Capitol to Capitol | Vol. 22, Issue 13


Capitol to Capitol

REFILLING THE TRUST FUND TANK. A transportation funding showdown looms as federal lawmakers have only three days to reauthorize transportation programs and address a funding shortfall for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The Senate today is expected to continue consideration of a six-year deal that, if enacted, would constitute the first multi-year surface transportation bill in a decade. The Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act would authorize $270 billion over six years, although it would only provide three years’ worth of funding totaling $47 billion in non-transportation related offsets for the HTF. The DRIVE Act faces a number of procedural votes and amendments, including renewing the Export-Import Bank, which expired at the end of June. In contrast, the House earlier this month passed a five-month highway “patch” aimed at giving federal lawmakers sufficient time to act on a long-term agreement. The House plan, which was supported by the administration, would add $8 billion into the HTF to ensure its solvency until Dec. 18 and would be offset with similar provisions included in the Senate proposal. Time is of the essence, as the House is set to depart Thursday for its August recess and leadership has stated they will not consider the Senate version. The House on Monday offered a three-month extension in an attempt to find a middle ground and continue discussions this fall. Without an agreement, the Department of Transportation would no longer be able to reimburse states for projects receiving federal aid and may force states to cover the federal funding portion. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon

SENATE APPROVES EDUCATION REAUTHORIZATION. The Senate joined the House on July 16 in passing legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), which was supported by NCSL, was approved by a vote of 81-17. The bill includes an NCSL-endorsed amendment that would require “representatives of state legislatures” to be consulted on the state Title I plan, and it would also provide states more flexibility than existing law in designing state accountability systems and implementing strategies to support struggling schools. Next step is conference negotiations, which are expected to begin in September. Be on the lookout for a side-by-side comparison of S. 1177 and the House-passed reauthorization, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), this week. NCSL staff contacts: Lee Posey, Ben Schaefer

STOPGAP ON TAP FOR FEDERAL BUDGET. “We’re going to need a CR.” Those were the words from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week, echoing a conclusion many in Congress have arrived at in recent weeks. Despite appropriators in the House and Senate completing all 12 spending bills for the first time in five years, Congress is no closer to completing a federal budget and thus essentially ensuring another continuing resolution will be needed by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown. The House, having approved half of the dozen appropriations bills, stalled in recent weeks due to limited remaining legislative days in session and contentious programs left in the remaining spending measures, while the Senate has yet to pass an appropriations bill. All signs point to another budget agreement similar to the bipartisan deals struck in 2011 and 2013. While negotiations between the administration and congressional leadership have yet to begin, discussions will likely center on how to address the looming reductions from sequestration, which is currently scheduled to resume at the beginning of the 2016 federal fiscal year in October. NCSL staff contact: Jeff Hurley

A FALL OF FISCAL CLIFFS. Deadlines, stopgaps and reauthorizations. The past few years have been full of fiscal cliffs that have led to uncertainty at both the federal and state level, and the remainder of the 2015 calendar year appears to be no different. In addition to approving at least one continuing resolution and finding consensus on funding and financing infrastructure programs (see sections above), Congress will need to address a number of other looming deadlines. The nation’s statutory debt limit, which technically expired this past spring but has been extended with the help of the Treasury Department’s “extraordinary measures,” is slated to be breached in November. And for the third straight year, Congress must determine the fate of the “tax extender” package, which will need to be retroactively extended. Last week the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation that would extend a majority of these provisions until the end of 2016, including the state and local deduction on sales taxes. NCSL will provide updates in the months ahead. NCSL staff contact: Jeff Hurley

NCSL WARNS AGAINST REDUCING LAW ENFORCMENT FUNDING. NCSL joined a number of law enforcement groups voicing concern on legislation that would restrict resources for state and local law enforcement agencies. Despite opposition to this provision, the House approved the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, H.R. 3009, on Thursday by a vote of 241-179. In seeking to encourage “sanctuary cities” to enforce federal immigration law, H.R. 3009 would limit funding for law enforcement agencies and impede the ability of state and local governments from preventing crime. A “sanctuary city” essentially refers to a city that limits assistance to federal immigration agents for detaining unauthorized immigrants. In particular, funding for COPS, SCAAP and Byrne JAG, the largest justice assistance grant to states, would be reduced under this legislation. The coalition letter instead urges Congress to pursue alternative methods that would not reduce funding for law enforcement and criminal justice. NCSL staff contact: Susan Frederick

THE BUZZ ON POLLINATORS. NCSL submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week in support of recent federal efforts to develop management practices and enhance pollinator habitat on federally managed lands. Why does this matter? Pollinator populations have fallen in recent decades, and given the nation’s dependence on pollinators for crop production, their reduction poses serious agriculture and economic risks. Signed by Co-chairs of NCSL’s Agriculture Task Force, Senator Rita Hart (Iowa) and Representative Justin Cronin (S.D.), the letter encourages EPA “to assess the effects of pesticides and parasites impacting bees and other pollinator and take corresponding action.” NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon

NCSL COMMENTS ON MANAGED CARE PROGRAMS. NCSL submitted comments to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) today on a proposed rule on Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) managed care programs, their comprehensive quality strategies, and third-party liability (CMS–2390-P). The proposed rule makes significant changes to key operational components of both programs, and has an overarching goal of aligning the rules governing Medicaid managed care and CHIP with other major sources of healthcare coverage. The comments express NCSLs’ appreciation for granting states flexibility in the development of network adequacy standards, and a new proposal that will allow states flexibility to pay for time-limited care for institutions for mental disease (IMDs). The comments also urge CMS to consider the following state concerns: (1) the proposed rule creates an unprecedented expansion of the federal role in administration and oversight of the Medicaid and CHIP managed care programs; and (2) that the substantial number of new requirements proposed will create an untenable administrative and financial burden on state programs. NCSL staff contacts: Joy Wilson, Rachel Morgan

Capitol to Capitol is a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the premier bipartisan organization representing the interest of states, territories and commonwealths. The conference operates from offices in Denver and Washington, D.C.