Federal Advocacy Update: Week Ending May 6, 2016

In this issue:

  • Take Action on Infrastructure Investment
  • NLC Urges House Action on Brownfields Reauthorization
  • House Poised to Act on Legislation to Address Opioid Epidemic Next Week
  • E-Fairness Headed to Supreme Court? 
  • NLC Honors FAST Act Champions
  • Senate Committee Advances Water Resources Bill
  • FCC Releases Final Lifeline Order
  • DOL Paid Leave Analysis Grant Funding Available
  • New Local Broadband Planning Assistance Available
  • Rescheduled: 10 Years of the Roberts Court for State and Local Governments Webinar

Take Action on Infrastructure Investment

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

I-Week Logo

From May 16 through May 23, NLC and its partners around the United States are celebrating Infrastructure Week 2016 to raise awareness about our nation's infrastructure investment needs. Cities construct and maintain the majority of our nation's infrastructure and depend on a solid infrastructure network to provide services and clean water, keep goods moving, provide safe and healthy communities to their residents, and grow their local economies. That's why we need you to join us during Infrastructure Week in calling on Congress to invest in infrastructure.

As NLC leaders and our partners converge on Capitol Hill, join us from home for our virtual infrastructure advocacy day. Sign up today and you'll receive a reminder the morning of May 18 to send a letter to your congressional delegation urging them to make infrastructure investment a priority.

And if you want to go the extra mile during Infrastructure Week, help us continue our push to protect the tax exemption on municipal bonds by taking one or several of the actions in our toolkit. Tax exempt municipal bonds are the primary way that state and local governments finance infrastructure and with your help we can protect this critical tool.

In addition to advocating for better investment in infrastructure, click here to learn more about the events NLC is hosting throughout the week or email your questions to advocacy@nlc.org.

NLC Urges House Action on Brownfields Reauthorization

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

This week, NLC urged House Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leadership to develop and pass legislation reauthorizing and improving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program.

With last month's passage of a brownfields reauthorization bill in the Senate, attention now turns to the House where two committees have jurisdiction over the program. While there is broad bipartisan support for the program, and both committees have held hearings, neither has yet to draft a bill for consideration.

NLC supports the Senate version of the Brownfields bill, but is also asking Congress to go further in addressing local government liability concerns in acquiring contaminated properties where the local government had no role in creating the contamination. The current law creates a disincentive for local governments and is a barrier to the cleanup and productive reuse of brownfields properties in communities nationwide.

In meetings with both Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff this week, it is clear that there is interest from both sides of the aisle in developing and advancing a bill this year that addresses many of the local government concerns.

House Poised to Act on Legislation to Address Opioid Epidemic Next Week

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

Last week, the House Judiciary and the Energy and Commerce Committees marked up more than a dozen opioid-related bills. The House is expected to consider the bills as a package when it returns from recess next week. The package includes provisions to establish a grant program at the Department of Justice (DOJ) that can be used to develop alternatives to incarceration; train state and local public safety personnel on substance abuse disorder and mental illness; increase funding for mental health, drug abuse, and veteran's courts; and raise the limit on the number of patients that doctors can treat with drugs to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.

The House package, however, is missing some key components that are in the Senate's Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA, S. 524), which passed with NLC's support on March 10. The missing components include the establishment of a grant program to develop community-based recovery services and new consumer education and awareness programs.

NLC will continue our outreach to key Representatives in the House and urge their support of additional funding for community-based recovery services and prevention education programs.

E-Fairness Headed to Supreme Court?

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

In March 2015, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion stating that the "legal system should find an appropriate case for this Court to reexamine Quill." A new challenge coming out of South Dakota might be just the case Justice Kennedy had in mind.

In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, decided in 1992, the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. Justice Kennedy criticized Quill in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl for many of the same reasons the State and Local Legal Center stated in its amicus brief. Specifically, internet sales have risen astronomically since 1992 and states are unable to collect most taxes due on sales from out-of-state vendors.

While a number of state legislatures have considered or passed legislation requiring remote vendors to collect sales tax, South Dakota's law is the first to generate a lawsuit. On April 28, South Dakota filed a declaratory judgment action asking a state circuit court to declare its law constitutional. The next day the American Catalog Mailers Association and Netchoice filed a declaratory judgment action asking for the opposite result.

South Dakota acknowledges that, for it to win, the circuit court will have to abrogate Quill v. North Dakota, a step that any lower court would be more than reticent to take. All lower courts are required to follow rulings of the United States Supreme Court.

Numerous features of the South Dakota law indicate it is fast-tracked for U.S. Supreme Court review. First, the law requires the circuit court to act on the state's declaratory judgment "as expeditiously as possible." Second, any appeal must only be made to the South Dakota Supreme Court, who must also hear the case "as expeditiously as possible."

While the law is being litigated South Dakota cannot require out-of-state vendors to collect sales tax.

South Dakota may very well lose before both the state circuit court and the South Dakota Supreme Court. For U.S. Supreme Court review, four of the nine (eight) Supreme Court Justices must agree to hear the case. Five votes to win!

NLC Honors FAST Act Champions

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

President's Award

NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean visited Capitol Hill during the week of April 18 to honor Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), and Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA) with the NLC President's Award for their hard work on the FAST Act five-year transportation bill.

The NLC President's Award recognizes the accomplishments of individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to cities and towns as centers of opportunity, innovation, and leadership; and who have displayed outstanding commitment to improving the intergovernmental partnership.

The FAST Act, which provides long-term funding certainty for our nation's transportation network and puts more money in the hands of local leaders, would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer, and House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio.

During her visit, President Colbert-Kean also met with U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez to discuss Secretary Foxx's recent announcement of three guiding principles that will bring a new focus to equity and local control of our transportation network. In the meeting, President Colbert-Kean pledged NLC's full support to the initiative. NLC looks forward to building upon these principles and ensuring that decisions about how to spend transportation dollars in our cities are made by our cities.

Mendez Meeting

Senate Committee Advances Water Resources Bill

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee introduced and passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, S. 2848) to authorize 25 flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 17 states. Led by Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the $9 billion bill, which NLC supports, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 19-1.

In a departure from traditional water resources bills, S. 2848 includes a number of broad provisions to update and improve water infrastructure nationwide, as well as address the ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Of the $9 billion, about half would support clean water and drinking water infrastructure for Flint and other communities. To read more about the key provisions in the legislation for local governments, click here.

Senators Inhofe and Boxer would like to see the bill brought to the floor for a vote before the summer recess, however, the specific timeframe has not yet been determined. Meanwhile, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leadership has yet to unveil a bill, but hopes to do so by the end of the month. There is less interest on the House side of including the broader water infrastructure proposals that are included in the Senate bill, therefore we expect to see a more traditional WRDA bill from the committee.

In addition to the Senate's action, this week President Obama was in Flint to demonstrate the ways the federal government is supporting the response and recovery. NLC continues to call on Congress and the Administration to provide direct assistance to the City of Flint, Michigan to resolve the drinking water crisis, support economic recovery, and support robust funding for water infrastructure nationwide.

FCC Releases Final Lifeline Order

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released final details of its modernization of the Lifeline program, nearly a month after its contentious vote on the matter. The Lifeline program is the FCC's program to help make communications services more affordable for low-income consumers. NLC, along with cities around the nation, spoke out in support of the modernization order and its contribution to closing the digital divide between high- and low-income households.

The final order expands the Lifeline program to include broadband subscriptions, beginning December 1, 2016. It also outlines a plan for a gradual phase-out of subsidies for telephone-only (versus bundled with broadband internet) service by 2021. Lifeline subsidy beneficiaries will receive a $9.25 per month subsidy for broadband service or a broadband/phone bundled subscription.

In addition, the final order changes the eligibility requirements for participants of the program: subsidy recipients must either meet the current program's income threshold, or participate in other federal low-income programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit. Notably, participation in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, National School Lunch Program's free lunch program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will no longer automatically qualify recipients to participate.

The final order also addresses concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse by establishing a national third-party verifier of eligibility for participation. Previously, eligibility verification was handled directly by phone companies, forcing consumers to provide the companies with personal income information, and increasing the chances of excess, inappropriate, or duplicate granting of Lifeline subsidies to households.

DOL Paid Leave Analysis Grant Funding Available

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Continuing its efforts to help jurisdictions develop policies that meet the realities of today's working families, this Thursday the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the availability of $1 million in grant funding to research and analyze how paid-leave programs can be developed and implemented across the country. Now in its third year of funding, the 2016 Paid Leave Analysis Grant program competition is open to cities and townships that have a minimum estimated population of at least 50,000 residents.

To help prospective applicants, DOL's Employment and Training Administration, along with the Women's Bureau, will host a webinar on Thursday, May 12, at 2:00pm EDT. Click here to register for the webinar.

For more information on how to apply before the June 6 deadline, click here to view the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

New Local Broadband Planning Assistance Available

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a new tool for local leaders to build a "broadband roadmap" in their communities and assist in creating and planning broadband goals. The tool guides local officials and other stakeholders through a complete process of engaging city staff and stakeholders, assessing local resources and needs, creating goals, and formulating a plan for success. It also includes guidance and case studies from existing communities' roadmaps on planning for increased infrastructure, public private partnerships, and programs focused on increasing residents' technical skills and adoption of broadband.

To learn more about what increased connectivity could mean in your city, and to learn more about how to create a winning plan in your own community, join NLC, the National Association of Counties (NACo), and NTIA on Monday, May 16 for a two-part webinar. Part 1 of the series (1 - 2pm EDT) will provide an overview of the community broadband landscape, offer examples of successful local broadband initiatives and discuss resources available to help cities and counties get connected and get citizens online. Part 2 of the series (2 - 3pm EDT) will dive deeper and focus on how to bring your broadband goals to life by planning a successful broadband project.

Rescheduled: 10 Years of the Roberts Court for State and Local Governments Webinar

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

In cases big and small, involving issues ranging from race to religion, federalism to free speech, many, if not most, Roberts Court decisions have affected state and local governments. Join Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSblog and Goldstein & Russell, Adam Liptak, New York Times, and David Savage, Los Angeles Times, in a discussion about the significant impacts over the last ten years of the Roberts Court on state and local governments.

Date: May 11, 2016
Time: 1:00pm EDT
Register for the webinar here.

*The webinar is FREE. Continuing legal education (CLE) credit is not offered.

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