Capitol to Capitol | Feb. 26, 2018


This Week: Gun Control and Remembering the Rev. Billy Graham


Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the first terror attack on the World Trade Center. The attack, which killed six people and injured more than a thousand others, involved Islamic terrorists who blew up a 1,200 pound bomb in an underground parking garage in an attempt to collapse the twin towers. 

Congress returned yesterday from its Presidents’ Day recess, which was dominated by the issue of gun control. Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the nation has been immersed in an intense debate on what to do to prevent future school shootings. However, don’t expect Congress to act this week. While the Senate will be in session all week, the House will conclude business today to make way for the remembrance of Rev. Billy Graham, who will become only the fourth private citizen to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday.    

US Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Union Dues Case  

Perhaps the most significant debate on Capitol Hill this week will took place yesterday in the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision could not only affect every member of a public sector union but also result in the largest shift in federal education policy in 40 years.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31. Mark Janus, a public-sector employee in Illinois, is challenging the constitutionality of a state statute allowing public sector employers and unions to agree that employees who don’t join the union must still pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. Janus argues that requiring him to pay his “fair share” of union dues is a violation of his First Amendment free speech rights. Janus asserts he should have the choice to join or not join, pay or don’t pay.  

Since 1977, when the US Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, public employees subject to fair share agreements have been required to pay for union representation, even if the worker doesn’t join the union. 

It is estimated that Janus v. AFSCME could impact 5.5 million public sector employees. The ruling could alter the relationship between labor and management, nationwide union membership and dues collection. At present, 22 states authorize fair share for public sector employees.

The Janus decision may have an outsized impact on public education given that two of the three largest public sector unions in the nation relate to education—the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Employees in education had the highest unionization rate of all sectors, with 37.2 percent being represented by a union.

On Dec. 5, attorneys general in 20 states (Michigan, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Janus. On Jan. 19, attorneys general in 20 states (New York, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington) and the District of Columbia filed an amicus curiae brief in support of AFSCME.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a similar case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Union. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court deadlocked with a 4-4 decision. Justice Gorsuch could be the swing vote to overturn Abood. A decision is expected by the end of June.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri (labor), Joan Wodiska (education)


White House Meeting on School Safety  

In the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, last week President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos met with more than 40 survivors, teachers and community members to discuss strategies to reduce school violence. In the meeting, the president expressed his support to improve federal background checks on gun purchases, equip school staff with firearms and explore other avenues to improve school safety. The president also issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the U.S. Department of Justice to “expeditiously as possible, to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns.” An official federal regulatory review of the ”bump stock” rule began last fall, following the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, Nev.  Over 100,000 comments were received and are being reviewed by the Justice Department. 

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska


Supreme Court to Hear Online Sales Tax Case in April


Since 1870, when Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina became the first African Americans to serve in Congress, a total of 153 African Americans have served as U.S. Representatives, Delegates, or Senators.

On Friday, the Supreme Court set the argument date for the South Dakota v. Wayfair remote sales tax case for Tuesday, April 17. If the court rules in the South Dakota’s favor, every state could be granted the authority to require remote businesses to collect and remit sales taxes on transactions made by their state’s residents. If South Dakota loses, the long-term viability of the sales tax as a state revenue stream for states may be in jeopardy. For more, visit NCSL’s page that summarizes the case as well as the history of remote sales tax collection issue in the states.

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock


DACA and Immigration Debate Stalls in Senate

Before Congress recessed, and before the re-emergence of the gun control debate, a fierce debate on immigration consumed Capitol Hill. However, lawmakers on Capitol Hill failed to reach a consensus on the issues of immigration reform, border security and the “Dreamers” and there is still no clear path forward for a comprehensive deal. In the Senate, neither of the four immigration-related proposals cleared the 60 vote threshold needed to advance legislation and it is unlikely that any proposal from the House would be entertained by the Senate.

While the president had set March 5 as the deadline for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, at which point he would terminate the program, federal district judges in California and New York have delayed that possibility, thus allowing more time for negotiators to work out a deal. On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the administration’s request to rule on the legality of DACA in advance of a U.S. Circuit Court decision. In a one sentence denial of the administration’s request, the Court stated, “[I]t is assumed that the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case.” The Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the injunction as early as April. 

