BIG WINS FOR STATES IN FARM BILL. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Representatives Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) reached a bipartisan bicameral agreement, referred to as the Agricultural Act of 2014, to reauthorize the Farm Bill for five years. Passed on a 251 to 66 vote in the House, the Senate is expected to move the farm bill to the president who is expected to sign it into law. The final agreement does not include the “King Amendment,” which would have significantly pre-empted states’ abilities to protect the safety and well-being of their farmland, waterways and forests. On Saturday, a New York Times editorial said NCSL “Got it Right” and cited a letter NCSL sent to congressional leaders opposing the King Amendment. Another plus: The bill maintains state flexibility to use categorical eligibility in SNAP/Food Stamp programs. This avoids preemption, which would have increased state administrative costs and helps prevent further SNAP reductions. The bill reduces overall spending by $33 billion—$19 billion from reductions in farm programs, including the elimination of direct payments, $6 billion from conservation programs and $8 billion from SNAP. The law requires states to provide households at least $20 a year for utility costs before triggering a higher food stamp payment. It also prohibits lottery winners from receiving food stamps and tightens aid for college students. It increases funding by $10 billion for crop insurance, research, export promotion, specialty crop support, and rural development. The act also provides one-year of funding for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). This program offers federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes because of federal lands within their boundaries that are not taxable. The farm bill also adds new SNAP work pilot programs, adds new provisions to prevent fraud and misuse, and extends $75 million for the distance learning and telemedicine program through FY 2018. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon (Agriculture); Joy Johnson, Rachel Morgan (Nutrition)
SPENDING CERTAINTY FOR FY 2014. On Jan. 17, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (H.R. 3547), an omnibus bill containing more than $1 trillion in discretionary spending for FY 2014. The House and Senate had approved the spending bill 359-67 and 72-26, respectively. H.R. 3547 followed instructions from December’s bipartisan budget agreement, which increased the spending limit for both FY 2014 and FY 2015 and modified reductions from sequestration. The Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations title received the biggest increase, with almost $7 billion in additional funding, while funding for the Energy-Water subcommittee was the only allocation reduced in comparison to FY 2013. A NCSL overview of select state-federal programs can be found here. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Jeff Hurley
NCSL FILES AMICUS BRIEF ON QUALIFED IMMUNITY. NCSL signed on to a State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief earlier this month on Wood v. Moss, in which the Supreme Court will decide whether U.S. Secret Service agents should be granted qualified immunity. In 2004, Secret Service agents, with the help of state and local police officers, moved a group of President Bush protestors two blocks away from the path of the presidential motorcade while Bush supporters were allowed closer to the motorcade. The reason given for moving the anti-Bush group was so to keep everyone out of handgun or explosive range of the president. This case raises the issue of whether the actions of the Secret Service constitute “viewpoint discrimination,” i.e., did the agents violate the protestors’ First Amendment rights to assembly by distancing their protest. NCSL signed on to this brief to protect the rule of law governing qualified immunity which, if broadly applied, would almost never apply to government officials. NCSL’s brief urges the Court to use more specificity in deciding whether to grant qualified immunity. NCSL staff contact: Susan Parnas Frederick, SLLC staff contact: Lisa Soronen
ON THE HORIZON. House leaders are expected to release immigration reform principles this week during a Republican retreat in Cambridge, Md. Speaker Boehner has previously hinted the House would consider piecemeal immigration bills this session rather than the comprehensive legislation … The next fiscal debate on tap will be whether to raise the nation’s debt limit, which will exceed the $17.3 trillion ceiling in late February … The White House is scheduled to release the president’s proposed FY 2015 budget on March 4. Typically submitted in early February, the delay of the administration’s report is largely attributed to the uncertainty of the budget and appropriations agreements passed in recent months.