that 35 agencies had collectively spent almost $1.5 million on lobbyists in 2019, and even more in 2018. “When taking office, I uncovered that several state agencies were collectively spending more than $1 million annually on contract lobbyists to advocate for their own special interests to the Legislature and the executive branch,” Stitt said in a statement. “The agencies’ practice of hiring contract lobbyists skirts transparency laws and empowers agencies to ignore voters’ mandates.” In the first five months of 2019, lobbyists for both private and state entities spent close to $475,000 on meals, drinks, and gifts for lawmakers. Although party leaders and committee chairs usually receive the most, freshman legislators have also been a particular target this year, as lobbyists seek to pick up new allies. The order does not apply to private organizations that represent local government agencies, such as the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council and the District Attorneys Association—non-profit groups that lobby for prosecutors. Trent Baggett, the council’s executive coordinator and the association’s executive director, said that their actions do not “[circumvent] the executive order and there is certainly no intent to do so.” [Associated Press; Tulsa World; Oklahoma Watch; Oklahoma Watch]

EARTHQUAKES | Two major earthquakes shook California last week, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to request emergency assistance from President Trump. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake followed by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake caused power outages, landslides, fires, gas leaks, and property damage for many in southern California, with even more trouble expected from aftershocks that have yet to occur. Prominent seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones tweeted a warning to Californians. “Like any quake, [the] M7.1 has a 1 in 20 [chance] of being followed by something even bigger. Smaller quakes - M5s are likely and a M6 is quite possible,” she wrote. Newsom wrote to Trump requesting help from FEMA, along with a Presidential Emergency Declaration, in order to provide "mass care supplies, emergency power supplies, generators, evacuation support as necessary, engineering support as necessary, and any other support deemed necessary for the impacted communities." The governor also pointed out that major transportation infrastructure, such as Route 178, closed due to landslides, limiting the transport of food and goods throughout the state. Though the second earthquake was the strongest recorded in the state in the past 20 years, it caused no fatalities. Even so, the two quakes together have caused an estimated $100 million in damages. Newsom called the events “a wake-up call” for the nation, and said he is confident that Trump is “committed in the long haul” to rebuild efforts in the state. Newsom and Trump have exchanged barbs as recently as last week over the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, and over California’s plan to provide healthcare to young undocumented immigrants. Regardless, Newsom said that Trump helped the state after last year’s wildfires, so he believes that they can work together again. “We don’t agree on everything but one area where there’s no politics, and we worked extraordinarily well together, is on emergency response and recovery, and increasing that emergency preparedness,” Newsom said. [Business Insider; ABC News; Sacramento Bee; Politico]

FARMERS’ MARKETS | The Oregon legislature earmarked $1.5 million over the next two years to a farmers’ market programs that allow residents to use SNAP to purchase food. Through the SNAP Double Up program, recipients earn an extra dollar for every SNAP dollar they spend at the market, in an effort to promote a healthy diet for low-income people. Rebecca Landis, director of the Corvallis-Albany Farmers' Markets, said that “farmers were motivated to attend more markets per year and our farmers’ markets became more inclusive community places” as a result of the program that has been running since 2011. The Oregon Farmers Markets Association was also in favor of the funding. “Oregon’s farmers markets are very committed to working towards being accessible to customers of all income levels. This is an important step in that direction,” said the association’s executive director Kelly Crane. Whether programs like these actually bring in new customers, however, is a subject of debate around the country. A recent study of farmers’ markets in Indiana, for example, found that while incentive programs make food more affordable, the majority of people taking advantage of them already shopped at markets before the programs existed; they were also overwhelmingly white, had higher incomes, and greater educational attainment than SNAP recipients who shop elsewhere. Study author James Farmer said that programs aren’t “changing behavior,” but rather changing outcomes. “These SNAP users go into the market, are able to purchase and acquire more fresh food...a lot more of it, and a lot more variety,” he said. [Corvallis Gazette-Times; New Food Economy]

CONSTRUCTION FUNDING | Though they are currently on summer recess, state lawmakers in Connecticut are expected to return and hold a vote on July 22 about funding for municipal construction projects. The same day will also see the veto override session, although Gov. Ned Lamont has not yet vetoed any bills sent to him by the legislature. Senate president pro tem Martin Looney, a Democrat, said that the money will be set aside in chunks for cities and small towns with infrastructure needs, "rather than cluttering up the bill with a lot of specific earmarks.'' While the Department of Transportation waits for funding to begin various projects, some towns are already starting their preparations. Enfield town manager Chris Bromson said that the town will build a new train platform before the state lays the tracks for the station connecting the town to the rest of the statewide line. “We’re not going to wait. A platform is a minimal cost compared to a station, and [we] can do it in a shorter time,” Bromson said. [Hartford Courant; Hartford Courant]

FIREWORK BANS | After the Fourth of July, some municipalities in the west are considering firework bans to avoid fires. That’s a new reason for prohibiting fireworks. City councils usually propose the bans due to citizen complaints about noise, anxiety over children injuring themselves, and concern for veterans, PTSD survivors, and pets who are spooked by loud noises. “We’re seeing more complaints based on fire risk and fire danger because things are drier now,” said Kristin Banfield, the city spokesperson for Arlington, Washington. Some rural areas, like Snohomish County, Washington, say the bans are only really necessary in urban areas. “There are lots of cities which have stricter regulations, but I don’t think it’s right to impose that lifestyle on people who want more of a rural lifestyle,” said Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring. Some municipalities, like Fort Collins, Colorado, have already instituted complete bans due to fire risk. [The Arlington Times; The Coloradoan; KTTH]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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