State & Local Policy Center

State and Local Team

TroyFlanaganTroy Flanagan serves as executive vice president of external government affairs and industry relations for the American Hotel & Lodging Association. He brings over 20 years of experience to the role as a policy advocate and industry leader who works closely with AHLA’s association members and industry allies on issues critical to the hotel industry.  

Troy joined AHLA from Align Public Strategies, where as a partner he provided public affairs counsel to numerous service industry brands and trade associations and developed comprehensive, industry-wide solutions to the various public affairs threats posed to employers.

Previously, he directed government affairs at International Franchise Association (IFA), where he focused on state and local policy threats to franchised industries, including lodging. Troy’s experience as an issue advocate also includes roles at ConAgra Foods, Inc. and the Consumer Brands Association. He began his career serving in various staff positions of the Florida Legislature, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

Troy holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Florida and a Master of Arts in International Commerce & Policy from George Mason University (Arlington, Virginia). Troy serves on the Industry Advisory Board of the University of Florida’s Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute and the California Hotel & Lodging Association Board of Directors and holds the Institute for Organization Management (IOM) designation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. 

MarilouHalvorsenMarilou Halvorsen is the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & Industry Relations at AHLA. Marilou oversees the state and local team as well as the relationship between AHLA and 55 state and city associations around the country.

Prior to joining AHLA, she was President of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association (NJRHA) headquartered in Trenton, NJ. Selected for this position in October 2012, she leads an organization that represents the Garden State's 27,000 hospitality establishments, generating $17 billion in annual sales and employing over 320,000 people. 

Prior to the NJRHA, Halvorsen was the Director of Marketing for one of New Jersey’s largest seaside resorts: Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach & Casino Pier in Seaside Heights. Throughout her career, she’s sat on many influential State Boards and Committees, including the New Jersey Travel Industry Association, Jersey Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and was the former Chair of the Governor’s Tourism Conference. Appointed by three separate governors she was the first woman Commissioner of the Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission, and later chaired the Commission for seven years. In 2015 she was voted one of the top 50 influential businesswomen in the state by NJBiz. 

In 2020 she was voted in as President of the Council of State Restaurant Association and joined the board of the National Restaurant Educational Foundation.  She also was awarded the NRAEF Chairman’s award in 2020.

SarahBratkoRegion: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire,  New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont

Specialty: Franchising, Mandatory Fee Disclosures, Extended Stay 

Location: Warwick, New Jersey


Sarah Bratko serves as the Vice President & Policy Counsel, State & Government Affairs at AHLA. In this capacity, Sarah is the primary liaison with state policymakers, Governors, and other government officials in the Northeast and works to advance policies that benefit the hotel and lodging industry and its employees. She also provides policy support and guidance for the rest of the AHLA State & Local team.

Her issue specialties are franchising, mandatory fee disclosures, and extended stay policies. Sarah serves as the state and local government affairs advisor for the AHLA General Counsel Committee and the Extended Stay Committee. She also manages the American Hospitality Alliance, an organization focused on providing support to state lodging associations. 

Prior to joining AHLA, Sarah spent eight years at the RI Hospitality Association, where she managed the Association’s advocacy and legal departments. During her tenure, she successfully worked on legislation creating tax parity for short-term rentals, the first in the nation “Be Kind” bill, which gave hotels the authority to evict verbally abusive guests, and legislation that permitted restaurants to sell alcohol-to-go. Before joining RIHA, Sarah managed the operations for a state-wide political campaign and worked in the RI House of Representatives Policy office. 

Raised in Massachusetts, Sarah received her BA in Political Science and History from the University of Vermont and her JD from Roger Williams University School of Law. Sarah lives in Rhode Island with her husband. 

JasonRiedererRegion: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Oregon 

Specialty: Labor & Workforce Policy

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina


Jason Riederer serves as Vice President of State and Local Government Affairs for AHLA and manages the association’s western region government affairs, labor relations committee, and many other strategic partnerships, including serving on the Mayors Business Council Steering Committee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Prior to joining AHLA, Jason launched the state & local government relations teams at two CNBC Disruptor 50 list technology companies, and previously served as Legislative Director for a House Appropriations Chairman in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

Jason is an alumnus of The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, and the Walla Walla University School of Business. He also holds a State Government Affairs Professional Certificate from the State Government Affairs Council.

SharonSykesRegion: Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, 
West Virginia, Wisconsin

Specialty: State & Local Taxes

Location: Washington, DC 


Sharon Sykes serves as Senior Director, State & Local Government Affairs at AHLA. In this capacity, Sharon is the primary liaison with state and local policymakers, Governors, mayors and other government officials in nine east coast and mid-western states and the District of Columbia. Her issue specialty is state and local taxes; including occupancy tax and tourism marketing protection, tax parity for Online Travel Agencies with lodging establishments, and property taxes. Sharon serves as state and local government affairs advisor to the AHLA Food & Beverage Committee and the AHLA GM Roundtable Committee.

Before joining AHLA, Sharon led grassroots advocacy efforts for NFIB in the Mid-Atlantic region. Before NFIB, Sharon worked in government relations and member services in several statewide trade associations in Virginia, including the Virginia Manufacturers Association and Virginia Retail Merchants Association. 

