Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
Four states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—call themselves commonwealths. The distinction between a commonwealth and a state is in name only as there is no difference in their relationship to the nation as a whole.
So why are they called commonwealths? Mostly because of the preference of their founders. For example, in Massachusetts, the term commonwealth was preferred by a number of political writers in the years leading up to 1780, when the Massachusetts constitution officially designated the state as such. The preference is believed to have existed perhaps because there was "some anti-monarchial sentiment in using the word commonwealth."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the states and struck down a 25-year-old federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). Earlier today, the court voted 6-3 in favor of the state of New Jersey in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, formerly known as Chris Christie v. NCAA, declaring PASPA unconstitutional as violative of the 10th Amendment. In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “[PASPA] unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do. . . . [S]tate legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress. It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”
NCSL, along with other national organizations that represent state and local officials, filed an amicus brief in support of New Jersey. NCSL released a statement applauding the Supreme Court ruling saying, “NCSL supports every state’s right to regulate gaming and sports betting, including both legalization and prohibition, without unwarranted federal preemption and interference.” New Jersey can now move forward with its plan to legalize wagering, while other states will have the opportunity to either repeal existing bans or to pass legislation allowing for sports betting.
NCSL Contacts: Ethan Wilson
This past week, the White House released proposed rescission cuts covering 38 different programs and totaling over $15 billion. The administration released a statement saying “At the direction of President Trump, the Office of Management and Budget has worked diligently to identify wasteful and unnecessary spending already approved by Congress.” Now Congress has 45 days to consider the package, which also freezes the proposed funding programs until a decision is made. Unlike regular spending bills, rescissions packages only require a simple majority in the Senate for passage.
Nearly half of the rescission comes from child healthcare, $3.1 billion in unobligated Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funds from FY 2017, $2 billion in recovery funds from the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, and $1.865 billion from the $2.4 billion available in the Child Enrollment Contingency Fund.
Would rescind funds authorized under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from fiscal years 2011-2019. The center was created to try new payment and service delivery models that could reduce expenditures under Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Fund (CHIP). The administration has said these funds are more than the amounts that would be needed to carry out planned activities for FY 2018 and FY 2019.
Remaining rescissions come from a variety of government funds and grants across departments including railroad unemployment insurance programs, the Ebola response account, and Hurricane Sandy funds that states haven’t claimed. Additional info can be found here.
While rescission packages only require a simple majority, and are not subject to a Senate filibuster, there is a large amount of uncertainty that it will pass. While it is expected to easily coast through the House with Republican support, the Senate will be a different story. A number of Senate Republicans have already expressed their disinterest in the proposal and in order to pass, Republicans can’t afford to lose a single vote while Rep. John McCain (Ariz.) is home in Arizona undergoing cancer treatment. Nonetheless, Congress can expect to see more rescission packages from the White House, including a second rescission request in the coming weeks attempting to claw back funding from the recently passed omnibus bill.
NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock
On Wednesday, the House will consider H.R. 2, the “Agriculture & Nutrition Act of 2018” more commonly known as the House’s 2018 Farm Bill. The bill reauthorizes several key agriculture and nutrition programs for five years, through FY 2023. The Congressional Budget Office estimates $867 billion in total farm bill spending, which includes nutrition, crop insurance, conservation and other farm programs. The bill contains 11 titles with the major themes and changes impacting states, including an NCSL opposed provision, the Protect Interstate Commerce Act. Read NCSL’s analysis of the legislation.
Wednesday’s vote will be close, given that the legislation, as currently drafted, has been vocally criticized by House conservatives and House Democrats, albeit for different reasons. Members of the House Freedom Caucus, three dozen of the most conservative members of the House, as well as conservative groups, including Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity, have criticized the farm subsidies as an unfair benefit to wealthy farms and large agricultural businesses. Democrats have overwhelmingly opposed the current legislation as it imposes new work requirements on five to seven million individuals that are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Without Democrat support, several members of the Freedom Caucus will need to vote for the legislation for it to pass. That said, even if it passes, the House legislation is likely D.O.A. in the Senate, which is currently drafting its own Farm Bill.
On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald Trump has signaled that he will veto any legislation that does not impose stricter work requirements on SNAP recipients. However, the work requirements are the most controversial aspect of the legislation and it is unlikely that changes to the program will pass the Senate.
