Capitol to Capitol | May 21, 2018

Immigration Politics Sink Farm Bill in the House

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The term “feeling blue” originated at sea. If a deep water sailing ship lost its captain or one of its officers during its voyage, it would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along its hull while returning home. Now, the term means to feel sad.

The 2018 Farm Bill, officially titled the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, failed 198-213 on the House floor Friday after 30 Republicans joined all Democrats in opposition. Democrats opposed the bill because it significantly altered the food stamp program by adding new work requirements that conservatives have demanded for years. And while members of the House Freedom Caucus support the changes to the program, they opposed the legislation to gain leverage in the upcoming debate on immigration. What happens next is unclear.

The resurgence of the immigration issue is due to a Discharge Petition that is only a few signatures shy of 218, which would constitute a majority of House members, to force an immigration vote on the House floor. According to the sponsor of the petition, Representative Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a moderate whose district is heavily Hispanic, there are more than enough Republicans willing to force a floor vote on immigration legislation. However, the promised signatories had held off to give leadership a chance to find agreement within the party, but that ultimately failed to materialize. After Friday’s failed vote, Representative Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said that now even more Republican members would sign the discharge petition to force votes on a series of immigration bills, including some supported by Democrats.

The discharge petition would set up a “Queen of the Hill process” in which four immigration bills would be voted upon and the measure that received the most votes would be sent to the Senate for consideration. The four proposals include:

  1. The Dream Act, offered by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), which would provide temporary immigrant status to so-called “Dreamers” and would impose a series of restrictions on legal immigration. This legislation is unlikely to pass the House and most certainly does not have the support for passage in the Senate.
  2. The USA Act, would combine the Dream Act with $25 billion for border security.
  3. Legislation of Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) choosing.
  4. Legislation of Representative Jeff Denham’s choosing.

What happens next for the Farm Bill and immigration? After the Farm Bill’s fate was sealed on Friday, Ryan changed his vote to “no” so that he could procedurally have the legislation reconsidered per House Rules. House staff have indicated that they expect the House to pass a new rule tomorrow that will set a new date for another vote on the Farm Bill. Congress has until Sept. 30 to pass legislation to reauthorize both food and farm programs.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick (Immigration), Abbie Gruwell (SNAP), Ben Husch (Agriculture)

Budget and Appropriations  

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New Mexico flag

The Daughters of the American Revolution pushed New Mexico to design a contemporary and unique flag in 1920. A contest to design the new state flag was won by archaeologist Harry Mera of Santa Fe, who wanted to highlight the state's Native American Pueblo and Nuevo México Hispano roots.

The flag features the sacred symbol of the sun for the Zia, a Native American tribe from New Mexico. Four is a sacred number that symbolizes the Circle of Life: the four directions, the four times of day, the four stages of life, and the four seasons. The circle binds the four elements of four together.

Also of interest, the New Mexico flag is only one of four U.S. state flags not to contain the color blue—the other three are Alabama, California and Maryland.

The House may vote this week on President Donald Trump’s rescission package that would withdraw $15.2 billion in previously approved spending. While budget hawks insist they are open to the proposal that would help reduce spending after passing a mammoth, $1.3 trillion spending omnibus that tore up federal budget caps in March.

The chances of the bill reaching the president’s desk are slim, as Democrats are uniting in opposition and some Republicans in both chambers express opposition because of cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

This week, the House Appropriations Committee will continue its work on a markup of its Interior-Environment bill on Tuesday and Transportation-HUD bill on Wednesday. House appropriators will also be busy holding a public debate over guidelines for a massive $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act. The annual policy bill is set for a floor debate and vote later this week.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is also set to meet on the issue behind closed doors with a vote on Wednesday, while Senate appropriators also begin tackling their fiscal 2019 spending bills. First up are the Energy-Water and Agriculture bills, which get subcommittee votes on Tuesday and a full committee markup on Thursday.  

