The National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International and the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrapped up Co-op Month celebrations last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. with a preview of the department’s long-anticipated State Cooperative Statute Library.
A comprehensive, state-by-state review of co-op law, the State Cooperative Statute Library is expected to address the challenge of inconsistent legislative framework for cooperative development in the U.S. Currently, co-op statutes differ greatly from state to state. Nationwide, both incorporation legislation and enabling legislation are needed to create a legal environment conducive to cooperative growth.
“As we celebrate National Co-op Month, Rural Development is pleased to partner with NCBA CLUSA in developing the State Cooperative Statute Library,” said Sam Rikkers, Administrator of USDA’s Rural Development. “This online resource will assist entrepreneurs, business developers and policymakers by providing an easy and accessible way to identify what cooperative statutes may best serve their business and community’s needs.”
The State Cooperative Statute Library, which is temporarily housed online by NCBA CLUSA, is slated for official release by the USDA in January 2017 on a dedicated website.
Rikkers, who kicked off last week’s preview, was in Washington, D.C. by way of Henderson, North Carolina, where he helped launch a food co-op financed by a local credit union and built by a three-generation family-owned green building co-op, perfectly demonstrating, he said, the theme of National Co-op Month—Co-ops Build.
“It’s a different way to work,” Rikkers said. “Working with co-ops helps build revenue, wealth and opportunities that all stay in the community. We don’t always get to do that, but when we support co-ops, we build community.”
Now, with the support of NCBA CLUSA, USDA is positioned to complete and digitize its historical research pulling together what Rikkers called a “morass” of statutes and laws nationwide. Meegan Moriarty, who previewed the State Cooperative Statute Library at last week’s event, said research is now complete for 15 states, with 23 expected by the end of the year. USDA Rural Development will formally launch the dedicated website in January 2017, Moriarty said.
The State Cooperative Statute Website will hinge on an interactive map with clickable states that lead to laws governing the lifecycle of a co-op, including formation, drafting of articles, drafting of bylaws, membership, patronage, capitalization and more. Using historical criteria, the site will also compare all of the laws, provision-by-provision and state-by-state—a valuable resource for practitioners, Moriarty said.
NCBA CLUSA has long advocated for a 50-state approach to cooperative law. Last week’s preview of the State Cooperative Statute Website is a critical step forward to identify core pieces of good co-op statutes that can be adopted by other states, resulting in clearer and more consistent statutes nationwide.