Capitol to Capitol | June 4, 2018

Congress Returns to an Immigration Debate


The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) functioned at various different locations before it actually got its permanent address. Initially, the court met in New York City in the Merchants Exchange Building before it moved to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1790. In 1800, the court was moved to Washington, D.C, along with the federal government, but still did not have a building of its own, and therefore met inside the U.S. Capitol. It wasn’t until 1935 that the Supreme Court got its own building, right across from the Capitol, where it has been ever since.

Congress returns this week after its weeklong Memorial Day recess. A discharge petition to automatically force a debate and vote on immigration legislation on the House floor is only five signatures short of the required 218. Backers of the petition have said they have more than enough members prepared to sign the petition if discussions with House Republican leadership fails to reach a compromise on the issue, which has divided the moderate and conservative wings of the House Republican conference. The House GOP has scheduled a two-hour policy meeting on Thursday to discuss the issue. The meeting could be a defining moment for both the issue of immigration and House Republicans for the remainder of this Congress. If the caucus can iron out its differences on immigration this week, Republicans may avert an intraparty battle in an election year. If they can’t, expect a free-flowing debate on the House floor that could have large political consequences in November.

Other Issues on Congress’ Radar


In March, President Donald Trump announced worldwide tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, but temporarily exempted key major trading partners—including Canada, Mexico and the European Union—to provide more time for trade negotiations. However, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced last week that the tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada, Mexico and the European Union(EU) would take effect immediately. Enforcing the tariffs will not only complicate future trade negotiations, it could ultimately lead to the dissolution of the North American Free Trade Agreement or even lead to a global trade war.

Following Ross’ Thursday announcement, Mexico said it would retaliate with similar penalties on American products, including lamps, pork, fruit, cheese and flat steel. The EU said that it will begin the process of enacting retaliatory tariffs. Although the details were not announced, it has previously threatened tariffs on American motorcycles, denim, cigarettes, cranberry juice and peanut butter. Canada said that it would enact tariffs on $12.8 billion of U.S. exports by July 1 in response to the Trump administration’s actions.

Given that the administration’s trade policies starkly differ from many Republicans in Congress, expect this storyline to continue throughout the remainder of 2018.

September Budget Battle Looms on Horizon

The House is scheduled to be in session for seven more weeks before it breaks for the scheduled August recess. When the chamber returns in September, it will only have three more weeks in Washington to agree on a spending package before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

While the House plans to vote on, and will likely pass, three of the 12 appropriations bills this week—Energy and Water; Legislative Branch; and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs—it is very unlikely that both chambers can pass all 12 spending bills before the end of September. Therefore, it is likely that Congress will look to pass a large spending bill in September to avoid a potentially disastrous government shutdown only weeks ahead of the midterm elections. Should this situation arise, it is unclear of what position the administration may take. In March, only hours after signing a $1.3 trillion spending bill, the president tweeted,  “I will never sign another bill like this again,” given how quickly it was put together and because of its price tag. However, several high-ranking administration officials have already explained to the president that a government shutdown could have disastrous political consequences in an election year. Even so, the president has been pushing hard for funding of a border wall and if he takes that stance again in September, it could complicate the process.   

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

June Supreme Court Rulings Loom Large for the States


Now a synonym for “due date” or “time limit,” the word “deadline” was originally used much more literally.

During the Civil War, prisoners in the Andersonville Confederate Prison were confined within a stockade that was approximately 15 feet high, of roughly hewn pine logs, about 8 inches in diameter, inserted 5 feet into the ground, enclosing an area of 540 by 260 yards. A railing around the inside of the stockade, and about 20 feet from it, constituted the “deadline,” beyond which the prisoners were not allowed to pass or were at risk of being shot.

While Congress has its plate full in June, the Supreme Court will likely have its share of headlines. This term, the Supreme Court has already struck down a federal law that prohibited states from legalizing sports betting, but of the nearly 30 rulings that that the court will issue this month, several could be of even larger consequence to the states. Notably, the court will decide the questions of whether:

  • Police can track the location of cell phones without a warrant.
  • Public sector unions can require non-members to pay union dues.
  • States can enforce their sales tax laws on remote sellers.
  • Partisan gerrymandering is constitutional.

Given that the court does not signal the day that it will rule on specific cases, the decision of any case or issue could come at any time throughout the month. With that said, the court often holds its blockbuster decisions for the last day of its term, which is scheduled to conclude the last week of this month.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick, Lucia Bragg


Trump Signs the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act

On May 22, the House passed (258-159) significant financial services and banking reform legislation, sending it directly to the president’s desk where it was signed two days later. With 33 Democrats joining 225 Republicans voting in favor of the bill, it is one of very few pieces of recent legislation that is being touted as bipartisan, at least by those who voted for it. The bill had previously garnered significant bipartisan support in the Senate. Supporters claim S.2155 is a Dodd-Frank roll-back that provides much needed regulatory relief to small and midsized banks. Opponents argue that the bill panders to special interests and removes important consumer protections.

