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How Does MLA Choose the Annual Conference Location?

The MLA Board looks forward to welcoming you to our May 2022 annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. A member recently asked for information about how MLA selects our meeting sites. We appreciate the question and want to be transparent about the process.

I always look forward to our annual conference: the camaraderie, continuing education opportunities, and, of course, the location. It may surprise you to learn that the MLA Board finalized New Orleans as the MLA conference location back in 2017. MLA usually selects sites five to seven years out, though the pandemic has caused adjustments and delays to that selection process.

MLA Headquarters and the Board take numerous considerations into account when selecting locations for our meetings. We currently consider the following factors when reviewing sites:

  • MLA only meets in locations that do not by law discriminate against individuals due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation, since this can affect the health and safety of our members. We have used the list of states with discriminatory laws reported by California AB 1887 at https://oag.ca.gov/ab1887 as a guide, though the list has unfortunately grown from four states to eighteen.
  • The meeting location rotates across the country: East-Central-West, with variation from north to south in those areas.
  • The meeting should be in a location where members want to meet. MLA regularly seeks opinions of potential destinations through meeting evaluations and surveys. For example, New Orleans was the top-selected city in an August 2017 member survey.
  • The venue city must have the necessary facilities, such as sufficient meeting rooms, hotel rooms, and airport access. Attendees prefer sites where meeting facilities and sleeping rooms are connected or are under one roof, though this is not always possible.
  • MLA must be able to negotiate cost-effective financial terms for meeting facilities and affordable rates for member hotel rooms.

The MLA Board may take other issues into consideration when determining site location. At the suggestion of one member, we recently discussed expanding from the list of eighteen states reported by California AB 1887 to include the additional “heartbeat” law states of Georgia, Louisiana, and Missouri. About a quarter of MLA members live and practice across the eighteen discriminatory law states, with 5% more in the additional heartbeat law states. Excluding almost half of the United States as meeting locations may place an unequal burden on participation costs for these members and may also have unintended consequences for MLA’s desire to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in participation.

MLA and other associations also struggle with the financial and contractual implications of canceling meetings to respond to member concerns about new laws that come into effect post-contract. The MLA Board wants to emphasize that our decision to meet in any location does not signify MLA agreement with laws or policies that run counter to our mission to support informed health decision-making. MLA member inclusion and financial considerations, coupled with the tendency of politics to shift rapidly, have led us to recommend that MLA weigh health care access/heartbeat law status as a possible factor in choosing a location, but to not automatically exclude these states from consideration.

We respect the choices that our individual members will make about where they are willing to travel and the strictures faced by institutions in funding conference travel. We appreciate this opportunity to share our decision-making process as we consider future planning.

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