Capitol to Capitol | Aug. 19, 2019














After passing major budget legislation that increases spending caps and suspends the debt ceiling, the Senate joined the House on recess. Following the break Congress is expected to continue the appropriations process—the House has passed 10 of the 12 agency spending bills, while the Senate has yet to take up any of theirs—but partisan debates regarding gun control, border funding, and foreign aid spending rescissions threaten to further delay the appropriations process. On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee announced that it will hold votes on a series of gun violence prevention bills on Sept. 4.

Senate Infrastructure Committee Approves New Five-Year Transportation Bill

Prior to the recess, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved (21-0) a five-year bipartisan reauthorization of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which is scheduled to expire in just over a year. The new bill, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, is a key first step in the reauthorization process. However, with multiple committees in both chambers yet to act, it remains unclear as to how and when a full reauthorization could be enacted into law. For a full breakdown, read NCSL’s Info Alert.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth


The National System of Interstate Highways is 46,876 miles long, runs through 50 states and took 17 years to create. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 imposed a statutory limitation of the mileage that could use interstate construction funds—the first 41,000. The limitation was later increased to 43,000 miles, of which 42,795 miles has been used. Beyond the 42,795 miles, additional mileage is not "chargeable," that is, it is not eligible for interstate construction funds under the 1956 act.

Senate Finance Committee Hosts Hearing on USMCA

On July 30, the Senate Finance Committee hosted a hearing on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Witnesses included representatives from the American Automotive Policy Council, Corteva Agriscience, Warner Enterprises, the U.S. Dairy Export Council and more. A livestream of the hearing may be found here.

NCSL Contact: Jon Jukuri

DHS issues Final Public Charge Rule 

The Department of Homeland Security issued a final rule on Aug. 14, 2019, that redefines “public charge,” or dependence on government assistance, in determining whether to issue a visa or green card to a legal immigrant. Previously, dependence on government cash assistance was defined as more than 50% of income or long-term care. The new rule expands the definition to include a broad range of federal benefits, including supplemental security income, Medicaid and nutrition assistance, even though legal immigrants are eligible for those benefits. The new rule, effective Oct. 15, 2019, defines public charge as receipt of 12 months of federal public benefits in a 36-month period; two benefits counts as two months. Exemptions include refugees and children younger than 21. Santa Clara and San Francisco counties filed a lawsuit to challenge the rule, citing public health concerns and increased local costs related to health care and nutrition. See NCSL’s comments opposing the proposed rule and a summary of the 2018 proposed rule. A summary of the final rule will be posted soon.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick (law and criminal justice) and Ann Morse (immigration)

EPA Proposes to Limit State's Authority on Clean Water Act Section 401

On Aug. 9, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rulemaking that would, if finalized, significantly limit state authority to certify, condition, or deny any activity which would result in the discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States. The proposed rule provides “updates and clarifications to the substantive and procedural requirements” for water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act as directed by executive order 13868.

Section 401 has provided states and tribes authority to review and approve, condition or deny any federal permits or licenses that may be required if the project seeking a permit would result in a discharge of pollutants to waters of the United States. The proposal would limit a state’s review solely to water quality impacts from point source discharges; start a state’s countdown for review upon receipt of a certification request from an applicant, rather than a complete application; and remove the opportunity for states to request an applicant withdraw and refile to give more time for review.

For more information on the administration’s actions, read NCSL’s Info Alert.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

USDOT Offers Nearly $40 Million to States to Study Road Usage Charges


On Nov. 4, 1899, with a backdrop of New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Automobile Club of America held its first annual automobile parade. Ten different makes and models, including vehicles with electric and steam-powered machines, were seen passing pedestrians, a horse-drawn carriage and cab in Thomas A. Edison motion picture footage.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity for both fiscal years 2019 and 2020 for the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives program. The $38 million grants to states–or groups of states that form partnerships for regional or national proposals– are to test “new ways” to finance highway and bridge projects in lieu of motor fuel taxes. The program is designed to test “alternative revenue mechanisms” built upon a user-fee structure to maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Funding Awarded for Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Services

On July 25, the Senate Finance Committee marked up the “Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA) of 2019.” The legislation has been six months in the making including multiple meetings

Last wee$400 million was awarded through Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Service Administration to address the opioid crisis. The new funds will be used to invest in community health centers, rural organizations and academic institutions, and to create and expand access to integrated substance use disorder and mental health services. The awards support HHS’Five-Point Opioid Strategy.

NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile

IRS Implementing Taxpayer First Act Changes in Advance of Effective Date

The IRS has started to comply with a new requirement that requires the agency to notify taxpayers whose returns are under examination at least 45 days before contacting a third party for information. The Taxpayer First Act, whose provisions officially go into effect Aug. 16, also requires the IRS to reach out to the third party—such as a neighbor, bank or employer—within a year of notifying the taxpayer. The new, more specific requirement is intended to increase transparency and give taxpayers an opportunity to volunteer more information before the agency begins contacting other sources. 

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

Increase in Federal Spending Could Decrease GNP

According to a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) letter, federal spending would have an inverse relationship with the gross national product (GNP) in the coming decades. Maintaining spending levels at the current historical average is expected to boost the GNP, while increasing spending under the newly enacted budget law could slow growth. Based on CBO projections, the GNP would increase to $37 trillion in 2049 from $22 trillion in 2019 before the new law that raised the spending caps and suspends the debt limit (HR 3877) was signed but decrease by 3.6% with spending increases allowed under new caps. If the debt falls to the 50-year average of 42% of the GNP, growth would be 5.8% higher; if the debt stays at the current 78% of the GNP, growth would be 3.7% higher than the $37 trillion estimate.

Read the full CBO letter here for more details.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

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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
  • 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