Capitol to Capitol | Dec. 11, 2018

Government Shutdown Avoided…for the Moment

Last week Congress passed another temporary stopgap funding measure, creating a new deadline of Dec. 21. Seven of the FY 2019 spending bills, including the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, remain unfinished, with continued disagreements over border wall funding. Stay tuned.

NCSL Contact: Molly Ramsdell

A National VMT Pilot

Incoming House Transportation Committee Chairman Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) announced plans to propose a national vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) pilot program, which would offer a rebate for the estimated gas tax a driver would have paid.


On Dec. 6, the U.S. presidential funeral train carrying George H.W. Bush’s casket embarked on a slow rail journey from a suburban Houston railyard for his final resting place in his presidential library in College Station, Texas. It is the first presidential funeral train in 49 years, since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s casket traveled from the National Cathedral in Washington through seven states to his hometown in Kansas, and is the eighth presidential funeral train in U.S. history.

It is widely agreed that a system of road usage charges will eventually be required to offset eroding gas tax revenues into the Highway Trust Fund from the increase in electric vehicles. Defazio added, "The only fair way to do VMT is with congestion pricing. You shouldn't charge a farmer who has to travel 20 miles to the feed store the same per-mile fee as someone who jumps on 205 in Portland and causes a backup.” Access NCSL resources on road use charges here.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Farm Bill Update: Passage this week?

The text of the compromise 2018 Farm Bill was released late on Dec. 10 with expected passage by both chambers later in the week or possibly early next week. Stay tuned to NCSL for full coverage. 

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

DHS Releases Exercise Starter Kits Designed to Address Threats and Hazards Facing Schools

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released Exercise Starter Kits for K-12 and higher education institutions to support the department’s school safety efforts. These starter kits consist of protocols and tabletop exercises that can be discussed and performed in a classroom setting and focus on an active shooter incident. The starter kits are a component of the department’s Campus Resilience (CR) Program, which is designed to address a host of threats or hazards facing schools and campuses nationwide.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Lucia Bragg (DHS and criminal justice), Joan Wodiska and Miranda McDonald (Education)

DHS’s New Public Charge Proposal Could Change Legal Immigration

On Dec. 7, NCSL filed formal comments asking the DHS to withdraw its recently released proposed rule on public charge. This new proposal would depart from existing law by vastly expanding the definition of public charge that the department will apply to immigrants seeking legal admission to the United States, a change in status or an extension of their stay. The proposed rule would place a tremendous fiscal and economic burden on states as it would negatively affect the level of federal funds states receive for significant federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, nonemergency Medicaid, Medicare Part D, public housing assistance under Section 8, and rental assistance, and is an agency attempt to bypass Congress by defining new and burdensome standards for legal immigration. Read NCSL’s comments and NCSL’s two-pager on public charge.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Ann Morse

Trump, Trudeau and Peña Nieto Sign the USMCA to Replace NAFTA

On Nov. 30, President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to replace the current NAFTA deal. All three executives were in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the G-20 Summit. Next steps include ratification from all three countries’ legislatures. In the United States, it means Congress must approve the new trade deal with an up or down vote. As of now, a vote on USMCA is not likely to occur until 2019, and after the 116th Congress is sworn in. View the livestream of the signing ceremony; and read the agreement’s full text.  

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Miranda McDonald

Federal Plan to Advance STEM

Last week, the White House released “Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education,” a five-year federal strategic policy plan to advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).


When the Swedish businessman Alfred Nobel passed away on Dec. 10, 1895, he declared in his will that his remaining fortune was to be invested in safe securities and should constitute a fund from which the interest was to be awarded annually “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses,” in the preceding year. The Nobel Prize was first awarded in 1901. The ceremony takes place annually on Dec. 10.

The plan outlines three key priorities: (1) increase diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM; (2) prepare the STEM workforce for the future; and (3) build a strong foundation for STEM literacy. The report outlines strategic policy priorities across 15 federal departments and independent agencies, including NASA, and the Departments of Education, Labor and Transportation. The strategic plan outlines five accountability and transparency goals for the shared effort, including: (1) Leverage and Scale Evidence-Based Practices Across STEM Communities; (2) Report Participation Rates of Underrepresented Groups; (3) Use Common Metrics to Measure Progress; (4) Make Program Performance and Outcomes Publicly Available; and (5) Develop a Federal Implementation Plan and Track Progress. A full copy of the report is available.

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska

NCSL and U.S. Secretary of Education Discuss School Safety and Shared Education Priorities

On Dec. 6, members of the NCSL Education Committee met with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to discuss the integral role of state legislatures in education policy. The bipartisan delegation of state legislators, nonpartisan legislative staff and NCSL staff highlighted state-led efforts and shared priorities to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, modernize the Higher Education Act, improve school safety, expand and enhance early childhood education and update state K-12 education funding formulas.

NCSL in D.C.

Below are links to NCSL communications to Congress last week:

On This Day, Dec. 11, in…

  • 2001: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the first federal indictment directly related to the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. 
  • 1998: Scientists announced that they had deciphered the entire genetic blueprint of a tiny worm.
  • 1981:  Muhammad Ali fought his last fight. He lost his 61st fight to Trevor Berbick.  
  • 1980: U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed into law The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, legislation creating $1.6 billion for cleaning up the environment. The Act is commonly known as the "Superfund."  
  • 1816:  Indiana was admitted to the Union as the 19th American state.

Read the Nov. 26 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
  • Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | 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
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education