Significant provisions of the legislation include removing Dodd-Frank’s “Systemically Important Financial Institution” (SiFi) designation from banks with up to $250 billion in consolidated assets. The current Dodd-Frank threshold is $50 billion. Shedding the SiFi designation means no longer being subject to the Federal Reserve’s heightened prudential standards, a framework crafted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis designed to prevent large lending institutions from taking certain higher-risk investments.

Of interest to states is the legislation’s reclassification of municipal bonds. Currently, municipal debt does not qualify as “high quality liquid assets” (HQLA) and as such, does not satisfy the Federal Reserve’s liquidity coverage ratio requirements–commonly known as “stress testing.”  S.2155’s section 403 reclassifies municipal bonds into HQLA Level 2B assets. In a win for state and local governments, this change could result in increased investment in state and local bonded projects such as heavy infrastructure, parks, roadways, hospitals, airports, etc.

NCSL Contact: Ethan Wilson

2018 Water Resources Development Act Advances in Both Chambers

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved their versions of the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). WRDA plays a key role in protecting, maintaining and further developing our nation’s water infrastructure systems including, ports, waterways, and clean and safe drinking water. It provides states with added stability and certainty to meet water infrastructure needs while also supporting the safety, environmental protection and economic development of communities across the nation. WRDA not only provides the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with its authorization to address and maintain America’s water infrastructure, including its ports, dam and flood resistance efforts, but also has historically provided funding and financing opportunities to states undertaking vital water infrastructure projects.

NCSL sent letters last month to both the House and Senate, regarding our priorities, provisions we supported and areas of concern in a 2018 WRDA. The House will vote on its legislation this week, but it is currently unclear when the full Senate bill will consider its bill.


Senate - Americas Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S.2800) 
House - Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (H.R. 8)

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth

Secretary DeVos Testified before the House Education Committee

On May 22, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared before the House Education Committee on Capitol Hill to discuss a wide range of issues. DeVos notified the committee that the Trump administration expects to have a complete report on the recently formed school safety commission published by the end of 2018. She said that “the commission will be focused on raising up practices, ideas that have been implemented in communities across the country that may not have been widely known.”

DeVos also clarified the Trump administration’s position on the use of federal Impact Aid funds to expand school choice: “I support the concept of giving military families more options and choices, but the vehicle of using an Impact Aid funding stream is not one that I support or the administration supports.” Regarding the respective immigration policies of schools, DeVos delegated the responsibility to schools to decide whether to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on suspected undocumented students.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

Federal Commission on School Safety to Host Listening Session in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Commission on School Safety will hold its first of four listening sessions on Wednesday, June 6, in Washington, D.C. The listening session will grant the public opportunities to discuss their views on how educational institutions, and local and state government entities alike may be able to improve school safety. The session will be live-streamed and a transcript will be released on the department’s website following the listening session. The public may submit written comments to Information related to the subsequent three sessions including locations and dates will be released moving forward.  

In addition, as part of the ongoing work of the Federal Commission on School Safety, on May 31, DeVos visited an Anne Arundel County elementary school to learn more about the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework. The site tour marked the department’s first meeting on school safety open to the press. PBIS employs interventions based on the unique needs of students to better support behavior and more equitable academic outcomes.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

Also of Note…


Technically a state driver’s license is not required to compete in NASCAR. In fact, multiple professional racers have had their licenses suspended but have still been able to compete. Kyle Busch had his license suspended for driving 128 mph on a 45 mph street, but was still allowed to race. Back in 2004, Scott Wimmer failed a breathalyzer test, but still competed in the Daytona 500 and other races.

  • South Korea Tamps Down Hopes for Peace Declaration at North Korea Summit (Wall Street Journal): Like President Trump had suggested he could declare an end to the Korean War, but Seoul officials signal caution.
  • Supreme Court rules in favor of baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple (Washington Post): In an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that leaves many questions unanswered, the court held that a Colorado commission had not adequately taken into account the religious beliefs of baker Jack Phillips.
  • Blowback over border separations amps up tensions inside Trump administration (Politico): Some top administration officials say recent policy changes were made without sufficient consideration of practical or legal consequences.
  • Supreme Court sides with Trump administration over immigrant teen who got abortion (Fox News): The Supreme Court has sided with the Trump administration in the case of a pregnant immigrant teenager who was able to get an abortion after filing a lawsuit.

Read the May 21, 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.

  • Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Director
  • Jake Lestock | 202-624-8171 | 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