Capitol to Capitol
An Information Service of NCSL's Standing Committees

Volume 18  Issue 24 - June 30, 2011

 

COURT FAVORS FIRST AMENDMENT OVER STATE LAWS

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against two state laws to conclude its term earlier this week. In a 5-4 decision, the Court found the Arizona law, which triggers public “matching funds” for candidates being outspent by privately financed opponents or outside groups, violates the First Amendment. Although Chief Justice John Roberts chose not to “call into question the wisdom of public financing,” he did affirm First Amendment free speech protections in his majority opinion on Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett. Several previous Court decisions have also favored free speech rights over campaign financing laws. The other law that came up on the short end of a 7-2 Court decision was a California ban against the sale or rental of violent video games to children. In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion relied heavily on First Amendment protections. NCSL staff contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick, Jennifer Arguinzoni


NCSL WINS EXTENSION OF WATER RULE

A letter from NCSL and local government groups sent earlier this month to officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency appears to have influenced their decision to extend the comment period on guidance regarding future application of the Clean Water Act to various bodies of water. States now have until July 31, 2011, to comment on the “Waters of the U.S.” guidance, which states had no role in developing, despite the intergovernmental partnership for Clean Water Act implementation. To read the letter, go to http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=23131. For more information on the extension, go to http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm. NCSL staff contacts: Tamra Spielvogel, Max Behlke 


AIRPORTS REMAIN OPEN

State airport improvement grants and the Airport and Airways Trust Fund remain authorized, a result of congressional passage of H.R. 2279. This is the 21st extension, and gives Congress until July 22 to come to an agreement on a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which has eluded lawmakers for four years. NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Helen Narvasa


JUST ONE REGULATORY UNFUNDED MANDATE

A dozen of 13 final major rules do “not contain mandates under UMRA (Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995) on state, local and tribal governments,” the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) concluded after its review in federal FY 2010. Major rules include any that could cost state, local and tribal governments and the private sector a combined $100 million or more a year. All 13 rules had private sector impacts OMB detailed in their 15th annual report to Congress on June 27, 2011. Only a Department of Transportation rule requiring state and local governments to install equipment for automated control of intercity passenger and commuter rail trains imposed unfunded mandatory costs. These findings are folded into a comprehensive “2011 Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Unfunded Mandates on State, Local and Tribal Entities” found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/inforeg/2011_cb/2011_cba_report.pdf. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley (UMRA), Molly Ramsdell, Helen Narvasa (transportation)


NO AGREEMENT IN SIGHT

President Obama has moved into the forefront of deficit talks after discussions between lawmakers broke down last week. The president met with congressional leaders this week in hopes of finding a solution to the crux of the disagreement:  whether to increase revenues or reform entitlements. While these talks continue to stall, Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut offered a proposal that would generate $600 billion in Medicare savings over a decade. The plan would gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 and increase out-of-pocket annual maximums for high-income earners. Meanwhile, the co-chairmen of the president’s fiscal commission, former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, called for Congress to take action on a two-pronged approach, where “policymakers agree to a large down payment now and follow it with more significant and structural reforms in the near future” before the 2012 elections. For now, failure by lawmakers to craft a plan before the end of June enhances the likelihood of a short-term increase of the debt-limit instead of a comprehensive agreement. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley