Federal Advocacy Update: Week Ending June 3, 2016

Russell Senate Office Building
Russell Senate Office Building

In this issue:

Georgia and Florida Local Leaders Fly-In to Washington to Advocate for Cities

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

Last week, city officials from Georgia and Florida traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and the Administration and advocate for city priorities. Following a legislative briefing at NLC's headquarters, Mayor Linda Blechinger of Auburn, Georgia, and Becky Taylor, Director of Federal Relations at the Georgia Municipal Association, met with several members of the Georgia congressional delegation to advocate for closing the online sales tax loophole by passing e-fairness legislation and preserving the federal tax exemption for municipal bonds.

GMA FLC Flyin
Mayor Linda Blechinger and Becky Taylor meet with Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA); Florida League of Cities FAST Committee on Capitol Hill; Florida city leaders visit NLC for an advocacy strategy session before their Hill meetings. (left to right)


In addition, the Florida League of Cities brought 25 members of the Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) to Washington last week to meet with members of the Florida congressional delegation and key Obama Administration officials. Led by Florida League of Cities President Mayor Matthew Surrency, Hawthorne, and FAST Chair Mayor Frank Ortis, Pembroke Pines, the advocates first received a briefing from NLC's Federal Advocacy team and then traveled to Capitol Hill to press for e-fairness legislation, reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields program, and preservation of the federal tax exemption for municipal bonds.

Is your city or state municipal league planning an advocacy visit to Washington, D.C.? NLC is here to help. Email advocacy@nlc.org for assistance and to coordinate your advocacy efforts.

NLC Tells FCC to Protect Public Access Channels

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

This week, the National League of Cities (NLC), along with the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to carefully consider the impact of its "unlock the box" proposal on local governments. The current proposal would require cable and satellite providers to provide video programming data to other companies wishing to create device or software-based alternatives to rented cable boxes, allowing increased flexibility and cost-savings for consumers, who would no longer need to rent cable boxes from their television providers. Instead consumers could choose a third party device or program that combines video content from several providers into a single navigation system.

In particular, NLC called on the FCC to specifically protect public, educational, and governmental access (PEG) channels in the final rule. Many PEG channels are operated by local governments, which negotiate agreements with cable systems for featured programming guide placement. NLC urged the FCC to specifically protect these programming guide agreements from modification by a third party.

NLC also encouraged the FCC to bear in mind potential consumer protection concerns with third party devices. Because many local governments are charged with protecting local consumers and have existing relationships with local cable providers, NLC asked the FCC to clarify how consumers would be protected in the new set-top box market.

To read more about the FCC's plan to "unlock the box," click here.

Local Governments Protected in Supreme Court WOTUS Ruling

Priya Ghosh Ahola, 202.626.3015

In a victory for local governments, this week the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States Army Corp of Engineers v. Hawkes that an approved jurisdictional determination (JD) that property contains "waters of the United States" may be immediately reviewed in court. The National League of Cities (NLC) filed an amicus brief in the case arguing in favor of this result.

Under the Clean Water Act, "waters of the United States" (WOTUS) are federally regulated. Property owners may seek an approved JD from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers definitively stating whether such waters are present or absent on a particular parcel of land.

The amicus brief pointed out that local governments would be negatively affected as landowners and partners with the business community responsible for economic development and capital infrastructure planning if judicial review of JDs is not possible. The Court agreed that neither alternative to judicial review is adequate. Proceeding without a permit could lead to civil penalties of up to $37,500 a day; seeking a permit can be "arduous, expensive, and long." For more information on this case, click here.

House Committee Advances Water Resources Bill

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously passed by a voice vote the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, H.R. 5303) to authorize 28 flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Led by Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the $5 billion bill, which NLC supports, is a more traditional approach to the water resources bill than what passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month.

Similar to the Senate bill NLC also supports, H.R. 5303 follows the new submittal and review process established in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act by authorizing projects that were proposed at the local level and submitted to Congress by the Corps for water resources infrastructure priorities. This new process allows cities to have greater input in which projects are selected. The bill also includes a provision to ensure that the money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is used for its intended purpose of harbor maintenance.

