Capitol to Capitol | Oct. 30, 2017

Trick or Treat? Tax Bill To Be Unveiled on Wednesday 

Since last year, House Republicans have been working on legislation to rewrite the federal tax code. On Wednesday, the public, along with many members of Congress, will get to see the legislation for the first time.

The bill’s introduction is the next step in what House Republicans hope will be an expedited process of sending the legislation to the Senate before Thanksgiving. The House Ways and Means Committee has already scheduled a markup of the legislation for next Monday, just five days after the release of what could be a 1,000-page bill. However, reforming the tax code is an inherently political exercise and a tax bill of this magnitude will likely contain provisions that will draw the ire of many constituencies in Washington, even among Republicans. Needless to say, Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Kevin Brady (R-Texas), and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have their work cut out for them, but given that Republicans in Congress are desperate for a big legislative success, expect them to do whatever they need to do to move a bill to the Senate before December.

DYK?

In 1862, the military briefly converted the U.S. Capitol into a hospital for wounded Union soldiers. More than 1,000 cots were placed in Statuary Hall before patients were removed later that year. According to legend, at least one soldier never left the building. Over the years, staffers have claimed they have seen the shadow of a soldier among the statues. Other creepy legends about the U.S. Capitol Building from the Architect of the Capitol can be read here. Happy Halloween! 

What about the State and Local Tax (SALT) Deduction?

After 20 House Republicans voted against the budget last week, Republican leaders understood that they would have to address concerns within their own caucus regarding the modification or elimination of the SALT deduction or they risked the tax overhaul’s defeat before it even was released. Read NCSL’s statement.  

Bloomberg reported on Saturday that to mollify Republican members in “high-tax” states, Brady will preserve a federal income-tax break for property taxes but will eliminate the deductibility of state and local income and sales taxes.

In an emailed statement, Brady stated that "At the urging of lawmakers, we are restoring an itemized property tax deduction to help taxpayers with local tax burdens." In response, Representative Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), one of four New Jersey Republicans to vote against the budget, commented that “This is a step in the right direction but I will need to see legislative text to determine if this proposal is in the best interest of New Jersey. We already send more than enough money to Washington. I am pleased this debate has reminded lawmakers from other states of that fact. There is more work to be done on the SALT issue.”

Americans Against Double Taxation, which represents all of the state and local groups, including NCSL, released the following statement on Sunday: “Chairman Brady’s partial elimination plan for the state and local tax (SALT) deduction would insert the heavy hand of Washington into state and local finance decisions, dictate winners and losers among states, and unfairly penalize taxpayers in states that rely significantly on income taxes. We will vigorously oppose this plan and continue to work for the preservation of the full state and local tax deduction, which has stood for more than 100 years.”

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

President Issues Memo Establishing Federal Drone Pilot Program

On Oct. 25, President Donald Trump issued a presidential memorandum directing the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a pilot program to help spur further innovation of unmanned aerial systems (drones). Specifically, the pilot program would allow states and local governments to propose new models for regulating drones and apply for waivers from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations that currently prohibit certain types of drone operations, including beyond-visual-line-of-sight, nighttime operations and flights over people. The memo is silent on the major question facing this technology: The appropriate regulatory role for states and their authority to issue reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on drone operations. However, a question and answer document accompanying the announcement noted that, “The Presidential Memorandum envisions that partnerships could give local officials an opportunity to help manage local operations subject to FAA safety oversight. The department will announce additional details in the coming days.”

NCSL has been very active in the current debate in Congress, issuing letters in support of both the Drone Innovation Act in the House and the Drone Federalism Act in the Senate. Both bills aim to establish a framework that would provide authority for states to issue reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. Additionally, NCSL is a member of the FAA’s Drone Advisory Subcommittee that is exploring the proper role for states when it comes to drones.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth

Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency

Last Thursday, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency,” which will allow public health agencies to swiftly redirect existing health resources to the crisis. Some had urged the president to declare a “national emergency” under the Stafford Act with the intention of providing additional dollars from the federal Disaster Relief Fund.

NCSL Contact: Haley Nicholson (Health), Abbie Gruwell (Human Services)

US Department of Education Rescinds 600 Documents

DYK?

Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to have full-time Secret Service protection. With its origin dating back to the end of the Civil War, the Secret Service was originally founded to combat the then-widespread counterfeiting of U.S. currency. In 1901, the agency was asked to begin its protective mission after the assassination of President William McKinley – the third sitting U.S. president to be assassinated. Today, the Secret Service proudly continues to protect both national leaders and visiting foreign dignitaries while helping to secure the nation’s financial infrastructure through financial and cybercrime investigations.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced Friday the withdrawal of nearly 600 pieces of subregulatory guidance. These documents are housed under a range of ED offices, and are split between the Office of Postsecondary Education (398 guidance documents), the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (97), the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (72), and several documents in the Office of Innovation and Improvement, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and the Office of Career, Adult and Technical Education. According to the department, affected guidance has either been replaced by current law or is outdated.

In keeping with the administration’s stated effort to reduce federal regulation, the department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force recommended the guidance for repeal after conducting a six-month analysis of the department’s regulations and guidance for possible repeal, modification, or replacement. The task force is currently reviewing 16,391 comments they received on the process during a 90-day public comment period ending Sept. 20, and has directed the department to conduct stakeholder outreach in search of feedback. The task force’s full report and list of guidance recommended for repeal can be read here.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Lucia Bragg

Secretary DeVos Issues Interim Final Rule on Borrower Defense to Repayment Regulations

Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued an interim final rule on Oct. 24, delaying the effective date of the Borrower Defense to Repayment Rule (BDR) regulations to July 1, 2019. The rule, originally created in the 1990s, details an avenue for students who have been defrauded by their institutions of higher education to have all or part of their student loans forgiven. More recently, on the Nov. 1, 2016 Federal Register, changes were proposed relating to the claims evaluation process, mandatory arbitration clauses, and loan discharge procedures. Due to pending litigation challenging the regulations, the department initially announced the delay in June. The interim rule delays the BDR regulations until July 1, 2018 and the secretary has proposed an additional delay through July 1, 2019 to allow sufficient time for negotiated rulemaking and potential revisions. The rulemaking process is expected to begin later this fall, and a list of 17 participating panelists and alternates can be found here. The department will continue to process borrower claims under the original rules.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Lucia Bragg

The Department of Education Holds Briefing on Child Trafficking in Schools Nationwide 

Last week, the ED, jointly with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), held a briefing and discussion on child human trafficking prevention. The briefing focused on the ways schools and communities can help prevent human trafficking, and featured a screening of the film I am Little Red. The briefing provided prevention tools for educators, administrators, parents, and organizations working with at-risk children. Attendees heard from a panel of ED and HHS officials alongside parents and survivors of trafficking. For years, the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) at ED has worked to prevent human trafficking in schools and raise awareness. A recording of the briefing is accessible here.

More resources:

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Lucia Bragg (education), Susan Frederick (Human Trafficking)

Senate Votes to Eliminate CFPB’s Mandatory Arbitration Ban

DYK?

On this day in 1945, Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) to break the baseball color line

On Oct. 16, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced  the members of Trump’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. The 20-member Task Force, includes

On Tuesday night, Vice President Mike Pence cast the decisive vote in the Senate to break a 50-50 tie. GOP Senators Lindsay Graham (S.C.) and John Kennedy (La.) were the two Republicans who broke with their party. The vote passed a resolution eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s so-called “arbitration rule.” The rule would have prohibited banks and credit card companies from enforcing mandatory arbitration clauses on customers who find themselves in a legal dispute against the institution. Rather, the rule would have allowed individual and class-action lawsuits to be brought against the financial institutions.

Proponents of the rule say that it would have allowed plaintiffs their day in court against big financial institutions that carry out illegal and financially harmful business tactics. Proponents point to a string of recent scandals at big banks that have hurt consumers financially. Opponents of the rule say that it would have opened the door to costly and frivolous lawsuits and litigation, only serving to pad the pockets of plaintiffs’ attorneys. Opponents also claim that the mediation process is more accessible and easier to navigate for consumers who wish to take up action.

NCSL Contact: Ethan Wilson

Also of Note …

  • Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow and before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on Wednesday for the first time regarding how Russia used their platforms to interfere in the 2016 election. The Hill
  • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who last week announced that he will not seek re-election in 2018, may become the leading GOP voice on Immigration. Roll Call
  • On K Street, Quiet Before Tax Brawl Begins. Roll Call
  • Confusion clouds open enrollment with Republicans still eager to dismantle Obamacare. POLITICO

Read the Oct. 23 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.

  • Neal Osten | 202-624-8660 | Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Directors
  • Max Behlke | 202-624-3586 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Danielle Dean | 202-624-8698 | Communications, Financial Services
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • 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