BoatUS Goes To Washington

By Ryck Lydecker
Photos By Jenny Lehman

Ride along with our crackerjack team for a day as we defend your boating interests.

A lot of water has passed under the BoatUS keel since founder Richard Schwartz convinced Congress to pass the Motorboat Safety Act of 1971, the first federal law aimed at protecting recreational boaters. Every day since then, our BoatUS Government Affairs team has been on the job for you, helping to win major victories, such as passage of the federal Clean Boating Act, defending the GPS signal, and countless important local victories that you may never hear about.

Working the inner halls of the public-policy process to protect boaters and boating remains a hallmark of our association. Follow us on one particular day we spent "working The Hill," as the 114th Congress wound down in autumn 2016.

September 15, 2016

Walking the halls of Congress

While Congressional issues occupy only one part of the BoatUS Government Affairs agenda, with Capitol Hill only 9 miles away as the gull flies from headquarters, the boaters' voice is often heard in the halls of Congress. Here BoatUS government affairs manager David Kennedy and Morgan Neuhoff, our government affairs program coordinator, make the rounds of Congressional offices to advance legislation that's important to boating and sportfishing.

Congressional boating caucus briefing

0830: The day starts at a Congressional Boating Caucus briefing on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization. Lobbyists for BoatUS, the American Sportfishing Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and others talk business: the status of the House WRDA bill, which includes dredging funding, now in play and, most important, strategies for getting it passed.

Congressional briefing

0900: With Congressional staff from the relevant committees and Congressional offices assembled in the hearing room, the formal hour-long briefing begins on WRDA. The bill authorizes funding for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging operations plus large-scale projects to restore important aquatic ecosystems, such as the Florida Everglades. The Boating Caucus, made up of 135 members of Congress who support the boating industry and recreational boaters, is key to getting passage before Congress adjourns.

Talking to Congressional staff

1005: The briefing concludes. Our BoatUS Government Affairs staff now shifts to one-on-one conversations with Congressional staff who have questions about the need to pass the bill. Neuhoff makes the case for more House members to sign on to the letter from Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina seeking support for the reauthorization.

Conferring with colleagues about state boating issues

1020: Before leaving the hearing room, Kennedy and Neuhoff confer with colleagues regarding state boating issues raised during the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators annual meeting he'd just attended in Seattle. Front-and-center topics included state-mandated boater education as well as boat inspections for invasive species.

1030: Between appointments, Neuhoff checks activity on a BoatUS Government Affairs Action Alert our team is circulating to BoatUS members. It calls for public comments on new Hudson River commercial anchorages that could conflict with boating. Our members are engaged, and the tally's still climbing.

Kennedy and Neuhoff meet with Rep. Mick Mulvaney

1035: Kennedy and Neuhoff meet with Rep. Mick Mulvaney, 5th Congressional District of South Carolina. He and his delegation have keen interest in dredging and can play a key role in advancing WRDA in the House. In December, Mulveney was named director of the Office of Management and Budget.

David Kennedy checking in on his cellphone

1100: Kennedy and Neuhoff head to the Senate side of Capitol Hill. This is familiar turf for our BoatUS Government Affairs team members.

California Rep. Grace Napolitano, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

1110: Our team encounters California Rep. Grace Napolitano, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. As Ranking Member on its Water Resources Subcommittee, she's interested in the "boater's take" on WRDA. Provisions in the House bill can help restore California's Sacramento River Delta, prime recreational boating waters.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia's 5th Congressional District leaving the Capitol

1121: The pair spy Rep. John Lewis of Georgia's 5th Congressional District leaving the Capitol. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and a powerful influencer of the Georgia delegation, Lewis can be a strong ally for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway where it passes through the Peach State. Winning his vote on WRDA is important.

1135: Kennedy checks in by phone with our BoatUS lobbyist in Florida about a just-concluded Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting. Proposed changes to managing critical wildlife areas in the state could affect boater access. Obstacle or opportunity? Too early to tell.

U.S. Capitol Building

1245: Word comes that the Senate has just passed its version of the WRDA bill by a 95–3 vote. High fives all around. With budget bills in play and the end of the Congressional session not far off, not to mention the looming national election, House action on WRDA is now critical.

Kennedy catches up with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who's just come off the Senate floor

1310: Kennedy catches up with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who's just come off the Senate floor. A member of the senator's staff takes their picture on the historic steps in the Senate wing of the Capitol Building. Manchin, a long-time BoatUS member, is a key player in the Senate Boating Caucus.

1400: Now it's a rush back across the Potomac to BoatUS national headquarters to keep up with other bills and matters. Today's time with lawmakers in Congress has been well spent.

Two weeks later, the House of Representatives passed the WRDA reauthorization bill, now the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. Across the country, state legislatures are now in session, and our Government Affairs team is monitoring all 50 states for legislation that can affect boaters and boating.

"Public-policy work can be as uneventful as watching bottom paint dry, or as exciting as scrambling in the dark to put out another anchor in a squall," reports Kennedy, a passionate boat owner himself. "While BoatUS, when it comes to boating, is the sustained presence in the public-policy arena, we rely on our members to keep us informed on state and local issues. Together we can continue our legacy of defending the rights of boaters, keeping taxes fair, fisheries sustainable, and ensuring boater access to our waterfronts and the water." 

Keeping All The Plates Spinning At Once

Every week starts with a Government Affairs staff meeting, where we develop a float plan, map out our strategies, and keep up to date on the ever-shifting issues. In addition to acute attention to Congress when an important bill is reaching a vote, such as Water Resources Development Act, the daily workings of the BoatUS Government Affairs team also include the following, all happening at once:

  •  Consulting with our BoatUS National Advisory Council, a group of leaders in the marine industry who help shape our policy and positions on major initiatives
  •  Daily monitoring of the Federal Register for regulatory changes affecting boaters
  •  Fielding phone calls and emails from our members about important happenings in their communities that may require the deeper involvement of our BoatUS Government Affairs team
  •  Drafting testimony and public comments on complicated topics, such as proposed changes to water-quality standards that could limit choices and effectiveness of antifouling bottom coatings
  •  Providing tools, such as the Florida-anchoring fact sheet, that cruisers can download to keep aboard and use with local jurisdictions to clarify state rules in the current anchoring debates
  •  Drafting press releases on important government affairs news, such as continuing problems with the renewable-fuel standard that mandates increasing volumes of ethanol in our fuel supplies
  •  Engaging regularly with coalitions, such as the American Boating Congress and other boating industry allies, to promote boating and sportfishing
  •  Writing news articles for BoatUS Magazine on current issues of importance to boaters

— Published: February/March 2017

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