Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue: 

Permanent Tax Ban Headed to President's Desk

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Yesterday, over the strong objections of NLC, the Senate passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, H.R. 644, which included a provision that will make permanent the temporary ban on state and local government's authority to tax internet access (the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act or PITFA). In addition to the permanent ban, the provision also brings to an end the authority to tax internet access for the eight states who were grandfathered under the original temporary ban that became law in 1988. This is a bad deal for local governments that means the loss of millions of dollars in resources to support essential services in our communities. To see how your Senator voted, click here.

The House passed the report last year, so it now heads to the President's desk for signature.

The inclusion of PITFA in the conference report was the result of a deal announced by Senate leaders earlier in the week. Under the deal, Senators dropped their objections to the inclusion of PITFA in the conference report in exchange for a commitment from Senate majority leadership to provide floor time for a discussion on the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 698) later this year. A top priority for NLC this year will be holding the Senate to this commitment this year.

Click here to send a message to your senators in support of swift action by the Senate on e-fairness.

President Obama's Final Budget Highlights Local Priorities

Federal Advocacy Staff

On Tuesday, President Obama released the final budget proposal of his Administration for fiscal year 2017. The largest new proposals focus on local priorities, including over $1 billion to address the prescription opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic, a 10-year clean transportation initiative, and a 10-year initiative to end family harmlessness.

Despite a cold reception on Capitol Hill, the President's proposal represents a starting point in funding negotiations that will take place throughout the budget and appropriations process this year. And, while big-ticket items will be subject to political debate, countless smaller programs that together are just as important for local governments also need justification from stakeholders, including local governments, to ensure funding remains adequate and stable. For the most part, the news is positive in that the President's budget continues funding for local priorities.

Read highlights of the President's budget request for programs important to local governments.

U.S. Supreme Court Halts Implementation of Clean Power Plan

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of the Administration's Clean Power Plan (CPP) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The 5-4 ruling halts implementation of the CPP as lawsuits proceed through the D.C. Court of Appeals. More than two dozen states, joined by industry groups and some utilities have filed a lawsuit arguing the EPA exceeded its authority in implementing the regulation.

In response to the Court's decision, Clarence E. Anthony, NLC CEO and Executive Director, said, "Cities will continue to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, but we need a federal partner to truly make a difference in our communities. Yesterday's action by the Supreme Court is a huge setback in a time of growing momentum among local leaders to work together to solve many of our most pressing climate challenges."

In January, NLC joined a legal motion filed in the federal appeals court to support the Clean Power Plan. The Court will hear oral arguments in early June. In addition to NLC, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the following cities also joined the motion: Baltimore, MD; Coral Gables, FL; Grand Rapids, MI; Houston, TX; Jersey City, NJ; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Portland, OR; Pinecrest, FL; Providence, RI; Salt Lake City, UT; San Francisco, CA; West Palm Beach, FL; and Boulder County, CO.

There will be two upcoming conference calls to learn more about the impact of the Clean Power Plan stay on local governments.

EPA conference call with Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe
When: Tuesday, February 16
Time: 1-2 pm EST
Participant Dial-in Number: 877-290-8017
Conference ID#: 52665151
Please dial in 10 minutes before the start time to ensure your participation.

EPA firmly believes the Clean Power Plan will be upheld when the courts address its merits because the Clean Power Plan rests on strong scientific and legal foundations. During the pendency of the stay, implementation and enforcement of the Clean Power Plan are on hold. During the stay, EPA will continue to work with states that want to work with us on a voluntary basis. Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe will discuss the recent Supreme Court stay of implementation and enforcement of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review.

NLC Call - Clean Power Plan Stay: What does it Mean for Cities and States?
When: Monday, February 22
Time: 1:30-2 pm EST
Participant Dial-in Number: 888-608-3665
Conference ID#: 758-293-4439

Tom Lorenzen, Crowell & Moring, will provide background on the CPP and an overview of the legal issues. Michael Burger, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, who filed a motion in the D.C. Circuit on behalf of the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors supporting the CPP, will discuss how the stay will work and what it means for states and local governments. 

NLC Urges Congress to Pass Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

Nearly 60 mayors and councilmembers urged Congress to take action to reform the criminal justice system, supporting two bipartisan bills that would reduce penalties for non-violent drug offenses and provide resources to local governments to improve outcomes for individuals returning to communities and to help reduce recidivism rates. In a letter released today by the National League of Cities (NLC), city leaders called on Congress to pass the "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015" (S. 2123) and the "Second Chance Reauthorization Act" (S. 1513/H.R. 3406).

"Cities bear the brunt of a criminal justice system in desperate need of reform," said National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Mo. "Every day, too many of our residents become tangled in the criminal justice web for minor, non-violent offenses, which can have life-altering consequences. We need Congress to reform our criminal justice system not only to give non-violent offenders a second chance, but also to adequately support communities where ex-offenders are transitioning back into society. These are important steps to ensure our cities are just, equitable and resilient for future generations."

House Approves Bill to Support Local Innovation and Control in Affordable Housing

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

Earlier this week, the House passed H.R. 3700, the Housing Opportunities Through Modernization Act. The bipartisan bill responds to NLC's call for greater local control and innovation in federal housing assistance programs by enabling local authorities to use existing program funds to assist a greater number low-income families. Among other things, the bill would streamline duplicitous income verification requirements, modify housing inspection requirements, and improve federally supported mortgage insurance for condominiums. The bill would also enact policies that would support local efforts to end veterans' homelessness by establishing a Special Assistant for Veterans' Affairs within HUD to coordinate all HUD programs and activities relating to veterans. Lastly, the bill would direct the Secretaries of HUD and Labor to produce an annual report on strategies to strengthen family economic empowerment. The bill has been sent to the Senate for further consideration, but the timeline there is less clear. The Administration has indicated the President is supportive of the legislation.

NLC Supports Water Trust Fund Bill

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John Duncan (R-TN) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) introduced legislation that would improve the nation's water infrastructure by providing a small, deficit-neutral, protected source of revenue to help local governments replace, repair and rehabilitate critical clean and drinking water facilities. NLC supports the legislation.

The Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act (H.R. 4468) would create a voluntary labeling and contributory system to which businesses that rely on a clean water source could opt-in. Businesses could choose to place a small label on their products indicating their commitment to protecting America's clean water. For each unit that displayed such a label, companies would contribute $0.03 to the Water Infrastructure Trust Fund. Eighty-five percent of the funds collected would be distributed to states via the existing Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund program and 15 percent distributed to states via the existing Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund. The bill does not, however, provide funding for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which would provide long-term, low-interest loans for large water infrastructure projects.

Additionally, the bill directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct an affordability study on the challenges faced by low-income populations in paying for wastewater and drinking water services.

"Access to clean drinking water is fundamental for the health and well-being of America's communities. Residents suffer when the nation's water infrastructure fails to deliver safe, potable water. Sadly, the residents of Flint, Michigan are currently experiencing the harmful effects of an aging and poorly-maintained water infrastructure system," said NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony in response to the bill's introduction.