Capitol to Capitol | Nov. 25, 2019

11/20/2019

The continuing resolution (CR) adopted to keep the federal government funded through Dec. 20 also repealed a $76 billion rescission to federal transportation funding that was scheduled to take place in 2020. A big win for states and NCSL in D.C.

NCSL in D.C.

Letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. (Nov. 19, 2019) 

Letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Regarding Revenues From On-Shore and Outer Continental Shelf Drilling. (Nov. 19, 2019)

Congress Passes Second CR for FY 2020

A CR was signed into law last week avoiding a government shutdown and giving Congress until Dec. 20 to pass a broader fiscal year (FY) 2020 spending agreement. In addition to funding federal agencies at FY 2019 levels, HR 3055 would provide the military with a 3.1% pay raise, fund the Commerce Department’s 2020 census efforts, and includes a provision to repeal an upcoming $7.6 billion rescission to federal transportation funding states. For the past year, NCSL in D.C. has been working to repeal the rescission in partnership with other state organizations, including the National Governors Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Also, as part of the CR, is the Further Health Extenders Act of 2019, which extends several health and human services related programs, including:

  • Increases the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for the U.S. territories temporarily to 100%.
  • Delays the reduction in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital allotments.
  • Extends the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Child Care Entitlement to States and related programs to allow HHS to continue matching state child care investments.
NCSL Contacts: Erlinda Doherty (budgets and revenue), Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth (transportation), Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile (health and human services)

PPFAS Package Clears House Energy and Commerce Committee With Bipartisan Vote

The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week approved, 31-9, a number of bills (rolled into a single package) dealing with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS. The legislation, HR 535, would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate certain PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) as hazardous under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund program and regulate the chemicals in drinking water, while requiring the EPA to make a decision about listing the rest of the chemicals in the class within five years. The legislation also bars the approval of new PFAS and bans incineration of the chemicals. Separate but very related, negotiations are in full effect as the House and Senate attempt to finalize a deal on PFAS regulations as part of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Farm Workforce Modernization Act Passes House

The House Judiciary Committee approved, along party lines, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, despite bipartisan sponsorship (27D/24R) in the House. The bill would provide a path to legalization for agricultural laborers and would expand the H-2A foreign guest-worker program. Specifically, it would also establish a mandatory E-Verify system nationwide for farm employers; would simplify the H-2A application process; cap wages for farmworkers; and increase funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that support housing for laborers. The bill is supported by several agriculture organizations, including the National Farmers Union, California Farm Bureau, Western Growers Association, United Farm Workers, Farm Credit and National Milk Producers Federation. Action in the Senate is unclear.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Hears Testimony Regarding Veteran Suicide Prevention and Eligibility of Grants

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs heard on Nov. 20 from several witnesses including testimony from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on the Improve Well-Being for Veterans Act” (HR 3495). The legislation provides financial assistance in the form of grants to organizations or programs that service suicide prevention efforts for veterans and their families. Suicide rates of veterans has increased drastically since 9/11. In 2018 alone, 325 active-duty troops died by suicide correlating to a rate of 24.8 per 100,000 soldiers.

Wilkie highlighted the work of the administration citing the fact the agency handled 3 million more appointments than the previous year. Adrian Atizado, deputy national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans (DAV), also testified, saying DAV appreciated the “broad scope of services” that the bill seeks to offer but is concerned over the cash assistance program that is being recommended raising concerns the program would be subject to “waste, fraud and abuse” because it lacks a more concrete structure and detailed plan. Other organizations that testified were the Wounded Warrior Project, AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Michael Quillen

Fall 2019 Unified Agenda Released

On Nov. 20, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released the Fall 2019 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. Commonly known as the “Unified Agenda,” the report is a semiannual update on the administration’s past, present and future regulatory actions across the federal government. For more information on specific regulatory actions, contact the respective NCSL committee staff.

FCC Chairman Announces Proposal to Open Up Spectrum Band Previously Reserved for Transportation Safety

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced last week that the FCC will vote on a proposal to remove a portion of 5.9 gigahertz band from the automotive industry for other uses. Specifically, 45 megahertz out of the 75 megahertz worth of spectrum in the band will be auctioned if the proposal is approved. The proposal clashes with the position of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has insisted that the entire band be preserved for automotive safety.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch Kristen Hildreth (transportation) and Abbie Gruwell (communications, financial services and interstate commerce)

New Federal Post-Secondary Education Report Card

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced last week the redesign of the College Scorecard, where students can access data for two-year programs, four-year degrees, certificate programs and some graduate programs. This data includes potential debt and earnings based on fields of study, graduation rates and apprenticeships. DeVos says this effort builds on President Donald Trump's executive order on Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities to help students find the right post-secondary education fit for them.  

NCSL Contact: Molly Ramsdell

Final Hospital Pricing Transparency Rule Announced, Legal Actions to Follow

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Health and Human Services recently announced a final hospital price transparency rule that was part of a 2020 outpatient hospital rule, and will go into effect in January 2021. Under the final rule hospitals are required to make public their standard charges for all items and services. The charges must be machine-readable, on display, include common medical billing or account codes, include descriptions of the item or service and updated annually. Hospitals will also be responsible for publicly posting charges for “shoppable services” by listing the costs of 300 services they negotiated with specific payers. Of the 300 services that will list costs, CMS will choose 70, and hospitals can choose the remaining 230. It will also require monitoring, auditing and corrective action plans ensuring compliance with the transparency rules with a penalty of $300 per day for hospitals that do not comply. Several hospital stakeholder groups—the Federation of American Hospitals, American Hospital Association, Association of American Medical Colleges and Children’s Hospital Association—announced they will file a lawsuit to challenge the rule.

NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile

Federal Energy Commission Approves Emergency Propane Shipments for Midwest

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved temporary emergency shipments of propane to help alleviate a shortage of the fuel, which is extremely important as a home heating source, as well as for farmers who use it to dry the annual corn harvest. The approval comes in response to a bipartisan group of congressmen, led by House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who sent a letter to Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The letter warns of a potential "disastrous situation" if forecasted cold temperatures lead to a spike in residential demand for propane—leaving little fuel to heat livestock shelters or to process corn.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Transportation Safety Recommends States Require Permits for AV Testing Following Uber Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) require companies seeking to test autonomous vehicles on public roadways to submit a safety self-assessment report before testing autonomous vehicles (AV) on public roads, and that USDOT establish a process for evaluating those reports, in addition to determining whether the AV developer has a plan for adequately monitoring driver attention. These recommendations were issued by the NTSB in response to their findings regarding the death in a 2018 crash involving an Uber AV. While citing Uber for several failures, the report also stated that the Arizona Department of Transportation exercised “insufficient oversight of automated vehicle testing” as a contributing factor to the crash and recommended that Arizona and other states require developers to apply for a permit to test autonomous vehicles.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Reading Room

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
  • Erlinda Doherty | 202-624-8698 | 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