CONGRESS CLOSES IN ON LONG-TERM TRANSPORTATION BILL. The House overwhelmingly approved (363-64) a $325 billion, six-year transportation reauthorization package—the Surface Transportation Reform and Reauthorization Act—on Thursday, setting up a conference committee with the Senate. The current authorization expires on Nov. 20. Funding remains an issue as both the House and Senate failed to fully fund their reauthorization bills, leaving a gap in funding in the out years. NCSL was successful in blocking an amendment that would have reduced the amount of federal funding for infrastructure projects that go directly to states, instead diverting these funds to local governments and planning organizations. Also attached to both the House and Senate bills is reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which NCSL supported. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon (transportation generally); Jon Jukuri (Export-Import bank)
BEYOND THE BUDGET DEAL. With the enactment of a two-year budget deal, Congress now turns its attention to finalizing FY 2016 spending bills and determining where to apply additional funding provided in the budget deal. The Bipartisan Budget Act was signed into law by the president last Monday, after receiving bipartisan support in the House and Senate, passing by votes of 266-167 and 64-35, respectively. Included in the package are a suspension of the debt limit until March 2017, relief for Medicare beneficiaries who faced rising premiums, and modifications to the Social Security disability trust fund to ensure its solvency in the near future. While the deal increases the discretionary spending cap in FY 2016 by $50 billion, lawmakers have less than five weeks to pass an omnibus spending agreement before the current continuing resolution expires on Dec. 11—and a government shutdown is not off the table. A number of controversial policy riders, ranging from financial regulations to Planned Parenthood, loom as potential landmines to achieving bipartisan consensus on an omnibus package. The Senate, having yet to approve any appropriations measures, is expected to consider its first spending bill, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, later this week. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contact: Jeff Hurley
NCSL WELCOMES HOUSE SPEAKER RYAN. NCSL last week congratulated Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on his election to serve as the 54th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Speaker Ryan previously served as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, and more recently the House Ways and Means Committee. Signed by Senators Curt Bramble (Utah) and Michael Gronstal (Iowa), NCSL’s President and President-elect, the letter urges Speaker Ryan to consider several state-federal initiatives: reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), enactment of the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA) or similar efairness legislation, and congressional adoption of a long-term surface transportation bill.
PROVIDING THE FULL SPECTRUM. NCSL voiced support of federal legislation to provide incentives to encourage government agencies to free up spectrum for commercial purposes and urged lawmakers to resolve the spectrum crunch. The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act would help address the perpetual need for increased spectrum in the marketplace, an initiative targeted in 2010’s National Broadband Plan issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). To date, the FCC has only released 150 MHz of the desired 500 MHz outlined in the plan. This does not include a provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act (see above) which calls for the identification and auction of 30 MHz of federal spectrum as a cost savings to offset its budget increase. NCSL staff contact: Jon Adame
A PLAN FOR THE UNMANNED. The Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration last month established a joint task force to offer recommendations on the registration and safety requirements of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones. In response, NCSL urged the task force to incorporate the expertise and perspective of state legislators. A majority of states have already enacted or passed resolutions addressing UAS devices, covering perspectives on economic development, state regulation and use by law enforcement. In addition, NCSL formed a steering committee last year to discuss state policy issues related to UAS and learn about the many uses these devices have on private businesses and governments. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon
BUILDING THE STATES’ AGENDA. We are only one month away from NCSL’s Capitol Forum! A reminder that the deadline for all policy directors and resolutions for consideration must be submitted to the directors of the D.C. office by Wednesday, Nov. 11. For more information, please view a summary of the NCSL standing committee policy process. Policies that are adopted by their respective standing committee will be voted on at NCSL’s General Business Meeting on Friday, Dec. 11, at 11:15 a.m.
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.