Q&A with Chamber’s Government Affairs director, committee chair

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David Parker & Matt Geske

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs department and related committees are gearing for the 83rd Texas Legislature that will convene in Austin on Jan. 8.

David Parker, AT&T vice president for external affairs in Fort Worth and chairman of the Chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee, and Chamber Governmental Affairs Director Matt Geske discussed the Chamber’s legislative agenda and related matters in a Chamberletter Q&A.

 

1. The 83rdLegislature convenes on Jan. 8. What are some steps the Chamber is taking now through December to prepare for that session?

 

Parker: Consulting with our membership and local leadership for their input/issues/concerns/ideas; proactively reaching out to our local legislative delegation and those in Austin who are critical to our issues; and utilizing our various Chamber committees to help craft positions on their specific disciplines that our Governmental Affairs committee then pulls together for our Chamber Legislative Session Position Statements. These statements were approved by the Chamber Board of Directors on 10/18.

Geske:  On October 18th, the chamber’s Board of Directors unanimously approved our legislative agenda for the next session.  Our next step will be to reach out to our Tarrant County delegation, after the election, to discuss the issues critical to the business community in Fort Worth.  In addition, we are holding our Leaders in Government Legislative Preview with our legislators in December which will give our members a chance to meet our newest elected leaders as well as reconnect with our current legislators.

 

2. How do you describe the Chamber’s legislative agenda?

Parker: Broad and high-level on some topics and detailed/specific in some areas, but a thoroughly vetted collection of position statements on pro-commerce, pro-economic development, pro- Fort Worth community, and pro-education policies.

Geske: Our agenda focuses on all legislative issues that are important to the business community such as: economic development, transportation, public and higher education, health care and water.

 

3. How was the agenda formed?

Parker: The Chamber team develops the basic framework of issues, then provides to the various committees, receives positions and input from committees, then integrates that feedback into positions for the Governmental Affairs Committee agenda, who then debates/discusses/tweaks the issues, then approves the final version to go for a vote before the large board.

Geske: In the beginning of the process, we create a “skeleton” agenda based on relevant agenda items from previous sessions and allow our committees to add input that strengthens the overall statements.  The chamber vets the agenda through all of our committees (transportation, health care, environmental, governmental affairs).  After all input is taken from each of the committees, the governmental affairs committee makes any necessary revisions and then submits it for board approval.

 

4. What strengths and resources will the Chamber have in moving its agenda forward?

Parker: A strong, active pro-business legislative delegation here in North Texas; involvement and support of our members and influential local leaders; several current and potential Tarrant county chairs in the legislature; an engaged Governmental Affairs staff team; and a GA committee of experienced, knowledgeable members, along with lots of helpful “eyes and ears” in Austin during session.

Geske: First, we have a tremendous Tarrant County delegation in both the House and Senate. They are pro-business, pro-commerce legislators who support the Chamber and our missions.  Second, we work with 7 other metro chambers, “Metro 8,” on very similar issues.  Therefore, we are able to reach many more legislators than just our own in Tarrant County.

 

5. What’s an overriding concern, if there is one, that the agenda addresses?

Parker: Economic development dollars – we’ve got great ED leaders and guys like David Berzina who can flat lure business to this great area, but these dollars help us compete with other states to get those jobs here in DFW

Geske: The reauthorization of the Economic Development Act and the funding of the Enterprise Fund are two important economic development tools that could face opposition.  Both of these tools allow the state to attract and retain businesses, which in turn brings additional jobs and commerce.  Authorizing the Economic Development Act and the Enterprise Fund is one of the most important goals for the session. We are continually meeting with our Metro 8 colleagues (chambers in Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, Austin and Corpus Christi) and meeting with staff and legislators on this issue.

 

6. The agenda addresses a diverse mix of leading issues, but what’s a particularly notable concern that’s addressed?

Geske: All of our issues are important to the business community, but funding the state water plan is a major issue facing the state.  The state went through one of the worst droughts in recent decades last summer and without a funded water plan, we face uncertainties as it pertains to water.  In order to attract and retain companies, we must have a secure, reliable water source. It is estimated that the state could lose up to $116 billion of income annually by 2060, if we fail to meet our growing water needs.

 

7. How can Chamber members help in moving the agenda forward?

Parker:  My recommendation is to stay informed throughout, and prior to, the Legislative Session, make sure the Chamber and the GA Committee are aware of important issues to you and the community, stay ready and willing to send correspondence to our legislative delegation who are there to represent US, and my personal advice is to: (a) always fully read and understand the language AND intent of legislation; and (b) use one’s own unique expertise and creativity to provide proposed solutions for this community, not just complaints or proposals that benefit only you.

Geske: We ask our members to become very familiar with the legislative agenda and be prepared to reach out to our legislative delegation when requested.  The outreach could include face-to-face meetings locally or in Austin with our legislators or crating letters or emails concerning legislation.  We also ask our membership to make us aware of legislation that could be damaging to their business.

 

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