Capitol to Capitol | Dec. 17, 2018

No Progress on Appropriations

Congress is no closer to a deal on the remaining fiscal year 2019 spending bills, with President Donald Trump's proposed $5 billion for a border wall remaining the major roadblock. Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security, but not funding for a wall. Trump has been vocal that he is willing to let a partial federal shutdown occur for border security. The departments of State, Homeland Security, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development are all at risk of shutting down if Congress doesn't come to an agreement by Dec. 21. In September, a $855.1 billion omnibus spending package was signed into law that included the five other annual appropriations bills.

NCSL Contact: Molly Ramsdell

First Steps Toward Federal Justice Reform: The First Step Act

Last week, NCSL sent a letter to Senate leadership in support of the First Step Act, the first major federal criminal justice reform bill in many years.


Holiday greeting cards were born out of not having enough time and having too many friends. Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant in England, commissioned 1,000 Christmas cards to send to his friends during the holiday season of 1843.

Set to be voted on by the full Senate before Congress adjourns for the year, the bill is divided into three main categories. The first is dedicated to the creation and funding of evidence-based recidivism reduction programs in federal prisons with the main goal of achieving successful reentry of inmates into their communities upon release. The second is the expansion of good behavior and early release programs in which inmates can participate during their incarceration in federal prison. The third contains amendments to federal sentencing laws. The First Step Act also contains provisions prohibiting the shackling of female inmates during pregnancy and postpartum and imposing solitary confinement on juvenile inmates.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Lucia Bragg

2018 Farm Bill Approved

On Dec. 12, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill; 86-13 in the Senate, and 386-47 in the House of Representatives. The president is expected to sign the bill before the Dec. 21 funding deadline. The bill reauthorizes a suite of agriculture and nutrition programs through FY 2023 and has an estimated price tag of $867 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Several items of note within the text: the maintenance of government subsidies for crop insurance; legalization of industrial hemp, a provision strongly supported by NCSL; the reestablishment of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, which supports mental health professionals working in agricultural communities, and the exclusion of the "King Amendment," or the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, which NCSL and related organizations were vehemently opposed as it would have pre-empted thousands of state laws.

Major changes were also made to conservation programs including: a 3 million acreage increase in the land that can be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program to 27 million acres; waiving environmental reviews for activities such as clearing diseased, or insect-infested trees; and changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program allowing farmers who have grassland that hasn't been planted with row crops since 2009 to enroll in the program and receive $18 an acre to keep the land undeveloped. New language was also added to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, providing states more leeway in implementing the public-private partnership in conservation projects. A full review of the Farm Bill will be available later this week here.  

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

President Donald Trump Signs Executive Order Promoting "Opportunity Zones"

On Dec. 12, the president signed an executive order to promote private investment in more than 8,700 distressed communities across the country. Through the executive order, a new White House council will be established, chaired by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. The council will be responsible for "streamlining applications for communities to qualify for the investments."  "Our goal is to ensure that America's great new prosperity is broadly shared by all of our citizens ... we are drawing investment into neglected and underserved communities in America so that all Americans, regardless of zip code, have access to the American Dream," Trump said.  

Read more about the newly created White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Miranda McDonald (LED Committee) and Abbie Gruwell (CFI Committee)

EPA Issues Proposed Rule Redefining Waters of the United States

On Dec. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released a new proposed Waters of the United States definitional rule, more commonly referred to as WOTUS. The action is the second step in the agencies' two-step process to repeal and replace the 2015 WOTUS final rule promulgated by the previous administration, and consistent with the February 2017 executive order, Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the Waters of the United States Rule. The proposed rule would significantly reduce the amount of waters within the nation that would be federally regulated compared to the 2015 rule. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated that the proposal, in accordance with the Clean Water Act, "recognizes and respects" the primary responsibilities and rights of states and tribes to regulate and manage their land and water resources, while protecting the nation's navigable waters.

