Congressional Democrats Focus on Passing Infrastructure Bill to Close the Digital Divide
Following the recent infusion of funding in the American Rescue Plan, Congress is now looking toward the upcoming infrastructure package to provide significant money for broadband deployment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced broadband would be among the priorities for the package, and several proposals have emerged to close the digital divide:
- All 32 Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee support a measure that would authorize more than $109 billion to expand broadband access. The bill includes $80 billion for deploying new broadband networks or expanding existing networks to reach those who currently cannot get a signal, with the goal of achieving 100% connectivity. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be responsible for awarding three-fourths of the $80 billion through a national bidding process with the remainder given to states. An additional $15 billion would go toward Next Generation 911 services, with $5 billion set aside to subsidize low-interest financing for broadband deployment projects and $8 billion to help low-income families and students pay their internet bills.
- House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also reintroduced a bill to authorize $94 billion in broadband spending. The proposal is aimed at deploying service in unserved and underserved communities and has the support of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and the FCC’s Democratic commissioners.
- Finally, although it may not be part of the infrastructure package, Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, proposed legislation earlier this month that would use proceeds from an FCC spectrum auction to establish a $65 billion rural broadband fund.
House Passes Immigration Reform Bills
Last week, the House passed two immigration reform bills that will now be considered by the Senate. The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 passed 228-197 and would create paths to citizenship for “Dreamers” and for Deferred Enforced Departure and Temporary Protected Status holders, affecting about 2.5 million immigrants in total. The measure also would prioritize keeping families together and making higher education affordable for “Dreamers.” Read more.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was passed by a vote of 247-174 and would provide a path to legal immigration status for undocumented farmworkers, streamline the H-2A Visa Program, and institute mandatory E-Verify for agricultural employers after the legalization program for undocumented farmworkers has been implemented. Read more.
House Republicans Vote to Restore Earmarks as Democrats Revive the Practice
Republicans in the House voted 102-84 in support of restoring earmarks during their conference meeting. The vote to restore included a requirement that all earmarks must be publicly disclosed with written justification and verification that the member has no financial interest in the project. Earmarks allow lawmakers to ensure funds for specific projects but were banned in 2011. Under the new process outlined by House Democrats, lawmakers can request funding for up to 10 projects possessing “community support,” and earmarked funds overall will be capped at 1% of discretionary spending, with no money going to for-profit interest. The Government Accountability Office will audit the earmarks and submit its findings to Congress.
In 2019, Senate Republicans voted in favor of a “permanent ban” on earmarking inside their conference, but with the House decision, it is anticipated that they will decide whether to lift their ban in the near term. Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) has indicated he will bring earmarks back into the chamber and will “divide it equally between Republicans and Democrats,” should they wish to partake in the process.
HHS Announces $10 Billion to Expand Coronavirus Testing in K-12 Schools
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health departments will support technical assistance to help states and schools in starting up and implementing coronavirus testing programs. Read more.
Administration Announces Community Health Center Expansion
The Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program is working to help reach the nation’s underserved communities and those disproportionately affected by the coronavirus to be equitably vaccinated. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the CDC announced that an additional 700 HRSA-supported health centers will be invited to join the program. Health centers will have the opportunity to join over the next few weeks, bringing the total number of invited health center participants to 950 across the U.S. Read more.
CDC Reduces School Social Distancing Guidelines
The guidance recommends that students in school buildings stay three feet apart, rather than six, as long as universal masking is maintained. Read more.
EPA Finalizes Revised Cross State Air Pollution Rule Update
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the Revised Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update for the 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The CSAPR requires upwind states to reduce power plant emissions that travel with wind patterns and contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution over downwind states. The rule would require 12 states to make additional emissions reductions of nitrogen oxides from powerplants. Those states include Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Previously, 21 states were subject to “good neighbor” obligations under the 2008 ozone NAAQS, but a review found that for nine of the 21, projected 2021 emissions do not significantly contribute to the nonattainment or maintenance issues for downwind states. The EPA is issuing new, or amended, Federal Implementation Plans in the 12 states.
The rulemaking is in response to a 2019 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which remanded the 2016 CSAPR Update back to the EPA for failing to fully eliminate significant contribution to nonattainment and for interference with maintenance of the 2008 ozone NAAQS from the 12 states. Read more.
New DOL Proposes New Tipped Wage Rule
The U.S. Department of Labor sent a proposal to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs that would reevaluate a finalized rule under the previous administration that would have given businesses permission to pay tipped workers the lower hourly wage of $2.13 when performing tasks that do not generate gratuities. The rule has already been challenged in court by state attorneys general. Read more.
Distribution of $122B for K-12 Schools and $40B for Higher Education Announced
States must set aside 5% of their K-12 allotments to address learning loss, while districts must set aside at least 20% of their distribution to address learning loss. Colleges and universities must award 50% of funds as emergency aid to student and can use remainder for lost revenue and reimbursement for expenses. More information on the K-12 funding can be found here. More information on higher education funding can be found here.
HUD Releases Annual Homeless Assessment Report
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report Part 1 to Congress. The report found that 580,466 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2020, which is an increase of 12,751 people or 2.2% from 2019. Read more.
New DOL Grants for Registered Apprenticeships
The Department of Labor announced the availability of $87.5 million for grants to expand registered apprenticeships across the country, with a total of $40 million of those funds being awarded to states that implement required diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Read more.
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*Capitol to Capitol will be on recess next week, returning on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.
NCSL's Advocacy in Washington
NCSL’s Washington staff advocates on behalf of state legislatures before Congress, the White House and federal agencies 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
- 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
- Margaret Wile | 202-624-8171 | Human Services
- Austin Reid | 202-624-8678 | Education