Federal Advocacy Update

With both the House and the Senate adjourning for the summer recess, the next issue of the Federal Advocacy Update will be published on Friday, September 9. When Congress reconvenes on September 6, they will face deadlines to pass spending bills to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. It promises to be a busy fall with issues important to cities and towns front and center.

In this issue:

Congress Sends Bill to Combat Opioid Abuse to the President 

Yucel Ors, 202.636.6124

Before leaving for the national political conventions and the summer recess, Congress completed work on legislation to combat the rise in opioid abuse, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, S. 524. The bill, which will now go to the President for signature, establishes programs in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to improve the treatment of individuals with substance abuse disorders by authorizing grants to expand drug treatment and recovery programs, including:

  • Enhancing collaboration between criminal justice and substance abuse agencies; 
  • Developing, implementing, or expanding programs to prevent, treat, or respond to opioid abuse; 
  • Training first responders to administer opioid overdose reversal drugs; 
  • Establishing drug take-back programs; 
  • Investigating unlawful opioid distribution activities; 
  • Supporting drug courts and veteran treatment courts;
  • Expanding medication assisted treatment programs;
  • Providing rehabilitation programs; and 
  • Implementing prescription monitoring programs.

While passage of the bill authorizing the grant funds is good news, we still need Congress to appropriate the funds. NLC and the National Association of Counties (NACo) have joined the White House in urging the House and the Senate to finish the job when they reconvene in September and appropriate the necessary funds to implement these much-needed programs.

Congress Passes Year-Long Federal Aviation Administration Extension 

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

In March of this year, the Senate passed their version of a long-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization with broad, bipartisan support. While the House was able to pass their own FAA reauthorization out of committee, disagreements over the committee chairman's efforts to privatize our air traffic control system seemingly kept the bill off of the House floor for a final vote. With time running out and leadership in both chambers unwilling to budge on this issue, they finally agreed to a stop-gap measure this week that will keep the FAA funded through September 2017.

What This Extension Does:
The extension will provide 14 months of funding to existing FAA programs, giving both House and Senate leaders leeway to arrive at a compromise when they return to session in 2017. If the Republicans retain control of the House, Congressman Shuster (R-PA) will hold on to his chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for one more term, and it is likely he will use that time to continue his push for privatization of the air traffic control system.

The short term extension includes a number of policy reforms focused on aviation safety and security, including new requirements for drone operators, strengthened security requirements for foreign airports serving the United States, an expansion of the TSA PreCheck program, and measures ensuring greater efficiency at airport TSA checkpoints. Many of these security provisions come in the wake of the 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels and after numerous highly publicized reports of near-misses between airplanes and drones around American airports.

In a clear victory for cities, the short-term patch does away with a previously proposed plan that would prevent local leaders from imposing common sense regulations on the operation of commercial drones. This comes on the heels of a long-awaited FAA rulemaking on commercial drone operations, which stressed that "certain legal aspects concerning small [drones] use may be best addressed at the state or local level."

The Senate had previously attempted to quietly usher through a provision authored by drone-industry lobbyists that would have provided unprecedented, broad federal preemption over state and local authority. NLC and The United States Conference of Mayors urged Senate leadership to strongly oppose this provision, and despite ongoing efforts by the multi-billion dollar drone industry to keep this provision alive, NLC is pleased to see that both the Senate and House now recognize the important role state and local leaders play in regulating the airspace just feet above our heads and outside our bedroom windows.

What This Extension Does Not Do:
Despite our efforts, the legislation failed to include a legislative fix to a misguided FAA rule that unfairly prevents states and municipalities from spending locally collected sales taxes on local priorities. NLC endorsed an amendment that would have fixed this ongoing issue, which is costing communities millions of dollars in tax revenues, but under the expedited process for passing the short-term extension, no votes were allowed on any amendments.

This issue remains a key priority for NLC, and we will continue working with our partners to ensure it is fixed when FAA reauthorization comes before Congress again in 2017.

NLC Calls on the FRA to Support Quiet Zones

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

This week, the National League of Cities submitted comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regarding the use of locomotive horns at public highway-rail grade crossings. The FRA recently re-opened the train horn rule for comment and amendment due to ongoing concern from city officials.

In the comments, NLC endorsed the Colorado Municipal League's policy suggestions, which called on the FRA to ensure communities can implement quiet zones that are less burdensome and allow for differences in community circumstances while continuing to protect public safety. To read the full comments, click here.

NLC Urges Floor Action on House and Senate Water Infrastructure Bills

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

While time has run out for consideration before the summer recess, NLC is calling on the House and the Senate to take up WRDA bills before the end of the fiscal year.

Last week, NLC along with a coalition of representatives of the drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, flood risk management and local government sectors urged House leadership to move quickly to bring the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 5303, WRDA) up for a vote in the full House. The House WRDA bill authorizes 28 flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The bill passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously by voice vote in May.

Similar to the Senate bill, the House bill 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 on which projects are selected for funding. 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.

In the upper chamber, NLC joined a coalition from the water sector, as well as a wide array of other stakeholders in urging the Senate to move forward with quick floor consideration of their WRDA bill, which, in addition to the traditional WRDA provisions, also includes support for clean water and drinking water infrastructure for Flint and other communities nationwide. Although we're still waiting for a vote, the letters were instrumental in getting a bipartisan group of 30 senators to sign onto a "dear colleague" letter asking for quick consideration.

