Federal Relations Update

January 27, 2012
Federal Relations Update is a member service from the National League of Cities.
Period Ending January 27, 2012

NLC Responds to President’s State of the Union Speech

House Committee Passes Eminent Domain Bill

HUD Announces CDBG Formula Allocations for FY2012

DOT Issues Proposed Transit Guidelines

Congress Passes Another FAA Extension

FHFA Initiates Rulemaking on PACE

NLC Files Amicus Brief to Limit Retaliatory Arrest Claims

Firefighter Hiring and Retention Grant Application Period Opens

NLC Submits Comments on Lead and Copper Rule Revisions


NLC Responds to President’s State of the Union Speech
Carolyn Coleman, coleman @nlc.org, 202.626.3023


On Tuesday, NLC President Ted Ellis, mayor of Bluffton, Indiana, issued a statement following the President’s State of the Union address calling on Congress and the Administration to take a page from local government leaders who continue to make difficult choices in a difficult economic climate.

“We are glad the President agrees with us that it is time for Washington to work towards finding solutions and making the strategic investments in the infrastructure and human capital the nation needs to remain competitive for decades to come,” he said. “To everyone in Washington we say: Campaign on your record and not with people’s lives. It’s time to get to work.” Click here to read Mayor Ellis’ full statement.

As part of its advocacy agenda this year, NLC will push for the Obama Administration and Congress to: pass a new transportation bill; protect funding for the Community Development Block Grant and other federal programs that support investment in cities in towns; level the playing field by providing cities with authority to collect taxes on internet sales; and reauthorize federal education and job training programs.

House Committee Passes Eminent Domain Bill
Mike Wallace, wallace@nlc.org, 202.626.3025


On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Private Property Rights Protection Act (H.R. 1433), which limits government authority to exercise eminent domain.  Specifically, the bill prohibits states and localities from using eminent domain for “economic development” — a response to the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London that affirmed the right of a city to use eminent domain to secure land for proposed private commercial development.  

Since that decision, approximately 40 states have passed new laws clarifying or limiting local eminent domain authority.  The House bill would preempt state and local laws by penalizing states or local governments with a two-year ban on receiving federal economic development funds if they are found to have used eminent domain for economic development purposes.  The bill identifies specific safe categories under which exercising eminent domain would not be considered economic development, including development of roads, airports, railroads, flood control areas, acquiring abandoned property, and clearing defective chains of title.  

NLC opposes the bill and continues to maintain that states and local governments are best suited to govern the use of eminent domain.

HUD Announces CDBG Formula Allocations for FY2012
Mike Wallace, wallace@nlc.org, 202.626.3025


This week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made public all FY2012 grant allocations to cities and states for CDBG, HOME and other grants under Community Planning and Development.  Although Congress reduced CDBG funding by nearly 12 percent in FY2012, several cities saw larger or smaller cuts because newer, more up-to-date census data provided by the American Community Survey was used in the formula to determine the allocations.  

The differences in funding reductions among grant recipients have revived criticisms of the CDBG formula, which could complicate efforts to secure an overall increase in CDBG funding in FY2013.

DOT Issues Proposed Transit Guidelines
Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029


This week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) released proposed guidelines for major new transit projects that expand the criteria for receiving federal assistance to include local economic development and sustainability goals and reduce the time it takes for DOT recommendations.  The guidelines come in response to local concerns over projects delays that increase costs to communities and would make it easier for communities to consider a range of transit options that best meet their needs, such as streetcars and rapid bus services.   

The proposed changes, which NLC supports, are contained in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to streamline the evaluation and rating of New Starts and Small Starts projects, published in two separate notices in this week’s Federal Register.  The $2 billion New Starts and Small Starts program is one of the largest discretionary grant programs available to local governments and provide funding for projects such as rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and ferries.  Comments are due March 22 and may be submitted via Regulations.gov.  FTA also plans to hold a number public listening sessions and an online informational webinar.

Congress Passes Another FAA Extension
Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029

On Tuesday, the House passed a 17-day short-term extension of federal aviation programs, funding programs at current levels until February 17.  The Senate followed suit on Thursday, and the extension now awaits approval by the President.   This marks the 23rd extension of the programs, which were set to expire on January 31.  Programs key to local governments in the bill include funding for Airport Improvement Grants to municipal airports and the Essential Air Services program which funds airports in small communities that would otherwise not receive commercial air service.


FHFA Initiates Rulemaking on PACE
Carolyn Berndt, berndt@nlc.org, 202.626.3101 and Mike Wallace, wallace@nlc.org, 202.626.3025


On Thursday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), responding to a court order, issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on adopting guidance concerning mortgages that are or could be affected by Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs.

FHFA is seeking comments on conditions and restrictions relating to PACE, the financial risks to mortgage lenders and holders and homeowners, other available financing mechanisms, and underwriting standards.  Comments will be accepted through March 26. NLC supports local authority to implement PACE programs and will submit comments prior to the deadline.  If your city or town files comments, please be sure to share them with NLC.

NLC Files Amicus Brief to Limit Retaliatory Arrest Claims
Lars Etzkorn, etzkorn@nlc.org, 202.626.3173


This week, NLC signed onto an amicus curiae brief filed by the State and Local Legal Center urging the Supreme Court to bar First Amendment retaliatory arrest claims supported by probable cause because such claims are easy for a citizen to allege and difficult for a police officer to disprove.

The case, Reichle v. Howards, stemmed from an arrest made by agents protecting former Vice President Dick Cheney and a citizen who, in the process of speaking critically about the Bush Administration’s war policies, physically touched the Vice President.   

The brief argues that failure to bar these types of claims may interfere with a local governments’ ability to ensure public safety.  The brief also argues, based on Court precedent, police officers in such cases are entitled to qualified immunity because the Court held previously that retaliatory prosecution claims are barred if probable cause supports the prosecution.  

The International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the National Association of Counties, the National Governors Association and the United States Conference of Mayors also joined NLC in signing on to the brief.

Firefighter Hiring and Retention Grant Application Period Opens
Mitchel Herckis, herckis@nlc.org, 202.626.3124


On Monday, January 30, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will begin accepting grant applications for the FY2011 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program.  SAFER provides funding to assist communities in hiring new firefighters, retaining existing ones, and rehiring those who have been recently released.  The grant provides funding over a two year period.  For FY2011, there are no limits on the annual salary of those hired, and no prescribed cost-share for localities.  While there is no retention requirement, layoffs of firefighters are not allowed during the grant period.

The FY 2011 SAFER Grant Program Guidance and Application Kit is available on the Assistance to Firefighters Grant website.  Grant applications will be accepted through Friday, February 24 at 5:00 PM EST.

NLC Submits Comments on Lead and Copper Rule Revisions
Carolyn Berndt, berndt@nlc.org, 202.626.3101


Earlier this month, NLC and the U.S. Conference of Mayors submitted a joint letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlining the organizations’ comments and concerns about the agency’s forthcoming proposed regulatory revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). The LCR is a drinking water regulation that requires monitoring and treatment techniques to control lead and copper corrosion in drinking water systems.

EPA is considering changes to the current rule in five key areas: sample site selection criteria, lead sample protocol, public education for copper, measures to ensure optimal corrosion control treatment, and lead service line replacement. The agency plans to issue a proposed rule in fall 2012 and to promulgate a final rule in 2013. The LCR revisions could become effective in 2016; click here for more information on the rule revisions.