Capitol to Capitol | Dec. 16, 2019

12/16/2019

In case you missed the NCSL Capitol Forum last week, session resources can be found here. Or read select session blogs below:

NCSL Capitol Forum Blogs:

Congress Reaches Overall Spending Deal, Will Take Up Spending Bills This Week

House and Senate appropriators completed negotiations to fund the federal government before the Dec. 20 expiration of the latest continuing resolution (CR), which has kept the government operating at FY 2019 levels. The $1.37 trillion deal includes appropriations for all 12 FY 2020 agency spending bills, as well as $1.375 billion for the president’s border wall—the main issue of contention since the appropriations process began early spring. The border wall deal provides the same level of funding offered in FY 2019, less than the president’s $5 billion requests, but still provides the administration the ability to transfer funds from other accounts. Democrats do not plan to backfill the $3.6 billion already redirected from military construction accounts earlier this year to pay for the wall, which will complicate plans to redirect those funds in the future. While details on how the House and Senate plan to package the appropriations legislation are still being finalized, both chambers are expected to hold floor votes this week. Congress will have two legislative days to pass the bills and have them ready for the president’s signature before the CR expires.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

Lawmakers Reach Compromise on Defense Authorization Bill

Congress agreed to a FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Key military-related provisions include the authorization of a new branch of the military, the Space Force, which the president supports. In addition, the conference report establishes 12 weeks of parental leave for all government workers and an amendment that blocks the Department of Defense from restricting or limiting service members from transferring their GI Bill benefits to eligible family members. This amendment was introduced by Representative Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

Further, while the previous House-passed version had included provisions establishing several regulations on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the conference report agreement does not include language requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to formally regulate any specific PFAS. The bill does require the Department of Defense to stop using firefighting foam with PFAS after October 2024. Further, the bill would direct the National Guard to address contaminated National Guard bases. While PFAS used in military firefighting foam can quickly extinguish flames, studies have linked the chemicals to multiple health issues such as thyroid problems and some cancers.

The bill would also direct the secretary of defense to assess climate vulnerabilities and risks associated with "extreme weather events" at military installations, as well as conduct blackout exercises at three major installations in the event of power outages.

Finally, a transportation-related provision likely to affect states bars federal funds from being used to purchase passenger rail cars or buses from state-owned or state-controlled enterprises, such as those from China.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth (natural resources and infrastructure) and Michael Quillen (labor and economic development)

SALT Cap Bill Moves to Floor, Other Tax Measures Still in Consideration

House Ways and Means approved a bill last week that would raise the state and local deduction cap from $10,000 to $20,000 for married couples in 2019 and completely repeal the limit for 2020 and 2021. The deduction, which was previously unlimited, was capped as part of the 2017 tax reform law and making changes to the cap has been a priority for Democrats. Republicans have been strongly opposed to the change in the cap, which would be funded by increasing the top marginal tax rate from 37% to 39.6%. HR 5377 will go to the House floor for a vote this week. Meanwhile, a year-end tax deal containing numerous tax extenders, technical corrections, and other measures appears less certain. Tax bills with broader support such as those that would expand the earned income tax credit, provide disaster tax relief, and shore up coal miners’ retirement are more likely. House and Senate negotiators continue to work on these measures this week and will have to finalize the vehicle for which these provisions move before Congress recesses, if at all.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

House Passes Farm Workforce Modernization Act

The House passed, with bipartisan support by vote of 260-165, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019. 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 U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that support housing for laborers. The bill is supported by many agriculture organizations including the National Farmers Union, California Farm Bureau, Western Growers Association, United Farm Workers, Farm Credit and National Milk Producers Federation. It is unclear if the bill has enough support in the Senate to pass.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

FCC Advances Plan to Split 45 MHz Band From Auto Safety Spectrum

The FCC approved 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 U.S. Department of Transportation’s position, which has insisted that the entire band be preserved for automotive safety.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

USCMA Clear Major Hurdle, Still Long Way to Go

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Jared Kushner traveled to Mexico City last week to meet with high-ranking Mexican officials to work out the final kinks of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. In large part, the discussion focused on the issue of labor enforceability in Mexican facilities, considering the recent changes the country has gone through to establish better labor relations with its employees.

The discussion ended with the three countries signing an amendment essentially codifying support for passing the measure. Majority Leader Stenny Hoyer (D-Md.) officially introduced the measure in Congress on Friday (HR 5430). However, Congress only has five legislative days left to pass the appropriation bills so carving out time to discuss the trade deal will be arduous. It is expected that the House will vote on the measure on Dec. 19, one day before Congress is expected to recess, setting the stage for a debate in the Senate. During a recent floor session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asserted that the measure would not be considered until next session, ultimately allowing for the impeachment inquiry to take precedence. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed the same message as McConnell saying the House of Commons is unlikely to introduce the measure in parliament until they reconvene on Jan. 27.

For now, the trade deal remains idled and in legislative limbo as lawmakers from the partnering countries are grappling with recess dates. In a recent statement, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the Finance Committee does not plan to follow traditional “trade promotion authority” procedures for considering the deal. The decision to skip the “mock markup” session has made Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) express strong displeasure for the proposal. "This is an important agreement, but it sure is a lousy way to treat the Senate," said Cornyn.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Michael Quillen

USDA Announces Additional Funds for Reconnect Pilot Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of a second round of funding—$550 million—in the USDA Reconnect Pilot Program. The application window is set to open Jan. 31, 2020. The first round of grants, which are expected to total $600 million, are currently being rolled out by the USDA and a full list of all winning states can be found here. NCSL’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee along with the Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce Committee held a joint session last week at the 2019 Capitol Forum further exploring the issues facing the deployment of broadband internet in rural areas.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Reading  Room

Capitol to Capitol will return in January. Happy Holidays from NCSL in D.C.!

Read the Dec. 9 Capitol to Capitol.

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 policy 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