Sharon is a Virginia native who began her career in state government relations in Richmond, first working as a government and corporate affairs paralegal at Circuit City Stores, Inc. She also served in Governor Bob McDonnell’s administration at the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry as Confidential Assistant to the Commissioner. Sharon has an undergraduate degree from James Madison University and a master's degree in public administration from the Wilder 

KatieWrightRegion: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi

Specialty: Human Trafficking Prevention

Location: Washington, DC 


Katie Wright is a seasoned state government affairs professional with over a decade of experience in Washington, DC. Since 2009, she has dedicated her career to various associations, focusing on advocating for policy issues at the state level. Currently serving as the Senior Director for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Katie oversees stakeholder stewardship, collaborating with partner organizations to raise awareness and provide training on combating human trafficking within the hospitality industry.

Beyond her professional commitments, Katie is deeply engaged in the community, serving on the Board of Directors for both the NCSL Foundation and the Washington Area State Relations Group. Her passion for public service extends to her personal life, where she actively contributes to initiatives aimed at enhancing state-level governance.

Residing in Washington, DC, with her husband, Katie finds solace in her leisure pursuits. A dedicated puzzler, avid traveler, and voracious reader, she cherishes moments spent exploring new destinations and diving into captivating novels. Katie's multifaceted interests reflect her dynamic personality and unwavering commitment to both professional excellence and personal enrichment.

Katie graduated from the University of Georgia receiving her B.B.A. in Marketing from the Terry College of Business. 

JohnJarrardRegion: Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida

Specialty: Short-Term Rentals

Location: Atlanta, Georgia


John Jarrard is the Director of State & Local Government Affairs with AHLA. He represents 6 states in the Southeast, which include Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Alabama. Before joining AHLA in 2021, John was the Manager of Government Affairs with The Hudson Group, one of the top government strategies firms in the state of Georgia. John is a graduate of the University of Georgia and currently resides in Atlanta.


   Region: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Wyoming 

   Specialty: Sustainability/Environmental Issues 

   Location: Denver, Colorado


Melissa Mitton serves as Director, State & Local Government Affairs at AHLA. In this capacity, Melissa is the primary liaison with state policymakers, Governors, and other government officials in eight western states and works to advance policies that benefit the hotel and lodging industry and its employees. Her issue specialty is environmental policy, including incentive programs and policies that impact a hotel’s energy use, water conservation, sourcing, and waste reduction programs. Melissa serves as state and local government affairs advisor to the AHLA Sustainability Committee and the AHLA Risk Management Committee.

Before joining AHLA, Melissa led western state government affairs for Western Governors University. Before WGU, Melissa worked in federal government relations and public relations for the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C., focusing primarily on student financial aid and student affairs issues.

Melissa is a Florida native who began her career in state government relations in Tallahassee, first working for a state Senator and later at the Associated Industries of Florida. Melissa has an undergraduate degree from Florida State University and a master's degree from Nova Southeastern University. Melissa lives in Denver with her husband. 

LukeMartelSpecialty: Labor, Employment & Workforce Issues

Location: Savannah, Georgia


Luke Martel serves as Director, Labor & Workforce Policy, State & Local Government Affairs at AHLA. Luke works with state policymakers, governors, and other government officials across the nation to advance state and local labor and workforce policies that benefit the hotel and lodging industry and its employees. Luke serves as state and local government affairs advisor to the AHLA Labor Relations Committee and the AHLA Human Resources Committee.

Before joining AHLA, Luke was the deputy director of the Center of Innovation at the Council of State Governments, overseeing a wide range of initiatives and programs seeking to provide state officials with innovative policy solutions. Previously, Luke worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures for 14 years. He began with NCSL as an intern and left as a director. As a director at NCSL, Luke led the staff of the Employment, Labor & Retirement Program and managed budgets, strategic plans, and funder relations for multiple projects.

Luke is originally from Colorado and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Southwestern University and a Juris Doctor degree from the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. Luke is a licensed attorney in the state of Colorado. Luke lives in the Savannah, Georgia area.

JoyceChiangLocation: Washington, DC


Joyce is a Manager on the State & Local Government Affairs team at AHLA. She works closely with members of the team and external partners on logistics and coordination for events such as the regional Hospitality Shows. Previously, she managed projects for clients such as the Gates Foundation, the Coca-Cola Company, and YouTube at various market research and public affairs firms. In these roles, she gained extensive experience with analyzing quantitative and qualitative data to deliver insights around brand equity, reputation, and messaging strategy. 

Joyce was born and raised in Hawai'i and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from George Mason University. Outside of work, she can be found trying new restaurants or working on something creative.  

BiancaCastilloLocation: Washington, DC


Bianca Castillo serves as Coordinator, State & Local Government Affairs at AHLA. In this role, Bianca works internally on AHLA’s state and local advocacy efforts that benefit the hotel and lodging industry and its employees. She collaborates with AHLA’s political affairs team and supports grassroots advocacy efforts through HotelsACT and manages social media platforms to connect with advocates for AHLA’s issue advocacy campaigns. Bianca also works broadly with AHLA’s government affairs team by providing logistical coordination for multiple critical meetings and events. Bianca serves as committee support to the AHLA Labor Relations Committee and the AHLA General Counsels Committee.  

Bianca holds a BA in Social Relations and Policy from James Madison College at Michigan State University. She is a Michigan native and now resides in Washington, DC.  

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