Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
Several state legislators were in Washington, D.C., this week to participate in briefings and take meetings on behalf of NCSL with the administration and members of Congress. Topics included occupational licensing, federal immigration reform, cybersecurity and election security and Traffic Incidence Management systems. For more details on the events, see the related blogs below.
Last week marked the 50-year anniversary of the Apollo 12 launch. Each Apollo mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center and the visitor complex is a milestone in NASA’s history. Commemorating this occasion, NASA television spent the day webcasting live views of the earth from space, along with other special events.
While congressional spending negotiators have been deadlocked for months on how to fairly allocate $632 billion in nondefense spending for fiscal year (FY) 2020, which officially began Oct. 1, lawmakers reached a deal that separated controversial border wall funding from the 12 overdue spending bills. This key agreement allows House and Senate appropriators to resolve the funding levels in their individual bills and finally make progress on the normal appropriations process. The House and Senate are also expected to pass another continuing resolution this week that would extend current funding levels through Dec. 20 to avert a government shutdown and give appropriators time to work on their bills. The final set of FY 2020 spending levels could modify the enacted two-year bipartisan budget agreement (HR 3877), however, any additional spending or cap adjustments would require approval by the White House, which could complicate matters. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the White House is not in favor of a shutdown.
NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty
On Nov. 15, the House passed (235-184)—mostly along party lines—HR 4863, which re-authorizes the Export-Import Bank. Several Republicans voiced staunch opposition to the measure. The measure will now be transferred to the Senate, where it awaits consideration by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who this past week said, “We’re not going to pass the House bill.” Shortly after, the White House released a statement saying, “The administration is committed to the long-term authorization of the Export-Import Bank. [The House bill], however, does not represent the type of bipartisan, bicameral approach needed to appropriately accomplish that goal.” Funding for the Export-Import Bank, along with a plethora of other federal government agencies and programs, are set to expire on Nov. 21.
NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Michael Quillen
House Ways and Means Committee Democrats are close to introducing legislation that would temporarily lift the $10,000 deduction cap for state and local (SALT) taxes, but chances are slim that the bill would become law during this Congress. Committee members expect to introduce a measure before the Thanksgiving recess that would temporarily reverse the cap for three years and address what is referred to as the SALT marriage penalty. Established in the 2017 tax law, this is a scenario where a single individual is subject to the same deduction cap as a married couple, while unmarried couples filing separately can each deduct up to $10,000.
President Donald Trump issued a new “Executive Order on the Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice,” which will give the U.S. attorney general broad discretion on the size, membership, and method of selection for a new presidential criminal justice commission. The attorney general may invite elected state, local and tribal officials to participate in the commission charged with studying "issues related to law enforcement and the administration of justice and make recommendations to the attorney general, who shall submit a report and recommendations to the president on actions that can be taken to prevent, reduce, and control crime, increase respect for the law, and assist victims." Specific areas of study include challenges to law enforcement regarding substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness and other social factors that influence crime, recruitment and hiring of law enforcement personnel, and "refusals by state and local prosecutors to enforce laws or prosecute categories of crimes." The commission has one year to submit a report of its findings to the attorney general.
NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Lucia Bragg
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ignored “legacy” uses and disposal of chemicals under the 2016 revised chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), vacating part of a 2017 rule, which excluded legacy considerations from the EPA’s determination of which chemicals to evaluate for health impacts. These “legacy uses” refer to products that exist but are no longer manufactured, such as asbestos insulation or lead pipes. The EPA argued that TSCA was not designed to address such products, although the court ruled that "TSCA’s definition of ‘conditions of use’ clearly includes uses and future disposals of chemicals even if those chemicals were only historically manufactured for those uses, [and] EPA’s exclusion of legacy uses and associated disposals from the definition of ‘conditions of use’ is therefore unlawful.”
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth
A flight is considered international even if it involves an astronaut traveling to the moon and back. In 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were required to sign “customs forms” upon landing on earth, on which they declared lunar samples of moon rocks and moon dust.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced $900 million in FY 2019 competitive grants under the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development Transportation Discretionary Grants program. The funding was awarded to 55 projects in 35 states with road projects receiving more than two-thirds of all grants at 68% of funds, while maritime received 15% and transit received 10%.
Federal bank regulatory agencies finalized a rule simplifying capital requirements for community banks. The rule applies to banks with less than $10 billion in assets and will reduce compliance costs while ensuring the banks still hold an appropriate amount of capital.
NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell and Tres York
Testifying before the House Budget Committee last week on the latest update of the nation’s financial stability, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell argued that Congress will ultimately have to develop a long-term strategy for addressing the country’s unstainable debt trajectory. While the U.S.’s 11-year streak of economic growth appears to be sustainable, the growth of federal debt will eventually outpace that growth and put the country at risk for not being able to provide stimulus during an economic downturn. With less fiscal space, Congress will not have the tools to support the overall economy. According to Powell, “putting the federal budget on a sustainable path would aid the long-term vigor of the U.S. economy and help ensure that policymakers have the space to use fiscal policy to assist in stabilizing the economy if it weakens.”
Amtrak reported that it set new records for ridership, revenue, and financial performance during FY 2019 (October 2018-September 2019) and it expects to “break-even” in FY 2020. Ridership was 32.5 million customer trips, a year-over-year increase of 800,000 passengers, with Acela leading the charge at a 4.3% increase, Northeast Regional at 2.9% and state-supported services at 2.4%. Ridership on long-distance trains was up nearly 1%.
Prepare for 2020: From disaster spending to the Electoral College and everything in between, we’ve got you covered. Join colleagues and experts from across the country in sunny Phoenix to roll up your sleeves and dig into the issues states will be discussing next year.
The 2019 NCSL Capitol Forum will take place Dec. 10- 12 in Phoenix, at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa.
Upcoming NCSL Capitol Forum Dates:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture published a new report on rural communities highlighting how they are facing population declines, slow employment growth and higher poverty rates than urban areas. The report also notes that personal income has declined in recent years in part because farm and mining income has dropped.
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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 policy positions, NCSL is recognized as a formidable lobbying force in state-federal relations.