Federal Relations Update

February 24, 2012
Federal Relations Update is a member service from the National League of Cities.
Period Ending February 24, 2012

Hometown Priorities Get Support in President’s Budget

Payroll Tax Extension Paves Way for Public Safety Communications Network

Senators Urged to Support Transportation Amendments Important to Cities

U.S. Supreme Court Reprioritizes Public Works Priorities

NLC Files Broadband Reply Comments with FCC

Senators Introduce Sweeping Bipartisan Cybersecurity Legislation


Hometown Priorities Get Support in President’s Budget
Carolyn Coleman, coleman @nlc.org, 202.626.3023


Last week, President Obama unveiled his fourth federal budget proposal, a $3.8 trillion proposal that, among other things, would provide $50 billion for immediate transportation investments, $30 billion to modernize schools, $30 billion to hire teachers and first responders and $2.9 billion to support workforce development training programs.

NLC President Ted Ellis, mayor of Bluffton, Ind., said that city leaders are pleased with the overall direction of the budget, which tries to mix spending cuts with important investments in infrastructure and human capital. However, more can be done to give city governments the flexibility and resources to create opportunities at the local level. For more details about the President’s budget proposal, click here.

Payroll Tax Extension Paves Way for Public Safety Communications Network
 Mitchel Herckis, herckis@nlc.org, 202.626.3124

Last Friday, Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (H.R. 3630), an extension of the payroll tax cut through the end of the year.  Also included in the bill is language that will provide first responders with the spectrum, funding, and governing structure necessary to build a nationwide public safety broadband network.  The President signed the bill into law yesterday.

Under this legislation, the current patchwork of local voice-only first responder communications will be replaced with a modern nationwide 4G LTE wireless network dedicated and built specifically for public safety uses.  The network will allow first responders to share documents, text, pictures, and videos in real time, as well as create applications that will allow for more effective and efficient use of public safety resources.

The final compromise allocated $7 billion for building and maintaining the nationwide network and funding for Next Generation 9-1-1 technologies.

In addition to reallocation of the 700 MHz “D-Block” of radio spectrum, public safety will retain the nationwide public safety “narrowband” spectrum currently used for land mobile radio communication,  ensuring that responders will be able to utilize both mission critical voice and modern 4G wireless broadband services to communicate in almost every emergency situation.  However, in exchange for the reallocated spectrum, public safety utilizing the “T-Band” (470-512 MHz) will be required to transition off of it over the next decade.  For many localities, this will mean changing how public safety communications are handled.

To assist localities, the legislation authorizes funding to assist affected state and local governments in relocating from the T-Band, and the administration has stated its intent to provide regulatory assistance. NLC will provide additional information as it becomes available.


Senators Urged to Support Transportation Amendments Important to Cities
Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029


After a week-long recess, the Senate will resume debate on MAP-21 (S.1813), the two-year surface transportation authorization bill funding federal highway, transit, and bridge programs, next week. The Senate still must address a number of unrelated and highly controversial amendments that will be part of the debate before working on numerous transportation-related amendments.

NLC is asking city officials to contact their senators and urge their support for several local government amendments that will be offered during Senate debate, including:

Casey-Blunt Amendment to Restore Funding for Off-System Bridges

S. 1813 collapses federal bridge programs into a larger program for states to spend on all transportation programs and eliminates a 15 percent set-aside for off-system bridges, which funds local bridges. This amendment would maintain the set-aside for bridges not on the federal-aid system, which has been in place since 1978 and has been of substantial help to local governments in their efforts to upgrade local bridges.


Cardin-Cochran Additional Activities Amendment

The Senate bill creates a new program called “Additional Activities,” which includes a broad range of eligible projects including main street revitalizations, local street safety improvements, street and boulevard redesigns, bus stop and rail station access improvements, Safe Routes to Schools, Recreational Trails, and others. This amendment would make the Additional Activities program a competitive grant program for local governments, giving local elected leaders more control over how to spend the funds.

Shaheen Amendment to Grandfather Existing Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO)


Current law provides that areas over 50,000 in population are designated as an MPO and have regional planning responsibilities and decision making authority over transportation and other projects in their region. S.1813 would increase the threshold to 200,000 in population and set up new criteria for remaining an MPO. The Shaheen amendment would grandfather in existing MPOs.


In the House, leadership has not announced how they will proceed with their chamber’s version of transportation legislation (H.R. 7), which was mired in controversy prior to this week’s recess. Concerns over changes in funding to end the 30-year dedicated funding for transit programs out of gas tax revenues—opposed by NLC and some 600 other groups—was a key source of opposition to the bill and forced leadership to pull the bill off the table until after the recess. When the House does resume deliberation, the Rules Committee will have to decide what to do with the more than 300 amendments that have been proposed.

Please continue to check the NLC website for the most recent information on the transportation legislation debate.

U.S. Supreme Court Reprioritizes Public Works Priorities
Lars Etzkorn, etzkorn@nlc.org, 202.626.3173


In what could upend public works programs throughout the county, the U.S. Supreme Court this week declined Tuesday to hear an appeal by the City of Arlington, Texas, asking the court to clarify whether sidewalks are programs or facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and thus whether cities have an affirmative duty to rebuild existing sidewalks to ADA standards before they would be rebuilt under existing timelines.  NLC joined a brief filed by the Texas Municipal League to preserve the discretion of municipal officials to determine when to rebuild sidewalks without federal mandates.  The case, Frame v. Arlington, now returns to the trial court to determine which sidewalks are accessible and which are not. 

NLC Files Broadband Reply Comments with FCC
Laura Bonavita, bonavita@nlc.org, 202.626.3037

On February 17, NLC joined the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors in filing reply comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of a proposal advanced by several public interest groups recommending that the agency impose interconnection obligations on Universal Service Fund (USF) recipients to help community and local networks provide better broadband services to their residents.

In the comments, the groups expressed support for the establishment of a funding mechanism that could be used by community and local networks to upgrade and build-out their broadband systems under USF reform, particularly in unserved areas of the country.  Click here to view the comments.


Senators Introduce Sweeping Bipartisan Cybersecurity Legislation
Mitchel Herckis, herckis@nlc.org, 202.626.3124


On February 14, Senators Lieberman (D-CT), Collins (R-ME), Rockefeller (D-WV), and Feinstein (D-CA) introduced comprehensive, bipartisan cybersecurity legislation that would provide for methods of greater sharing of cyber threat information among public and private entities, as well as between federal, state, and local governments.  While the time frame for consideration is unclear, Senate Majority Leader Reid has indicated that the bill is a priority for passage this session.

The bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 2105), would also allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide analysis of critical infrastructure and recommend protective action to those entities.  At the highest level critical infrastructure, where a disruption or attack could mean a massive threat to the lives of citizens or national security, DHS will have the ability to provide prescriptive measures and require those entities to maintain specific levels of cybersecurity.

NLC supports greater information sharing and greater collaboration among various government and non-governmental entities on cybersecurity and is reviewing the implications of the bill’s prescriptive performance requirements on covered critical infrastructure owned by local governments.