An Information Service of NCSL's Standing Committees
Volume 20, Issue 18 - July 9, 2013
After a week hiatus, Congress arrives back in Washington to a full plate. The menu includes immigration, the farm bill, appropriations and possibly tax reform. How much can Congress digest before their summer recess in just four weeks’ time?
FARM BILL DIES BUT COULD COME BACK
Following two days of contentious floor debate, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 195-234 to defeat H.R. 1947, the “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013” on June 20. A floor amendment offered by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), to give states an option to apply federal welfare work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was agreed to by a vote of 227-198. The bill’s defeat can be attributed to at least two factors: 1) the addition of Southerland’s amendment pulled Democratic votes away from final passage of the bill; and 2) concerns about spending, both in the farm and food programs, led 62 Republicans to vote with 172 Democrats to defeat the bill. The Senate adopted its version of the Farm Bill, S. 954, the “Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013” by a vote of 66-27 on June 10. The Farm Bill now faces an uncertain future regarding a full five-year reauthorization. The House still has several options, including a possible short-term extension of farm bill programs. The current extension is set to expire on September 30. House Majority Leader Cantor (R-Va.) has promoted the idea of splitting the legislation into separate nutrition and commodity reauthorization bills, a move that could result in neither farm or nutrition programs passing. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Ben Husch, Tamra Spielvogel
SENATE ADOPTS COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM
On June 27, 2013, the Senate passed S.744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, by a bipartisan vote of 68-32. The bill mirrors NCSL’s immigration policy, addressing border security and reauthorization of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, earned legalization, temporary worker visas and improvements to the legal immigration system. Although NCSL is encouraged by the passage of S. 744, the legislation does not include any additional funding to help states offset the increased costs of education and health care for new immigrant populations. NCSL has heard from members of Congress, however, that state impact aid may still be added once the legislation gets to conference. NCSL and its Task Force on Immigration effectively worked to avoid amendments that would have shifted costs to states in the bill by eliminating the current state option to provide Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program to legal immigrant children and pregnant women and extending the option to pregnant women and children who are Registered Provisional Immigrants, who gain legal status under the bill. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Susan Parnas Frederick, Joy Johnson Wilson, Rachel Morgan
PATHWAY FOR IMMIGRATION TO BE DECIDED THIS WEEK
What happens next in the House of Representatives is unclear. Speaker Boehner announced that the Majority Caucus would meet on July 10 to determine how immigration moves forward in the House. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has been taking up individual bills on border security, e-verify, agricultural guest workers and skills based visas. NCSL, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the U. S. Conference of Mayors sent a letter to the House opposing the SAFE (Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement) Act, HR. 2278, because of its preemption of state and local law enforcement policy and unfunded mandates. The bipartisan House “Group of 7” continues to work on a comprehensive immigration bill that has not been released.
State legislators are encouraged to urge House members to oppose the SAFE Act and to include impact grants to states for the additional health and education costs resulting from any changes to immigration policy. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Susan Parnas Frederick
CHANGES TO THE NCSL STANDING COMMITTEES
NCSL’s Executive Committee, in approving the Conference's budget for FY 2014, merged the two Standing Committees on Health, and Human Services and Welfare into one Health and Human Services Committee and the two Committees on Environment and Energy, and Transportation and Agriculture into a new Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee. These mergers, along with the retirement Michael Bird, has resulted in a reassignment of staff duties reflected in the chart below.
Budgets and Revenue
Health and Human Services
Natural Resources and Infrastructure
Ben Husch (D.C.)
Jaime Rall (Denver)
Melanie Condon (D.C.)
The budget also eliminates the Spring Forum. A memo from William Pound, NCSL’s executive director, provides more details on these actions. NCSL staff contacts: Neal Osten, Molly Ramsdell
HALFWAY TO NOWHERE
Despite no agreement on an overall discretionary spending number, both the House and Senate are moving forward with spending bills. In June, appropriations committees in both chambers approved spending measures for Agriculture, Energy–Water, Military Construction–Veterans’ Affairs, and Transportation–Housing and Urban Development. This progress, however, includes an asterisk. The House and Senate remain $91 billion apart in their overall fiscal appropriations plans. The biggest reason being the House assumes sequestration will continue in FY 2014, while the Senate calls for the spending reductions to be replaced. With the federal fiscal year beginning in three months’ time, the only certainty is the need for a continuing resolution to pass by the end of September. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Jeff Hurley
CLOCK EXPIRES ON STUDENT LOANS
Because Congress was unable to prevent a scheduled increase in the interest rate on federal subsidized student loans before the July 4 recess, new loan rates doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1. Both chambers of Congress agree the interest rate on student loans needs to be fixed and applied retroactively, but can’t agree on how. In late June, a bipartisan group of senators were unable to pass a plan that would have aligned all newly issued student loans to the Treasury Department borrowing rate, fix the interest rate for the life of the loan, and cap repayments at 8.25 percent. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is trying to schedule a vote on a plan, supported by many Senate Democrats, to extend the old rate of 3.4 percent for a year to allow time to consider pegging loans to market rates in the long term. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contact: Lee Posey
STATE IMPACT OF SUPREME COURT RULINGS
The U.S. Supreme Court made a number of significant decisions in June with varying effects on state and local governments. On June 3, the Supreme Court ruled in Maryland v. King, that when police officers make an arrest supported by probable cause, they can obtain an arrestee’s DNA. The State and Local Legal Center filed an amicus brief on behalf of NCSL and other state and local government organizations in support of Maryland. Thirty states, including Maryland, have similar DNA laws. The Supreme Court also ruled in United States v. Windsor that the section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act denying federal benefits to gay and lesbian married couples in states where such unions are legal, is unconstitutional. And in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenged a lower court ruling that overturned a California initiative prohibiting same sex marriage, the high court returned the case to the lower court on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing. Finally, on June 25 the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is unconstitutional in the case of Shelby v. Holder. Section 4 defines which jurisdictions are to be covered under the act based on whether the jurisdiction: 1) used discriminatory tests as a prerequisite to voting or 2) has low voter registration and turnout rates. The Court held that Congress needed to revisit both the standards and the covered jurisdictions to bring both in line with the current times. NCSL staff contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick; State and Local Legal Center contact: Lisa Soronen
ON THE HORIZON
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have called for a “blank slate” to start tax reform discussions. This refers to a tax code “without all of the special provisions in the form of exclusions, deductions and credits.” Senators Baucus and Hatch have urged members of the Senate to submit by July 26, 2013, legislative proposals on which tax expenditures should remain in the federal code. …A polite reminder that the deadline for all policy directives and resolutions for consideration at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Atlanta, Aug. 12 –15, must be submitted to the directors of the D.C. office by July 16. For more information, please view a summary of the NCSL standing committee policy process.