Appropriations Process Stalls as Congress Begins Recess

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

With the start of the summer recess, time has run out for Congress to send any of the 12 annual appropriations bills to the President's desk for signature before September 30, the end of the current fiscal year. The discussion now turns to a congressional debate over how, and in what manner, the House and Senate will avoid another government shutdown. For now, members of Congress are coalescing into two basic camps - those who want to pass FY 2017 spending bills during a lame duck session before President Obama leaves office, and those that want to effectively freeze funding at current levels until next March, about half the fiscal year. Presidential politics will play heavily into which camp prevails. Regardless, either result means cities should anticipate short-notice delays in the availability of federal funds starting as early as September.

Senate Blocks Effort to Withhold CDBG from "Sanctuary Cities"

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

For the second year in a row, the Senate blocked the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act (S. 3100) from advancing as a provision on federal appropriations bills. If passed, the provision would have forced federal agencies to withhold federal funding, including Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), from local governments that have policies in place to protect local law enforcement officers from being co-opted as immigration enforcement agents by the federal government. Like last year, the provision failed to get the 60 votes needed for further consideration.

In a letter opposing the legislation, NLC united with other local government and community groups to oppose the punitive impact of the bill on local budgets, and moreover, the certain harm that would result in low and moderate income communities who are the primary beneficiaries of the CDBG program.

In past correspondence with Congress, NLC has drawn a line on the issue stating that, while local law enforcement officers have a responsibility to cooperate with the federal government to apprehend specific persons who commit a crime and violate U.S. immigration law, this should not include responsibility for enforcing federal immigration laws or the ongoing detention of individuals merely suspected of violating those laws. Provisions that cross the line would shift the federal responsibility of enforcing civil immigration law to local governments and further divert critical resources from their law enforcement agencies. Such provisions also risk impeding local law enforcement's ability to work with immigrant communities in preventing and solving crimes and, ultimately, compromising the public safety such provisions seek to improve.

Instead of punitive measures such as this, NLC continues to call on Congress to fix the nation's broken immigration system by passing comprehensive immigration reform.

City Leaders Are Heading to the Conventions: Here's What You Need to Know

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

After an exciting primary season rife with surprises, it's finally time for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. On Monday, the National League of Cities (NLC) will head to Cleveland to remind Republican nominee Donald Trump of the most urgent issues cities face. The week after, we'll go to Philadelphia to ask Hilary Clinton to make cities a priority in her campaign.

This election cycle, NLC is focused on three areas cities have told us matter most to them: public safety, the economy and infrastructure investment. The next four years will be a critical time for cities of all sizes, but by engaging the candidates, we can make serious progress on these issues. No matter which candidate you vote for in November, click here to find out how you can play a part in our convention activities and making a brighter future for cities.

For questions about NLC's activities at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, please contact Angelina Panettieri at panettieri@nlc.org. For questions about the NLC's activities at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, please contact Emma Lieberth at lieberth@nlc.org.

Proposed NLC Policy Resolutions and Amendments Due August 31, 2016

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

NLC's National Municipal Policy and Resolutions (NMP) are the foundation for the organization's federal advocacy in policy matters before Congress, the administration, and the courts. The NMP is a permanent statement of NLC's position on federal policy matters that directly affect local governments. Resolutions address timely issues or specific pieces of federal legislation and are annual statements of position. Unless action is taken to renew a resolution or incorporate it into the NMP, each resolution expires at the City Summit (formerly the Congress of Cities) following its adoption.

As part of NLC's annual policy development process, NLC's Federal Advocacy Committees are charged with reviewing the NMP and resolutions and making recommendations for changes, additions, and deletions. In addition to the committees' work, NLC is inviting all member cities to submit National Municipal Policy (NMP) amendments and resolutions for consideration. The deadline for submissions this year is August 31, 2016.

Each proposed policy amendment or resolution should include a document that provides background on the issue, as well as a discussion of the issues impact on local governments nationwide.

All proposals submitted by the deadline will be forwarded to the appropriate Federal Advocacy Committee for review and consideration. Voting delegates will consider the committees' work at the Annual Business Meeting during NLC's City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in November.

Proposed policy amendments and resolutions should be submitted in writing to Avery Peters via email at peters@nlc.org or mailed to him at the National League of Cities, 660 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 450, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Upcoming NLC Webinars: Learn About Transportation Funding, NLC's Federal Advocacy Committees, and Impact of Reed

NLC will host several webinars this summer focused on funding transportation priorities, how NLC members can join a federal advocacy committee, and the impact of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona:

Funding Transportation Priorities in Your City
Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

Is your city planning new transportation projects? Join NLC to learn how city leaders can tap federal dollars to fund anything from sidewalks to major transportation projects. We will also address how cities are meeting the challenge of providing federally required matched funding.

Date: July 29, 2016
Time: 3:00 PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

Learn How to Make a Difference for Your City and Cities Nationwide
Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Are you interested in making even more of a difference for cities? Serving on one of NLC's seven federal advocacy committees is one of the most rewarding ways for you as a local leader to bring your expertise to the service of cities and towns at the national level. By representing your city or town and contributing your voice, you have the opportunity to shape NLC's efforts to proactively drive federal policy on issues that matter the most to cities.

Join us for a webinar to learn more about the work of each committee and how to join a committee!

Date: September 13, 2016
Time: 2:00 PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

Signs and Speech One Year After Reed
Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

Last summer the Supreme Court declared part of the Town of Gilbert's sign code unconstitutional, ruling that content-based regulations are subject to strict scrutiny. John M. Baker, Greene Espel, will discuss how local governments have been modifying their sign codes to come into compliance with Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona and how courts have interpreted the Reed decision in and out of the sign context.

Date: September 14, 2016
Time: 1:00 PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.