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

Congress Begins Consideration of Defense Reauthorization

This week, the House will consider H.R. 5515, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2019, the annual legislation that sets military policy and military funding levels, and authorizes the work of the nuclear-weapons programs housed in the Department of Energy. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to approve rules for debate of the $717 billion bill by Tuesday, which will set the stage for consideration of the legislation and more than 500 filed amendments. The legislation passed the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month 60-1.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin markup for its version of NDAA this afternoon. The markup sessions will mostly be held in secret and closed to the public due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. The committee markup is slated to be completed by Friday.

NCSL Contacts: Max BehlkeJake Lestock

Senate Passes Resolution to Revive Net Neutrality

The Senate approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution 52-47 last Wednesday to rescind the current Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rollback, a rule that is on track to take effect next month. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Kennedy (R-La.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), joined Democrats in voting to overturn the FCC’s new rule. The rule was created to roll back Obama-era rules that ensure that internet service providers did not slow down or speed up users’ access to specific websites and apps. While the House is not planning to take up similar action, effectively killing the bill, Democrats are planning to use this vote as a campaign issue in the 2018 midterm elections.

NCSL Contacts: Danielle Dean

House Committee Passes Bipartisan Federal Prison Reform Legislation

The House Judiciary Committee passed the FIRST STEP Act, H.R. 5682, by a vote of 25-5 on May 8. Introduced by Representatives Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the bill addresses challenges relating to mental health, substance abuse, education and work opportunities for former federal inmates as a way to reduce recidivism. If an inmate in the federal prison system is eligible, the bill provides incentives for participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs via earned time credits that allow inmates to serve a final portion of their term in halfway houses or home confinement. This legislation is poised for consideration by the full House at any time.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick, Lucia Bragg

Education Secretary Holds Informational Meeting with Experts and Survivors of Mass Shootings

On May 17, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with survivors and family members affected by mass shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Parkland. The objective of this meeting was “to help give us a clear-eyed look at what has gone wrong in the past, the lessons learned and areas where we continue to fall short as we work to keep our nation’s students and teachers safe at school,” DeVos said. The meeting also revisited the joint report, released in 2002, in which the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education collaborated to study the “school shooter” phenomenon. A list of panelists and accompanying testimonies may be found here.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska

Trump Nominates Scott Stump of Colorado to Department of Education’s Career, Technical and Adult Education Post

On May 14, Trump announced his intent to nominate Scott Stump to be the assistant secretary for career, technical and adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Stump currently serves as the chief operating officer for Vivayic Inc., a Lincoln, Neb.- based learning solutions company. He previously served as the assistant provost for career and technical education with the Colorado Community College System. In 2014, he served as the president of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education consortium, present-day Advance CTE. 

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

15 States Plan to Implement Special Education Rule Despite Proposed Federal Delay

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On this day, May 21, in …

As of May 16, it was reported that at least 15 states plan to implement an Obama-era special education rule designed to tackle racial disparities in special education. The rule seeks to ensure that states use a uniform approach to combat the overrepresentation of minority students in special education.

DeVos has proposed a two-year delay of the rule, because of possible federal overreach. States are supposed to comply with the rule by July and those with plans to do so include Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

House Education and Workforce Committee Hosts Hearing on Data Privacy

On May 17, the House Committee on Education and Workforce convened to discuss states’ role in ensuring student privacy. The hearing also focused on the importance of protecting students’ personally identifiable information and The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act updates.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

Also of Note…

  • Kennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive (The Hill): Like clockwork, Washington has whipped itself into a frenzy over rumors of a possible retirement on the Supreme Court.
  • China trade war 'on hold' as Trump pauses tariffs (Politico): Treasury Secretary Mnuchin says a trade war has been paused while the nations work on a trade deal.
  • Justice Department calls for inquiry after Trump demands probe into whether FBI ‘infiltrated or surveilled’ his campaign (Washington Post)
  • Divided Supreme Court rules for businesses over workers (Fox News): The justices ruled 5-4 Monday, with the court's conservative members in the majority, that businesses can force employees to individually use arbitration to resolve disputes.

Read the May 14, 2018 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
  • Jake Lestock | 202-624-8171 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Danielle Dean | 202-624-8698 | Communications, Financial Services
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell | 202-624-3569 | Human 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
  • Ethan Wilson | 202-624-8686 | Commerce and Financial Services
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education