Energy Department Announces $35 Million to Advance Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies

Today, the Energy Department announced up to $35 million in available funding to advance hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

The funding is intended to accelerate innovation in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies by supporting:

  • research and development;
  • early market deployments;
  • domestic; and
  • manufacturing

The Department also aims to develop “collaborative consortia for fuel cell performance and durability and advanced hydrogen storage materials research to leverage the capabilities of national lab core teams.”

If you would like further information, please contact Aaron Grau at 412-480-1809 or agrau@cohenlaw.com.

“Doing Business in the Americas” hosted by GACC Pittsburgh

In collaboration with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, GACC Pittsburgh is hosting a panel discussion on Doing Business in the Americas.

This will be a multi-faceted panel discussion on “Doing Business in the Americas.” The panel includes a host of experts on this topic, from import/export expertise to sales/business development, legal issues, and more! The German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter is proud to partner with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as we explore the opportunities and risks to doing business in the Americas. Bill Flanagan, Allegheny Conference, Chief Corporate Relations Officer; WPXI-TV Our Region’s Business, Host and Producer, will moderate our panel.

REGISTRATION REQUIRED – WWW.PMAHCC.ORG

December 8, 2015 @ 5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Location: Pittsburgh Chapter, German American Chapter of Commerce, 625 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

See more at: Cohen & Grigsby, P.C.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – November 23, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our November 23, 2015 show.

Our hosts were Nello Giorgetti and Kim Hileman with guest, Dennis Yablonsky, the CEO of the Allegheny Conference.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

In Defense of Government

There is great value in understanding and engaging federal government.

It’s easy to dwell on government’s ineptitude and effortless to criticize and complain. Insults, jabs, scandals, mistakes, delays, even honest misunderstandings sell airtime.

A Senator’s misstatement or a bureaucrat’s ineptitude ring out amidst the din of day-to-day governing because they are exceptions, easy to pluck, spin, post and Tweet. So what about the din? What about the constant hum of government’s bureaucracy? We can complain there as well, I suppose. It’s not loud enough. It’s too loud. It’s confusing and since we don’t understand it, it must be bad or at least ineffective, right?

Wrong.

Consider the effect of cancelling the din. Turn it off and the silence will be deafening. Our ears will ring almost painfully when we realize the din; the day-to-day efforts of government help collect our trash, help give us clean water, defend us, power us, transport us, feed us, treat us, and educate us.

Yes, it’s easy to complain, but listen to the din and you’ll understand there is much more to appreciate than chastise. Mind you, I am not a Socialist. I’m not even a Democrat! (Perish the thought…!) But I am a pragmatist and after working on Capitol Hill, within quintessential bureaucracies like the Department of Labor, and then as a lobbyist (Yes, I said it, a lobbyist!) for almost 20 years with clients ranging from large aquariums to defense contractors to at-risk youth and disability advocates I can assure you government offers more good and more support and meets more needs than most care to recognize.

And, although it will always be tougher to seek out and leverage those benefits than it will be to complain about slip ups, delays, or red tape, taking the time try, to learn, to actually engage can yield benefits far beyond appreciating government.

Forget for moment government’s basic roles like the Coast Guard’s search and rescue. (Who among us is ready to call them inept)? Consider that those who quietly, day in and day out contribute to the quiet din beneath the raucous, press grabbing, finger pointing and “grid lock” routinely succeed. For example:

The United States Department of Labor administers the National Job Corps. It’s a burdensome and expensive task in large part because the program is residential. Its mission is to help at-risk youth improve the quality and satisfaction of their lives through vocational and academic training. Day-in and day-out Job Corps’ professionals grind through the challenges of teaching the hardest to teach; supporting the most reluctant; and from their classes producing graduates, skilled employees, focused taxpayers who otherwise may have ended up in prison or worse. Sure kids drop out of the program. Some fail. You may find an article or two about them. You’ll have a tough time, however, finding news about the hundreds of thousands of success stories. But for Job Corps, but for the DOL, but for government, they would never be told.

Does that sound too trite? Then how about the United States Department of Agriculture’s recent funding to over 1,000 rural energy projects nationwide? The money went to renewable energy and energy efficient projects that not only provide new rural jobs, but new rural power using fuel that would have become waste. The return on those taxpayer investments will be at least three-fold, even if some of the projects discontinue. On their own, the projects are too small too receive venture capital and too geographically disparate to get traditional funding. What financier besides government, can step up, take the risk, and invest the money?

And there is more – so much more. Federal contracts are a quiet, unsung, and critical part of our economy. They support research and development, minority businesses, and local economies. Government services at all levels assure our safety and our standard of living.