NCSL’s analysis of the House Farm Bill
NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell (SNAP), Ben Husch (Agriculture)
On April 27, the House of Representatives approved, by vote of 393-13, H.R. 4, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018. The bill would reauthorize FAA programs and the federal aviation taxes that fund FAA programs and operations for five years through Sept. 30, 2023. The prior reauthorization expired in September 2015, which has resulted in five short-term extensions. For more detailed information on what the bill includes, see NCSL’s Information Alert.
The bill includes many sections pertaining to unmanned aircraft systems (drones). FAA would be required to establish a unified traffic management system (UTM) for drones. Additionally, the bill would remove the existing prohibition on regulations impacting drone hobbyists. The bill includes an NCSL supported amendment that would codify a drone pilot program, recently announced by Department of Transportation (DOT). The pilot program aims to accelerate drone integration plans by working to solve technical, regulatory, and policy challenges that includes the ability for states to set reasonable time, manner, and place limitations on low altitude drone operations.
The bill would create a board within the DOT that includes state representatives to develop recommendations for determining which portion of the charged ambulatory rate is medical in nature and what portion is transportation in nature. By separating out the transportation charge, where states are pre-empted, states would be able to regulate the cost of certain medical services if they chose to do so.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth
Just in time for the MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., this summer, the Library of Congress will feature an exhibition about the origins and history of baseball. The handwritten “Laws of Base Ball,” which historians have called the “Magna Carta” of the game after they were decided at a convention in 1857, will be among the artifacts featured in the new exhibition “Baseball Americana” opening June 29 at the Library of Congress. The exhibition will explore baseball’s past and present and how the game has forged a sense of community for players and fans across the country.
Senate Democrats filed a discharge petition last week to force a vote to save the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rules from repeal.
A discharge petition would use authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to nullify the FCC’s vote this past December to roll back the rules. The new rules, formally known as the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, and transparency rule amendments will become effective June 11, 2018. These rules explicitly banned blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization by internet providers, but were reversed by a new set of guidelines introduced by Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican members of the FCC.
To successfully pass, the resolution will need a simple majority in both chambers. The Senate will vote this Wednesday and the chances of receiving 51 votes looks promising. Although, the bill is said to be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House. While the resolution has little chance of becoming enacted, Democrats are planning on making their support for net neutrality regulations a popular campaign issue in the upcoming midterm elections.
NCSL Contact: Danielle Dean
The U.S. Department of Education announced the approval of South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Colorado and Kentucky’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plans. Each state is tasked with developing an ESSA plan unique to the needs of their students. To date, 44 state and territory plans have now been approved. DeVos applauded the states and reiterated the need to “use these plans as a starting point, rather than a finish line, to improve outcomes for all students.”
The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) is awaiting to hear back from the U.S. Department of Education regarding whether emergency legislation is in compliance with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) standards, which require states to test students annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. This year, the state test “TN Ready” was affected by online glitches, deeming the results unreliable. In response, the Tennessee State Legislature passed legislation aimed to assert that “no adverse action be taken against any student, teacher, school or district based on this year’s TN Ready results.”
Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, Candice McQueen, has maintained that the glitches were the result “deliberate attacks” on the systems of Questar Assessment—TDOE’s computer systems vender. The state’s ESSA plan was approved last August, in which TN Ready was included as a measurement of accountability standards.
NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald
On May 7, first lady Melania Trump revealed her first initiative entitled Be Best, which seeks to promote well-being, positive social media behaviors and support families impacted by the opioid crisis. The well-being component of the initiative includes emphasis on healthy living, encouragement, kindness and respect through which adults may impact the futures of children. The initiative’s focus on social media seeks to tackle cyberbullying and encourage children to “choose their words wisely and speak with compassion.” The first lady’s initiative also seeks to bring attention to the effects of opioid addiction. On the initiative, Mrs. Trump said: “It remains our generation’s moral imperative to take responsibility and help our children manage the many issues they are facing today, including encouraging positive social, emotional and physical habits.”
From Acomo Pueblo in New Mexico, whose 250 structures have been continuously inhabited since the 12th century, to the White Horse Tavern, a bar in Newport, Rhode Island, that opened its doors in 1673, America's buildings are as historic as they are diverse. Check out this list of the oldest building in every state compiled by Business Insider.
Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Jason Botel was recently elected Vice-Chair of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness for 2018. “…we have new levers at our disposal to track and provide services for families and students experiencing homelessness through the Every Student Succeeds Act,” Botel said. NCSL is working to identify state-led examples to inform the Council on Homelessness. State legislators or staff working on student homelessness are encouraged to contact Joan Wodiska.
Read the April 30, 2018, Capitol-to-Capitol.
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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.