Although finalized in 2015, due to ongoing litigation the 2015 rule is in effect in only 22 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Previous regulations and guidance documents issued pre-2014 are in effect in the remaining 28 states. If finalized, the agencies' proposed rule would apply nationwide. For a full legal and regulatory timeline of the rule, read NCSL's timeline, and for more information on the proposed rule, read NCSL's Info Alert.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth 

Congress Considers Major Insurance and Financial Services Reforms

The sponsors of JOBS Act 3.0, a bipartisan financial deregulation package, are still holding out hope that it can be added to the year-end spending package. There is also talk that JOBS Act 3.0 could include language from the International Insurance Standards Act of 2017 that passed the House in July. The insurance language, sponsored by Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.), would ensure that any international agreement related to insurance solvency must recognize the U.S. state-based system of insurance regulation and give state insurance commissioners a role in negotiating the agreements. The provision has seen some opposition from the U.S. Treasury.

NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell

121 Ways to Reduce the Federal Deficit

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028, which describes 121 policy options to reduce federal spending or increase federal revenues over the next decade. According to CBO, the options "... are not recommendations by CBO, nor do they constitute an exhaustive list. Moreover, the inclusion or exclusion of any option does not imply that CBO endorses it or opposes it. Rather, the options are intended to reflect a range of possibilities. The options come from various sources, including "legislative proposals, various Administrations' proposals, Congressional offices, other government entities, and private groups."  While not policy recommendations, it's definitely an interesting read.

NCSL Contact: Molly Ramsdell

Coming Soon! Report on the Federal Commission on School Safety

Later this month, following a nearly yearlong study, the Federal Commission on School Safety (Commission) is expected to release a highly-anticipated report on strategies to prevent, mitigate and respond to school violence.


Christmas lights were born out of an idea Edward Hibberd Johnson, a businessman and engineer, had after hiring Thomas Edison as a consultant for the Automatic Telegraph Company. A few years after Edison created the lightbulb, Johnson set up a tree by the street-side window of his parlor. He hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs, strung them together around the tree, placed the tree on a trunk, and sat the trunk on a revolving pedestal powered by a generator.

Senior administration officials have signaled that the report will highlight effective state and local best practices, including specific policy examples. Consistent with the Trump administration's goal to "right-size"—downsize—the federal footprint in education, the report is also expected to support state, local and community-led policy solutions, deferring to the unique political and policy structure of each state. Senior administration officials have also suggested the report will include no new federal mandates, no cost shifts and no new expenses for state and local governments. On Capitol Hill, Democrats have expressed concern for any possible federal actions that would allow federal funds to be used to arm school staff or weaken civil right protections for minority children. Check NCSL's website for updates. 

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska

School Violence: What's Your State's Emergency Operations Plan?

On Dec.12, the Department of Education sent a letter to chief state school officers and state board of education leaders encouraging states to review the "State's Emergency Operations Plan" (EOP) in times of an emergency, such as a school shooting. "We encourage you to ensure your State's EOP covers a wide range of potential emergencies, including shootings that may arise in the school setting. We also encourage you to audit your local educational agency EOPs on a recurring basis to ensure they are in alignment with the State EOP's objectives. In addition, as you develop new EOPs or review and update existing EOPs, we encourage you to include in the process school administrators and educators, law enforcement, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS)/Fire, as these entities must work closely with one another in an emergency." 

Read the full EOP letter.

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska

Happy Holidays

Americans adhere to many faiths and traditions and the winter holiday season is the most visible display of Americans embracing their diversity.  

Hanukkah is an eight-day commemoration in Judaism; Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians; Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of African-American heritage and culture; Diwali is a five-day Hindu festival of lights; Three Kings Day is a Hispanic family celebration, and marks the day the three kings arrived to visit Christ; New Year's Day—Jan. 1 on the Gregorian calendar—marks the first day of the year; and Chinese New Year marks the end of winter and the start of spring.

Happy Holidays from the NCSL Washington Office!

Capitol to Capitol will return on Jan. 7, 2019.

NCSL in D.C.

Below is a link to NCSL communication to Congress week:

On this Day, Dec. 17, in...

Read the Dec. 11 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