Is there over regulation? Yes, often. Is there waste? Of course, it’s almost inevitable. It is easy to spot and yell about and when it’s fixable, it better be fixed! But as we listen to politicians’ discourse and rhetoric about how they will “change Washington” and “improve government;” as they do their best to sell a new approach to do away with rancor and increase effectiveness, we should do our part too. Stop for a moment, listen to the din, and consider the effects of its absence.

Take a moment to realize that despite the inevitable waste an wrong doing that government by its nature is pragmatic, doing more good for society than bad; more than many Libertarians care to admit or even realize.

And if you want to parse the noise even further, dig into the programs and find the ones that can help your neighborhood or your company even more, call a pragmatic lobbyist. There are one or two of those out there too!

By Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our hosts for tonight’s show are Nello Giorgetti and Kim Hileman with guest, Dennis Yablonsky, the CEO of the Allegheny Conference.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – November 16, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our November 16, 2015 show.

Our host was Aaron Grau with guest, Brian Kennedy, Vice President of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

 

Our next show will air on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 7:00 PM. Our guest will be Dennis Yablonsky, the CEO of the Allegheny Conference.

We hope you will join us!!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Host for tonight’s show is Aaron Grau with Guest, Brian Kennedy, Vice President of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

The Phony War and The Pennsylvania Budget Crisis of 2015

Earlier this year I spoke about how even though the Pennsylvania government was politically divided with a Democratic Governor and a Republican General Assembly there was room for common ground and an opportunity for a Grand Bargain of both increased education funding with pension reform and liquor privatization. I believed that there was sufficient common interest in not revisiting the budget wars of the Rendell and Casey years–the last time Pennsylvania government was so divided.

I was wrong.

I am, by education and disposition, somewhat of an amateur historian, much to the bemusement and boredom of my kin and friends. After the fall of Poland in the Fall of 1938 to the forces of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, France and the United Kingdom went to war against the aforementioned Germans. Except for a misadventure in Norway and some U Boat action in the North Atlantic not much happened between the combatants until the German Army rolled through the Ardennes in May of 1940 on their way to Paris, plunging Europe into darkness.

This 6 month period was known as the phony war.

Back in the Casey and Rendell budget standoffs the public was actively engaged. Welfare recipients whose benefits had ceased were camping on the grounds of the Capitol; public employees were laid off; and state parks were closed. In a shrewd move by Rendell, the revenue employees who insured that the casinos properly remitted their taxes to the Commonwealth, were deemed as unnecessary, promptly closing the casinos.

There was spectacle, gamesmanship and pain to spare.

Since those days however the game has changed. The courts ordered that welfare recipients must receive their benefits and that state employees must be paid.

Certainly the myriad non-profit agencies that provide services to the medically needy and the indigent poor have been affected and, the school districts, all of whom receive assistance from the Commonwealth are impacted—the poor ones–first of course. Generally speaking, the general public has not been affected. Perhaps if there were more of a crisis atmosphere, perhaps if the State game lands were closed, or the liquor stores were suddenly shuttered then the public would stand up and demand a budget.

But until all the schools close and the mentally ill and the elderly no longer get their services the Phony War in Harrisburg will continue.

by Nello Giorgetti

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Medical Marijuana Advancement in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania could soon be joining many other states and Washington DC in legalizing the use of medical marijuana. We are getting very close to passing landmark legislation for medical cannabis, and we have a new Governor who has been vocally supportive of signing legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year the Senate passed legislation, Senate Bill 3 (SB3), that would create a medical marijuana program within the State. It would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-derived substances to treat a dozen conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis to name a few. While it does not propose full access like Maine, Michigan or other states, it does allow a limited number of cannabis products, such as oils and topical creams – to be prescribed for a list of conditions.

Polls consistently show the vast majority of Americans support allowing seriously ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes with their doctors’ approval. In fact, there is near 90 percent support for medical marijuana among Pennsylvania residents. While SB3 stalled in the House, a task force was recently formed in order to work on a bill that would create a program to gain strong, bi-partisan support in the House.

In addition to a myriad of health benefits, it is no secret that the legalization of marijuana would also offer tremendous economic paybacks for Pennsylvania as well. Tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries has been giving other state and local budgets a much needed boost. Oakland, California, for example, received $1.4 million, or 3 percent of the city’s total business tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries last year according to a The New York Times report. We now have tangible evidence that a well-regulated medical marijuana program creates numerous economic benefits that provide bountiful rewards to states. SB 3 calls a six percent “surcharge” which would be paid before the medical marijuana is purchased by the patient, which could provide a much need bolster to Pennsylvania’s budget. Other states with similar programs have seen significant job creation and a decrease in marijuana prohibition costs.

