Capitol to Capitol | Feb. 4, 2019

State of the Union

This week, the bipartisan group of members of Congress continues efforts to reach agreement on funding for border security in the face of another partial government shutdown or President Donald Trump, by executive order, declaring a national emergency to build a border wall. Immigration and the need for a border wall, infrastructure, the cost of prescription drugs and trade are all topics likely to receive attention in the president’s State of the Union address on Feb. 5. In other news:

A Major Step in Fixing Systems of Election

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Four teams have never played in a Super Bowl: the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. Congratulations to the New England Patriots for winning Super Bowl LIII!

Last month, the House introduced HR1, the “For the People Act,” a bill that looks at election access, integrity and security as well as campaign finance and ethics issues. HR1 contains several provisions that NCSL views as pre-emptions of state authority, namely mandatory online voter registration, mandatory automatic/automated voter registration, mandatory same-day, or Election Day, registration, uniform requirements for early voting, and mandatory pre-registration of teens.

HR1 also contains authorization for grants for poll-worker training and financial support for elections infrastructure. Sadly, there is no actual appropriation in the bill to guarantee these funds will materialize for states because authorized funding does not equal appropriated funding. HR1 is also silent on specific appropriations for election audits or updating voter registration systems that were last updated with the Help America Vote Act funds more than a decade ago. NCSL continues to analyze the details of HR1 with our election reform policy directive and has not taken a formal position on this bill. The first hearing on this bill occurred Jan. 29 in the House Judiciary Committee. It has been referred to nine additional House committees.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick (federal election reform), Wendy Underhill (state election laws)

Prescription Drug Pricing Movement Takes Off in 115th Congress

This week, both the House and the Senate held the first of several hearings on prescription drug pricing; legislation has been introduced. Among the proposals are HR 465 and S 102, which would require the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify “excessively priced” prescription drugs whose average manufacturing price exceeds the median price of five countries: Canada, the U.K., France, Germany and Japan. The bill would also require generic drug manufacturers to make more affordable versions of those drugs. Another bill introduced, the “Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2019,” would require the secretary of HHS to negotiate Medicare Part D drug prices on behalf of its beneficiaries. Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent letters to 12 drug companies asking for more information on their pricing practices.

NCSL Contact: Haley Nicholson

NCSL Sent a Letter Supporting States’ Sovereignty in Sports Betting Regulation

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Historian Carter G. Woodson is recognized as the father of Black History Month. Originally celebrated as a week-long ceremony to honor the contributions of African-Americans to U.S. history, in 1976 President Gerald Ford expanded the celebration to a month decreeing February as Black History Month.

The Department of Justice issued an opinion claiming the 1961 Wire Act is applicable to any form of gambling that crosses state lines, not just sports betting, reversing its 2011 opinion. NCSL sent a letter this week to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Finance Committee asserting states’ sovereignty in sports betting regulation.

NCSL Contact: Abbie Gruwell

House and Senate Democrats Release School Construction Proposal

On Jan. 30, Senate and House Democrats, led by House Education Committee Chair Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.), jointly announced the introduction of HR 582, the Rebuilding America’s School Act, to provide $70 billion in grants and $30 billion in bonds to support physical and digital elementary and secondary school infrastructure. Scott has indicated that his goal is to include support for school construction in any infrastructure package.

The bill contains a state funding match, a maintenance of effort requirement, submission of a state plan to track, report on and upgrade school facilities, and the creation and maintenance of a database. States would also be required to issue and review state regulations on a host of issues. Additionally, the bill requires local schools to use a certain percentage of funds for recognized green building practices. Guam, the Northern Marian Islands, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa are not eligible for funding. For more information: The Rebuild America’s Schools Act Fact Sheet.

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska

House Education Committee Releases Oversight Plan

School safety, implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, education following a natural disaster, and implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are just a few of the topics on the House Education and Labor Committee‘s oversight plan for the 116th Congress.   

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska

Trump Signs ‘Buy America’ Order Boosting Purchases of Iron and Steel

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On Feb. 2, Punxsutawney Phil predicted spring will arrive early. This Groundhog Day tradition is traced back to a Christian holiday called Candlemas Day, which marked the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

President Donald Trump signed an “Executive Order on Strengthening Buy-American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects” that encourages federal agencies to require, as currently permissible by existing law, the use of more American-made iron and aluminum as well as steel, cement, and other manufactured products in any infrastructure projects receiving federal financial assistance, which primarily consists of loans, loan guarantees and federal grants.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

CBO 2019 Budget and Economic Report

The Congressional Budget Office reported in a new analysis that without a legislative update, the Highway Trust Fund's transit account will remain solvent until 2021, while the highway account will stay solvent until 2022. The current federal surface transportation authorization, the FAST Act, expires in September 2020.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

On this Day, Feb. 4, in…

  • 2004: The social networking website Facebook was launched, and it only had eight features.
  • 1987: President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that “National Women in Sports Day” be celebrated.
  • 1941: The USO, formally known as the United Service Organizations, was incorporated in New York. Six public service organizations organized the USO to provide recreational opportunities and resources for U.S. armed forces members while on leave.  
  • 1932: The first Winter Olympics were held in the United States at Lake Placid, N.Y.
  • 1789: Electors unanimously chose George Washington as the president of the United States.

Read the Jan. 28 Capitol to Capitol.

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NCSL's Advocacy in Washington

NCSL's Washington staff advocate Congress, the White House and federal agencies on behalf of state legislatures in accord with the policy directives and resolutions that are recommended by the NCSL Standing Committees and adopted by the full conference at the annual NCSL Legislative Summit Business Meeting. As a result of the advocacy that is guided by these policies positions, NCSL is recognized as a formidable lobbying force in state-federal relations.

NCSL Staff in Washington, D.C.

  • Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Director
  • Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell 202-624-3569 | Commerce and Financial Services
  • Ben Husch | 202-624-7779 | Natural Resources and Infrastructure 
  • Jon Jukuri  | 202-624-8663 | Labor, Economic Development and International Trade
  • Haley Nicholson | 202-624-8662 | Health and Human Services
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education