Some 38 WineAmerica Board and State Association Council members gathered May 13-15 for WineAmerica’s annual spring policy briefing, board meeting, and Hill visits. What a time it was to be in the nation’s capitol, as so many critical issues were being debated in both the House and Senate during the week!
Day One started with the SAC meeting, where SAC Chair Kevin Atticks of the Maryland Wineries Association outlined WineAmerica’s intent to empower the council with greater resources to further develop the grass roots capabilities of WineAmerica. This activism has long been WineAmerica’s point of distinction, which will continue at an even higher level in the future. The fifteen members of the council present also conducted their traditional roundtable, highlighting the issues in each of their regions.
Guest speaker Kam Quarles of the firm McDermott Will and Emery outlined challenging themes facing us as we seek forward motion on the Farm Bill. The Bill maintains current funding levels for programs we are all interested in – National Clean Plant Network, Specialty Crop Research and Block Grants, and Market Access Program funds for export development. We have been advocating for the bill to pass with those programs intact.
Another guest speaker, Craig Regelbrugge of the American Nursery and Landscape Association updated us on SB 744 – the Border Security, Economic Development and Immigration Reform Bill. It is a complicated piece of legislation that contains critical reforms that will help us maintain a steady, reliable ag labor force. There are two main components, a “blue card” for workers presently in the country, and a program for future workers to enter the country. A major departure is that this program will be administered by USDA, instead of the Department of Labor. Specific wages are outlined for six classifications of work, and there are caps as to how many workers can participate. Again, we worked the Hill hard in support of this bill.
We also heard from Susan Evans of the Treasury’s Tax and Trade Bureau about improvements the agency is implementing in the face of budget and staff cuts. Her presentation exemplified the collegial relationship between WineAmerica and TTB.
Day Two began with Chairman Eddie O’Keefe presiding over the Board of Directors meeting, where staff updated the members on a flurry of recent activities and member benefits developments. UPS representatives described our new discount shipping program, which now allows us to service California. We also had an update on the TiPS responsible server training program, which has generated a tremendous amount of participation. Our insurance brokers outlined an exciting new opportunity for WineAmerica to develop its own “captive insurance” program (call for details, it is complicated!), which has great potential for cost savings. Lastly our own Tara Good walked us through the new, improved WineAmerica website. Not only is it more user friendly, we have much more internal control of the content and ability to make our own edits to the site.
At lunch we were addressed by Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon. While he agreed that the environment on the Hill was challenging, he outlined the progress on issues of importance to us, and encourages us to stay engaged. And that is what we did, as all those in attendance left the lunch for meetings with their Representatives and staff.
The evening was punctuated by the stellar “Taste of America” on Capitol Hill – where wines from 22 states were poured for a crowd of over 100, which included Members of Congress and many staffers. It was an excellent opportunity to show our industry strength to decision makers in our government. A special thanks to all the state associations and wineries who donated wine and those on hand to present the wine.
Day Three was unstructured so that our members could engage with legislators on Capitol Hill. WA staff assisted in arranging dozens of meetings with legislators, where we urgently advocated on behalf of our issues.
Compliments go to our great staff, Tara Good and Michael Kaiser, for arranging such a compelling and well organized week of meetings, and to the Board and SAC members who took the time, effort, and expense to participate.
Stay tuned for our next opportunity to gather, which will be at Geneva on the Lake, Ohio, November 4-6.