IAAPA Members Make Their Voices Heard on Capitol Hill
With cherry blossom season in full swing around Washington, D.C., 38 IAAPA members gathered in the United States capital in April to participate in IAAPA U.S. Advocacy Days 2019. During the annual two-day event, U.S.-based members met with key members of Congress on Capitol Hill. The attendees, grouped by states and regions, spread out across the Senate and House of Representatives office buildings to attend 66 meetings and meet with legislators and staff members representing 17 states.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to educate elected officials on the good that we do as an industry association—as members collectively—and on the issues that are important to us, from safety to employee relations to our industry’s economic impact,” said longtime attendee Eli Stovall, managing partner of Icon Attractions.
Connecting with Legislators and Staffers
Through face-to-face meetings, members spoke to senators, congressmen, congresswomen, and members of their staffs about key priority issues affecting the U.S. attractions industry, including:
- Amusement Ride Safety – IAAPA supports effective state ride safety regulation based on the standards developed by ASTM International Committee F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices.
- J-1 Exchange Visitor Program – IAAPA supports the continuation of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program without additional requirements which unnecessarily limit current use of the program.
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, also known as drones) – IAAPA supports the UAS provisions passed by the 115th Congress requiring the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop a process to petition the FAA to restrict the operation of UAS over and in close proximity to fixed-site facilities such as amusement parks, where UAS flight presents safety hazards.
“It was very successful,” said Hal McEvoy, IAAPA president and CEO. “We were able to get our messages across on all of the key issues and help our members. Everybody was very receptive and willing to take action when we needed it on amusement ride safety, drones, and the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program.”
John Hallenbeck, vice president and executive director of IAAPA North America, attended IAAPA U.S. Advocacy Days for the first time. He joined the group of members visiting senators and representatives from Utah and Pennsylvania, a state in which he used to live and work.
“Not only did I have some experience there, but I had talked to some of our members from the state to understand the issues that were important to them and then pushed those forward with the Pennsylvania lawmakers,” Hallenbeck said. “It was a great opportunity for us to serve our members and the industry as a whole.”
In addition to Pennsylvania and Utah, IAAPA U.S. Advocacy Days groups met with congressional office representatives from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Advocacy Associates helped IAAPA schedule congressional meetings, and through an app, attendees were able to view their meeting schedules, review reference material, and learn about the legislators and staff members with which they were meeting. Government relations professionals from Alignment Government Strategies (AGS) joined groups during their meetings to assist and offer policy expertise.
Attending the event for the third time, Stephen Sims, general manager of SomerSplash Waterpark in Somerset, Kentucky, said getting the chance to meet with lawmakers and their staffs is a one-of-a-kind experience with valuable outcomes.
“It’s great talking with legislative staffers. When I came into some meetings, they remembered me, saying, ‘Oh yeah, you were here last year talking about the water park.’” Sims said. “You build a relationship, and they say, ‘Here’s our card. Call if we can help or do something for you.’ Without coming here, we’d never get those connections. It’s not always about what you know, but who you know.”
Understanding the Current U.S. Political Climate
Before attendees headed out to Capitol Hill, political leaders led presentations—held at the Canopy by Hilton hotel in The Wharf waterfront neighborhood of Washington, D.C.—on the current state of politics and government in the United States. During a discussion moderated by Bert Carp of AGS, Jon Boughtin, political director of the NewDem Action Fund, and Brendon Plack, chief of staff of the Senate Majority Whip, discussed their political parties’ approaches and goals, budgets, filibusters, and the current administration’s legislative priorities, including drug pricing, immigration, trade agreements, and infrastructure. Boughtin and Plack also answered attendees’ questions about bipartisan cooperation, media coverage of government proceedings, and the effects of social media.
“I think the biggest thing I learned listening to the two gentlemen from opposite sides was that they were very friendly, very cordial, and shared a lot of the same ideals,” said Steve Bell, business solutions architect at Gateway Ticketing Systems. “That’s a part of the U.S. government that most of us don’t get to see.”
David May, management and program analyst with the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, presented an overview of UAS—including their operation and registration—challenges related to safety and security, restrictions, and innovation. He also shared information on the FAA’s authority and role with UAS, as well as how to report unsafe UAS activity.
Attendees also heard from Rep. Billy Long of Missouri and Rep. Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey, who each shared their perspectives on the country’s political landscape, referencing the Trump administration, tourism, immigration, and infrastructure.
Looking to the Future
IAAPA U.S. Advocacy Days 2020 will be held March 30-31, 2020, in Washington, D.C. SomerSplash Waterpark’s Sims said he encourages members to take part in the event to spend time with lawmakers and see how their participation can affect legislation.
“This was probably the best one yet,” he said. “Each year, I’ve been seeing more and more people as they learn how important it is for us to go out and see the representatives of our communities.”
Icon Attractions’ Stovall said the congressional meetings help legislators understand the industry and its priorities.
“We really do have a very diverse membership base, so the more people who participate, the stronger we are as a voice when we come here to talk about these issues that matter to all of us,” Stovall said.
For more information on U.S. Advocacy Days and next year’s event, visit www.IAAPA.org/AdvocacyDays.