As state and local government officials struggle in an increasingly complex world to serve the needs of their constituencies, they must keep abreast of the new and changing laws that impact their time, operations, and the municipal treasury. Now, more than ever, they are faced with complex legal issues in myriad areas requiring special knowledge. It has become increasingly apparent to these officials, as well as their attorneys, that the breadth and complexity of the legal spectrum confronting them on both a daily and sporadic basis is often beyond the capabilities of a single attorney or law department to handle.
Venable attorneys have deep experience when it comes to representing and advising state and local governments and government entities, as both general and special counsel. Our experience has demonstrated that, in order to serve the existing and expanding needs of our government clients, it is essential to have the resources of varied and experienced legal talent from a broad range of practice areas. Our state and local government law attorneys have extensive experience in the general representation of state and local governments, as well as in those concentrated areas that have become increasingly familiar on the local government landscape. The team is supported by the other members of our firm in order to provide the entire range of services needed to serve a diverse client base.
Venable's state and local government law attorneys are uniquely suited to help state and local governments, along with their various agencies and attorneys, meet the complex challenges of the twenty-first century. Is your government or agency prepared?
Government Authority and Functions
Government services and activities have expanded dramatically over the last two decades. With that increased activity have come more challenges to government authority.
Land Use: While regulation of land use and development is guided by planning, environmental, infrastructure adequacy, and public welfare concerns, such regulation is increasingly subject to challenge as an unconstitutional regulatory taking.
Antitrust Issues: Governments must be aware of the impact of federal and state antitrust legislation as they become involved in new areas of activity, such as cable television, in addition to their continued involvement in established areas, such as zoning and trash collection.
Civil Rights Legislation: The Fair Housing Act limits the ability of local governments to regulate group homes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all government facilities, services, and programs be accessible to persons with disabilities. This landmark legislation mandates an evaluation of all facilities, programs, and services; the establishment of a grievance procedure; and the appointment of an ADA coordinator.
Elections/Redistricting: The completion of the 2000 census presents the difficult task of legislative redistricting that satisfies constitutional requirements. Since alternative districting plans are usually available, court challenges often are a by-product.
Labor and Employment Issues
As employers, government entities are faced with a broad array of federal regulations governing taxes, employee benefits, and working conditions. Tax and pension issues have become more complicated, and claims for workers' compensation and unemployment insurance are on the increase. Knowledge of immigration regulations has become essential, along with the need to keep abreast of changes in wage and hour laws and health and safety laws. The "employment at will" doctrine is eroding, with increasing employee challenges to dismissals and other disciplinary actions. The need to retain employer prerogatives when dealing with employee unions and organizations remains strong, particularly in today's tight budgetary climate. Recent civil rights legislation, including the new Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, provides fertile ground for lawsuits against government employers for perceived discriminatory employment decisions. Procedures for responding to complaints of sexual harassment and for making reasonable accommodations for disabled employees must be established. Hiring tests, employee handbooks, and personnel regulations need to be reviewed, and modified where necessary, to avoid costly liability.
Venable's nationally recognized labor and employment lawyers have many years of experience in providing quality legal advice and representation to government employers in all types of employment matters, including:
- personnel management, from recruitment to retirement
- all matters involving labor unions, including collective bargaining and labor arbitration
- all issues involving equal employment opportunity, from advising employers on compliance with the laws in ways consistent with good management practices to defending against charges of discrimination before EEO agencies and in state and federal courts
Laws and regulations have proliferated in an attempt to deal with a growing number of environmental concerns, such as clean air and water, wetlands preservation, forest preservation, stormwater management, flood plain management, disposal of hazardous waste, and underground storage tanks. These laws and regulations often contain numerous requirements and significant penalties. Not only are state and local governments subject to these regulations, but they may also be required to enact their own regulations on these matters. Sometimes these regulations and environmental goals conflict, such as where stormwater management facilities impact wetlands. All of these situations have a significant impact on land use and planning issues.
Venable is a leader in the environmental area, with experience in preventive counseling compliance, litigation, and land use issues.
The financing of government programs and services is a major challenge to local governments. The varying needs of local governments, state restrictions on financing, and the complexities of federal tax and securities laws demand varied and innovative methods of financing. Venable regularly serves as bond counsel to state- and county-level entities, large local government units, and small municipalities in all manner of transactions, including general obligation bonds and revenue bonds, bonds sold by competitive bids and bonds sold at negotiated sale, publicly traded bonds and private placements, fixed-rate and variable-rate issues, and credit-enhanced bonds, by both insurance policies and letters of credit.
Representation before Regulatory Agencies
Governments increasingly find the need to have their interests represented before a variety of administrative and regulatory agencies and commissions, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, the Public Service Commission, and the Workers' Compensation Commission. Practice before these and other Maryland agencies has changed significantly in recent years because of Maryland's establishment of a system of administrative law judges.
Venable attorneys have the necessary experience to effectively represent their government clients before a variety of regulatory and administrative agencies and in judicial review of agency decisions.
In a time of budget restrictions, limited resources, and competing demands, the interests of state, county, and local governments are often at odds. Revenue sharing, tax duplication, and the effect of government regulations on other government entities are issues of major concern. Venable is experienced in assisting local governments in dealing with these and other intergovernmental issues.
Construction Claims and Litigation
Government entities that contract with general contractors or developers for the construction of complex industrial and commercial projects are often unaware of the significant legal risks associated with such projects. More often than not, the contractor encounters problems and begins to lose money. Inevitably, substantial claims are lodged against the municipal owner by the contractor or, in some cases, by other parties involved in the construction process. These claims can involve millions of dollars of financial exposure to the government owner, requiring sophisticated legal and technical analysis to sort through allegations of changes, differing site conditions, suspensions of work, delays, disruption, acceleration, and the like. Generally, the contractors in these disputes are represented by attorneys, claims consultants, and construction experts who concentrate on bringing claims against municipalities and government agencies. It is imperative that the government authority be represented by attorneys who have similar experience and who are well acquainted with the strategies, legal positions, and techniques for adequately defending against these claims.
Venable has nationally renowned construction attorneys who have enjoyed considerable success in representing and defending clients in claims and litigation arising out of complex construction projects, including wastewater treatment facilities, commercial office buildings, and housing projects. The firm recently successfully defended a local government entity against a $40 million claim arising out of the construction of a wastewater treatment facility.
Venable's construction attorneys are also uniquely suited to assist state and local governments in avoiding construction claims. Our litigation and claims experience, combined with our in-depth knowledge of construction contract law, enables us to provide valuable advice to owners on how to avoid claims and litigation by drafting protective contract language and by establishing claim prevention and monitoring techniques in order to more effectively anticipate and handle the difficult problems that arise on these complex construction projects.