After months of research and meetings, the bi-partisan task force made up of 14 House members recently sent its conclusions to House majority leader Dave Reed. The conclusions gave guidelines for how a potential medical marijuana program could be implemented, including recommending it to be used to treat 14 diseases. These recommendations will be used to draft the House bill. However complicated, the unresolved state-budget issue still remains the top priority with no light at the end of the tunnel.

by Kim Hileman

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

USDA Provides Funding for More Than 1,100 Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects Nationwide

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced significant awards for several rural energy interests across the country.  The USDA’s press release is found here.

Pittsburgh is quickly becoming one of the nation’s energy hubs, not only because of shale gas, but also because of burgeoning energy efficiency technologies, existing alternative energy companies like Green Mountain, and Westinghouse’s nuclear capabilities.

The USDA’s interest and investment in rural energy assets speaks directly to our region where 70% of Southwest Pennsylvania counties are rural and is a clear signal to developing and established energy companies that the federal government is eager and able to invest in their success.

Cohen & Grigsby’s Public Affairs and especially its federal government capabilities can tie current and prospective clients to the USDA’s energy resources as well as the Department of Energy’s, the Department of Commerce’s, the Department of Defense’s, and even the Department of Labor’s, which is developing strategies to augment the country’s “energy workforce.”

To learn more, please contact Aaron Grau at agrau@cohenlaw.com or 412-480-1809.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – October 19, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our October 19, 2015 show.

Our hosts were Nello Giorgetti and Kim Hileman with guests, Kate Dewey, President of The Forbes Funds and Marijke Hecht, Director of Education for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Hosts for tonight’s show are Nello Giorgetti and Kim Hileman with guests, Kate Dewey, President of The Forbes Funds and Marijke Hecht, Director of Education for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Lobbyists’ True Value

We’ve been talking about some complicated problems and lobbying the federal government to solve them. Surprisingly, it’s a step not many companies are confident to take.

Why?

Many believe lobbyists are “evil;” part of the “problem in Washington, DC.” Others see lobbying as too complicated, convoluted, or something that’s only for “big companies.”

Lobbyists are advocates. They help secure government resources including grants and contracts. They correct rules’ unintended consequences, establish useful guidelines, and assure equitable distribution of public assets. And their services are no longer limited to Wall Street, big business, or “a select few.”

Thanks to scandalous people like Jack Abramoff, lobbying’s public image is so bad practitioners use new labels like “government affairs” and “education and outreach.” Well before Abramoff and media’s sensationalism, however, legend says President Ulysses Grant coined the term “lobbyist” out of disgust and frustration.

Washington, DC’s Willard Hotel promotes the myth that President Ulysses S. Grant coined the term “lobbyist” in the hotel’s lobby. It’s said the president often wandered next door from the White House hoping for some quiet in the hotel’s grand foyer. When he was beset with petitioners asking for favors and jobs, he cursed “those damn lobbyists” who interrupted his cigar and brandy.

The story is not true.

The image of lobbyists as corpulent influence peddlers is equally false. Sure, there are a few old-school denizens still for hire and if you can afford them, they may actually put you toward the top of their coveted “request list.”

The truth is lobbyists play a valuable role in legislative and rule making processes. They provide policy-makers first hand information, represent concerns and articulate complicated issues that on their own would be misrepresented or never heard at all.

During an interview for an article in the legal text, The Regulatory State, one Congressional staffer noted, “lobbyists are part of open government and aren’t so sinister as the public image, but instead provide a way to know how [a] bill will affect those with a stake.”

Genuine and effective lobbyists are advocates who know government processes: legislative, contractual, regulatory, and grant making. They take the time to understand clients’ issues and know how and when and in what manner to make their (client’s) case.

They are effective every day; on Capitol Hill and among agencies; in small ways and large, representing non-profits, start up technology companies, small municipalities, large manufacturers, orchestras, researchers, veterans, artists, educators, law enforcement, coalitions of thousands and concerned groups of neighbors.

What can a lobbyist do for you?

By Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – September 21, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our September 21, 2015 show.

Our host was Cohen & Grigsby Federal Government Affairs Principal, Aaron Grau with guests, Dr. Mark Perlin and Dr. Ria David, the CEO and President of a very meaningful Pittsburgh company, Cybergenetics. Their software technology can analyze otherwise inconclusive forensic data which gives a clear picture of crime scene evidence when two or more people’s DNA are mixed together.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

U.S. Department of Energy Makes $172 Million Available

Last week, the federal government made $172 million available to tackle solar energy challenges, expand access to clean electricity and improve manufacturing’s energy efficiency.

