Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
The Senate returned from recess last week, making little progress in advancing the 12 spending bills it has yet to pass before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The House returns this week to consider stopgap measures to fund the government through mid-November.
Republican Senate appropriators advanced, along party lines, overall funding levels for fiscal year (FY) 2020 spending bills, consistent with the 2019 Bipartisan Budget Agreement. This could lead to difficult negotiations with the Democrat-led House as time runs short for passing FY 2020 spending bills prior to Oct 1. Meanwhile, Senate appropriators were only able to report out the defense spending bill and energy-water bills—half of what they hoped to mark up last week—due to major partisan contention over Labor-Health and Human Service-Education and Homeland Security bills. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) stated the two bills could come to the floor for a vote this week, but Democratic opposition to provisions in the defense bill that provide funds for border security, as well as overall spending allocations, may render that unlikely. House leaders already plan to consider a continuing resolution this week to prevent a shutdown, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decides whether to incorporate the contentious defense and energy-water bills in their version of stopgap funding or attempt to move the measures to the Senate floor independently.
NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty
While chances before the August recess that legislation to eliminate the $10,000 limit on deducting state and local taxes (SALT) were uncertain at best, House Ways and Means Democrats now seem poised to come to an agreement. A congressional SALT deduction working group is close to drafting a bill that would alter the limit, which was implemented by the 2017 tax law. Finding offsets for the cost of removing the SALT deduction is the main issue—options include raising the top income tax rate to 39.6% from 37% for three years. Despite sharp criticism from Republicans that the measure benefits the wealthiest, some House appropriators have presented an aggressive timeline for the yet-to-be-drafted measure with predicted mark up before mid-fall.
NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty
The House passed two bills that would bar offshore oil and gas drilling in much of the country. The first measure, HR 1941, would block drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The bill also requires a Government Accountability Office study on the impacts of drilling on coastal communities, as well as barring fossil fuel-related seismic activities in the Atlantic. The House also passed HR 205 with bipartisan backing that would permanently bar oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It also codifies two drilling safety regulations in their original form that were enacted after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Neither measure is expected to get a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth
Some 80 years ago, Frank Cyr, a professor emeritus at Teachers College, organized a conference that drew transportation officials from the then 48 states, school bus manufacturers and paint companies to establish national standards for school bus safety, including use of the color yellow. Yellow was selected because black lettering on that shade of chrome was easiest to see at dawn and in late afternoon hours.
The administration announced last week that the Food and Drug Administration “…intends to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes…” The announcement coincides with growing state-level legislative activity on the products. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have specific taxes on vaping products, with half of them implementing the regulations this year. Some congressional lawmakers have called for national standards to replace a state-by-state patchwork as flavor bans are imposed.
NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty and Haley Nicholson
The Interior Department released its final environmental review for oil and gas operations in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which recommended allowing oil drilling in all 1.5 million acres along the refuge’s north coast. The historically protected coastal plain lies on the Beaufort Sea but was approved for leasing in the 2017 tax overhaul, The Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Only hours earlier the House sought to undo the approved leasing by passing, 225-193, HR 1146, which would repeal the drilling provision in the 2017 tax law and restore a ban on oil and gas development in the ANWR.
Last week U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) wrote the Department of Education in an effort to address confusion from student borrowers on the implementation of loan forgiveness programs Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness. A new report from the Government Accountability Office confirms that student borrowers continue to find it nearly impossible to gain financial relief.
In late August, the administration released a final version of the Institutional Accountability Rule (also referred to as the borrowers’ defense rule), allowing student loan borrowers defrauded by their schools to apply for loan forgiveness, and to “hold higher education institutions accountable and provide financial protections to taxpayers.” Some feel the new rule, which replaces an Obama-era rule, leaves in question what constitutes fraud. Statements from U.S. House Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) were not supportive of the new rule.
NCSL Contact: Molly Ramsdell
Last week, Representative Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Representative Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) sent a letter to their colleagues in the House inviting them to join the congressional What Works Caucus, whose purpose is to advance “ideas that improve the effectiveness of government programs and the return on taxpayer dollars – ensuring we invest resources as effectively and efficiently as possible to improve outcomes for children, families, and communities nationwide.” As part of its work, the group will spotlight data-driven local, state and federal efforts. The letter cited the Every Student Succeeds Act as just one example of an advanced evidence-driven approach to delivering results for Americans.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule: Definition of Waters of the United States, more commonly referred to as WOTUS. The repeal of the Clean Water Rule sets in place WOTUS standards that existed prior to its codification in 2015, which were established in 1986.This repeal is the first in a two-step process to repeal and replace the Clean Water Rule. For the second step, the EPA issued a proposed replacement last December and anticipates finalizing that shortly. For a full briefing on the EPA’s proposed replacement, please read NCSL’s Info Alert
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that developers of a natural gas pipeline, PennEast, could not condemn state-owned land pursuant to the federal Natural Gas Act, which "allows private gas companies to exercise the federal government's power to take property by eminent domain, provided certain jurisdictional requirements are met." The federal judges ruled the Natural Gas Act doesn't revoke New Jersey's "sovereign immunity" from suits filed by private parties in federal court, which is recognized under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ruling could have broad implications for many other pipelines currently under development or construction.
The Federal Highway Administration announced $871.2 million in emergency relief funds to help 39 states, as well as American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and tribal governments, make repairs to roads and bridges damaged by storms, floods, and other unexpected events dating back to 2001, though most of awards are related to events over the past few years. Eligible expenses under the program include reconstruction or replacement of damaged highways and bridges, along with the arrangement of detours and replacement of guardrails or other damaged safety devices associated with damage from natural disasters or other emergencies.
Read the Sept. 9 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.