The Senate hopes to bring its version of WRDA to the floor for a vote this month, while the timeframe for the House bill to hit the floor remains uncertain.

Environment and Energy Appropriations Bills See Action

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 appropriations bills that fund the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) saw action in the House.

On the environment side, the Interior-Environment appropriations bill, which also funds the U.S. Department of Interior, passed the subcommittee by a voice vote. The bill includes a total of $2.1 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds ($1 billion for clean water and $1.1 billion for drinking water, a slight decrease for clean water and a slight increase for drinking water over FY 2016), $50 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, level funding for the Brownfields program at $80 million, and a slight increase for the Superfund program at $1.1 billion.

The bill also includes a number of policy riders, including prohibitions on EPA from implementing new greenhouse gas regulations for new and existing power plants and making changes to the definition of "navigable waters" under the Clean Water Act (the Agency's Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rules respectively). It is not clear when the House Appropriations Committee will take up the Interior-Environment measure.

On the energy side, the Energy-Water appropriations bill, which also funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was rejected on the House floor by a vote of 112-305 after heated debates over a number of non-related issues ground the process to a halt.

The bill includes level funding at $212 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which aims to reduce energy costs for low-income households by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. Overall, the bill would fund DOE energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at $1.8 billion, a decrease of $248 million from FY 2016. It also includes a policy rider to halt implementation of the EPA "Waters of the U.S." rule, drawing a veto threat from the White House.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed its Energy-Water appropriations bill last month by a vote of 90-8, largely keeping the bill free from controversial policy riders. The bill includes $214.6 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program. Overall, the bill includes level funding at $2 billion for DOE energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

NLC will continue to monitor the progress of these appropriations bills and urge Congress to adequately fund these programs that are important to cities and towns.

IRS Proposed Rule Could Put Political Subdivisions at Risk

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

In comments filed with the IRS last week, NLC raised concerns with proposed changes to the definition of a political subdivision for purposes of issuing tax exempt debt. NLC told the IRS the proposed rules would have far-reaching scope and potential negative impacts on political subdivisions across the U.S. and would add extensive and additional federal requirements on top of the existing State powers requirement. The proposed changes would put at risk not just a political subdivision's ability to issue future tax-exempt bonds, but if enacted, may subject the subdivision to remedial action that may be costly to the community it serves.

The proposed rules set forth a new, three-part federal test to define political subdivisions in order for these entities to issue tax-exempt debt. Every entity would have to meet all three tests to be a political subdivision. If an entity fails even one test, it would not be considered a political subdivision under the rule. Under the new test, the entity must: (1) have right to exercise a substantial amount of at least one of three sovereign powers (the power of eminent domain, power of taxation and the police power); (2) serve a governmental purpose; and (3) be an entity over which a state or local government exercises control.

While the proposed rules make clear that the intent of the rule is to adopt safeguards to prevent potential abuses, the application of them NLC argued would have an overreaching effect for all political subdivisions that are well established, formed within State law and presently providing significant public benefit.

Zika Virus: What Cities Need to Know

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

With the summer season underway and concerns over the spread of Zika virus growing, now is the time for cities to learn about the disease and the steps you can take to ensure your community is educated and prepared. Join the National League of Cities and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a webinar to hear the latest on the federal government's response and to learn what city leaders can do.

Date: June 6, 2016
Time: 1:30 PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

Final Overtime Rule Webinar for State and Local Governments

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the publication of the long-awaited final overtime rule, which will extend overtime eligibility to more than 4 million additional workers within the first year of implementation and boost wages by $12 billion over the next 10 years. To help cities better understand the final rule, the Department of Labor is hosting a free webinar on June 8 on the applicability of the rule to state and local governments. Click below to register. For more information on the new rule, click here.

Date: June 8, 2016 
Time: 1:00 PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

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