Specifically, the Department of Energy announced:

Cohen & Grigsby has experience in tackling these opportunities and working with the Department of Energy, and Capitol Hill on behalf of its clients. If there is any interest in knowing more, please contact the firm’s Director of Federal Government Affairs, Aaron Grau at agrau@cohenlaw.com.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Host for tonight’s show is Cohen & Grigsby Federal Government Affairs Principal, Aaron Grau with guests, Dr. Mark Perlin and Dr. Ria David, the CEO and President of a very meaningful Pittsburgh company, Cybergenetics. Their software technology can analyze otherwise inconclusive forensic data which gives a clear picture of crime scene evidence when two or more people’s DNA are mixed together.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Baking a Budget

This past spring I wrote about Washington, DC’s gridlock and the role legislative tools like ‘earmarks’ can play to undo the stoppage. Congress, in a laudable effort to make government more transparent did away with earmarks some time ago arguing, among other things, that eliminating earmarked special projects creates a cost savings.

My retort was and is succinct. Bunk! This spring I wrote the money supposedly saved by eliminating earmarks is “folded back into” agencies’ budgets creating no cost savings.

One reader kindly pointed out that he and perhaps others were unfamiliar with “folding money back into a budget” and additional explanation is warranted. I agree.

To understand “folding money back into a budget” and why eliminating earmarks saves no money whatsoever, it helps to understand how a federal budget is “baked” at all.

There are three main ingredients. First, you need a revenue projection. How much money will the federal government have to spend in a fiscal-year? Of course that figure, like most topics in Washington, DC, is debatable. Depending on how you interpret countless (pun intended) facts, figures, expenditures, contract commitments, unspent funds, over spent accounts, tax cuts, sequestration factors, etc. etc. etc. you arrive at infinite possibilities. For now, let’s agree that creating a revenue projection is as much an art as it is a science and is a topic for a different day.

Second, you need the President’s priorities. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a division of the White House, prepares the priorities by communicating with every federal agency to understand their priorities. Through another separate process (another topic for another different day) OMB synthesizes the claimed needs creating the President’s official budget request (Note, it is only a request.) presented to Congress, by law, by the first Monday in February.

Third, to bake a budget correctly, you need a Congressional Budget Resolution. That said, there have been more than a few years in recent past when there was no budget resolution or it’s passed long after the money is doled out. I guess in such years you sprinkle it on top; decoration.

A Resolution is different from legislation, but still runs through the traditional legislative process with a few more rules and requirements. And, you guessed it, discussing the details is better left to a different day! The gist is simple enough. It is an agreed to budget, developed by the House and Senate Budget Committees, considering as much of the President’s requested budget as possible. The House and Senate vote on the compromised budget and presto! The dough (yes, pun intended) is made!

And you thought your mom’s apple turnover took time.

The Budget Resolution delineates how much money each of the 13 Congressional appropriation subcommittees receives. In DC-Speak, the allotments are called “Section 302(b) allocations.” Think of the allocations as the 13 apple turnovers you’re about to bake from that bill ball of Budget Resolution.

The appropriation subcommittees each have jurisdiction over certain federal agencies, ultimately accounting (pun intended) for all, i.e. The Senate and House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations subcommittees are tasked with passing a law that tells those agencies what they will have to spend and what they will spend it on.

Earmarks (Remember the earmarks?) were always accounted for at the discretion of each appropriations subcommittee. They would decide what percentage of their 302(b) allocation to reserve for earmarked projects. There were “education earmarks,” “transportation earmarks,” “energy earmarks;” you get the picture. Regardless of the type of earmark lobbied, drafted, and included in an appropriations bill no earmarkable dollars were distributed outside of their committees’ jurisdictions. In other words, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee could not draft an earmark using the Transportation Subcommittee’s money.

That’s important because when earmarks were disallowed, each appropriations subcommittee was forced to FOLD THEIR OTHERWISE DESIGNATED EARMARK MONIES BACK INTO THEIR 302b ALLOCATION intended for the greater good of the (fill in the blank) federal agencies.

The agencies get their piece of the pie (or apple turnover) no matter what. However, instead of Congress being able to tell the agencies how to spend a small percentage of the dough, the agencies decide how to spend all of it. There is no political influence. There is no grassroots influence. There is no community influence or input.

Simply put, your Member of Congress has less, if any say, about how tax dollars are spent in your Congressional District or State because the small amount of discretionary earmarked funding is folded back into the agencies’ budgets.

by Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – June 15, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our June 15, 2015 show.

Our host was Cohen & Grigsby International Business Lawyer, Susanne Cook with guest, Paul Overby, President of the newly formed German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter (GACCPIT).

The Public Forum is taking the summer off and will be back in September with another line up of great guests. See you then!!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Host for tonight’s show is Cohen & Grigsby International Business Lawyer, Susanne Cook with guest, Paul Overby, President of the newly formed German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter (GACCPIT).

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – May 18, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our May 18, 2015 show.

Our hosts were Nello Giorgetti and Kim Hileman with guest, John Pippy, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.

Our next show will air on Monday, June 15, 2015 at 7:00 PM.

We hope you will join us!!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.