NCSL Contact: Susan Frederick, Lucia Bragg


Congressional Appropriators Race to March 23 Deadline


On Feb. 25, 1863, 155 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the National Currency Act (later called the “National Bank Act”), which was the first attempt to establish a central bank following the failures of the First and Second Banks of the United States. The law aim to address the hodge-podge of local banks, local money, and conflicting regulatory standards that existed before the Civil War. The act allowed for the creation of national banks, planned for a national currency, and gave the federal government the ability to sell war bonds and securities.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 included the fifth continuing resolution (CR) for fiscal year (FY) 2018 and set new spending caps on how much the government can spend through FY 2019. Now, lawmakers have just four weeks to craft the 12 annual appropriations bills, or one combined omnibus bill, before March 23 when the government is at risk of another government shutdown. To make things even more complicated, the budget deal also had several informal agreements that were agreed to, but did not give specifics. This includes yearly funding of:

  • $3 billion to “fight against the opioid and mental health crises.”
  • $10 billion for infrastructure.
  • $2 billion to “rebuild and improve” veteran’s health care.
  • $2 billion for “college affordability.”
  • $2.9 billion for the child care development block grant.
  • $1 billion for the National Institutes of Health.

Now, appropriators will have to translate how this funding will look while the party leaders act as chaperones to make sure everybody complies with the deal’s stipulations. This also may be the last major legislative vehicle of the year, so you can bet lawmakers are rushing to get their priority bills added to the omnibus. The budget deal reached earlier this month also created a joint committee that is specifically tasked with “advancing reforms to the budget and appropriations process.” Last week, House leaders made their selections on who would try to tackle this monstrous task. Speaker Paul Ryan chose Steve Womack (R-Ark.), Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), and Pete Sessions (R-Texas), while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi chose Nita Lowery (D-N.Y.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). Senate leaders have yet to name their eight members to the reform committee.

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock


House Republicans Signal Willingness to Negotiate with Senate on Banking Reform Measures 

House Financial Services Committee Chair, Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), appears to be open to negotiations with the Senate on Dodd-Frank rollback measures. Hensarling, who has a steady track record of wanting to wholly dismantle Dodd-Frank, now seems to be open to more moderate reforms in a strategic attempt to get legislation to the president’s desk.

Hensarling’s original banking reform legislation, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, would have removed significant portions of Dodd-Frank. His new strategy consists of multiple individual bills amounting to an a la carte offering of banking reform measures. House Republicans are hoping that this strategy is more palatable to moderate senators than the sweeping Financial CHOICE Act, which many deemed D.O.A. in the Senate last year after it passed the House.

In his attempt to work with the Senate, Hensarling seems willing to ease up on tough reform proposals designed to slash the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an agency that has proven to be a political lightening rod since its Dodd-Frank inception in 2010. Bipartisan policies that seem to be on the table in both chambers include relaxing regulatory oversight of credit rating agencies and increasing capital holdings thresholds for small and mid-sized banks that currently require heightened scrutiny under Dodd-Frank.

These latest attempts to move bi-partisan banking reform legislation come at the chagrin of some Democrats who feel that such measures would amount to taking a step back after progress made in the post-Great Recession era. If the House and Senate can successfully negotiate the legislation, the president has signaled ardent support for legislation that rolls-back Dodd-Frank in any form.

NCSL Contact: Ethan Wilson



Also of Note …


State leaders from both parties implored federal lawmakers this weekend to listen to their states’ examples for responsible firearm legislation after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., increasingly exasperated with the slow pace of debate and halting progress in the nation’s capital.

President Trump’s personal pilot is “in the mix” to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, a White House official confirmed Sunday night.

Tentative plans for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to make his first visit to the White House to meet with President Trump were scuttled this week after a testy call between the two leaders ended in an impasse over Trump’s promised border wall, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

The California Democratic Party will not endorse Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election bid this year, with delegates at the party’s annual convention giving the majority of votes to her top primary challenger, progressive State Sen. Kevin de Leon.


Read the Feb. 12, 2018 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.

  • Neal Osten | 202-624-8660 | Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Directors
  • Max Behlke | 202-624-3586 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Danielle Dean | 202-624-8698 | Communications, Financial Services
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell | 202-624-3569 | Human 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
  • Ethan Wilson | 202-624-8686 | Commerce and Financial Services
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education