Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

Mayor Gary Resnick Testifies Before the Senate on Wireless Broadband

Julia Pulidindi, 202.626.3176

Image removed.Mayor Gary Resnick, Wilton Manors, Fla. testifies during a Senate committee hearing.

Earlier this week, Mayor Gary Resnick, Wilton Manors, FL testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at the "Removing Barriers to Wireless Broadband Deployment" hearing. Mayor Resnick is a long time member of the National League of Cities and current chair of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Intergovernmental Advisory Committee. The hearing featured representatives from the wireless industry, the Administration, and the technology space.

Mayor Resnick testified on the clear and strong role for local governments in increasing wireless broadband services for their communities. Not only does it help promote the economic well-being of their residents, it helps local governments ensure quality communications services for public safety and other critical services. Mayor Resnick highlighted this role by talking about the innovative ways local governments are working to improve the way they respond to requests to increase wireless infrastructure.

Industry can tend to paint a picture of local governments as being an obstacle to wireless deployment and Mayor Resnick was able to share examples of where local governments have taken steps to eliminate unnecessary review procedures thereby expediting this critical deployment and successfully creating partnerships with the wireless industry to improve wireless communications services. To further underscore this partnership, Mayor Resnick noted the FCC's recent wireless broadband facilities siting order and the resources jointly developed by NLC, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the National Association of Counties, CTIA, The Wireless Association, and PCIA, The Wireless Infrastructure Association to help localities comply with the order.

Despite the nation's need for additional broadband deployments, Mayor Resnick testified that needs must be balanced with the ability of local governments to maintain reasonable control and authority over the placement of wireless facilities in their communities. "Because of our responsibility as local leaders to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents, federal policies must respect our ability as local officials to manage public rights-of-way as well as land uses on private and public property," said Resnick. "Disruption to neighborhoods, open spaces, streets, sidewalks, and businesses can have a negative impact on public safety and industry, as well as the sustainability of our communities."

When asked by Committee members how cities were managing the various infrastructure requests from industry, Mayor Resnick talked how communities were streamlining applications processes on small cell technologies and developing solutions to facilitate larger structures such as towers. These larger structures can cause an aesthetic issue in the community and Mayor Resnick was able to refer to an example of how these structures are being stealthily disguised to blend in with the environment while increasing wireless capacity. However, local governments are not always experts on the types of infrastructure needed for wireless broadband and he urged the industry to help educate local decisions makers so that they can create policies that would expedite deployment.

Committee members also asked how the federal government can help localities deploy broadband more effectively and Mayor Resnick talked about federal barriers, such as how, in his community, CDBG funds were not eligible for a digital literacy initiative or transportation dollars to be used to build telecommunications infrastructure as part of a transportation project. These obstacles are not unique to Wilton Manors and significantly limit what city leaders can do to spur broadband expansion while stunting innovation at the local level.

The hearing represented a win for local governments as the Senate realized the role cities play in a national discussion about wireless broadband and provided an opportunity for cities to share how they are working to help facilitate the development of this critical infrastructure.

Court Halts Implementation of "Waters of the U.S." Rule

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

This morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati issued a temporary nationwide stay of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Clean Water Rule (also known as the "Waters of the U.S." rule). In a 2-1 split decision, the court questioned not only the substantive nature of the rule, but also the rulemaking process. The decisions puts a temporary hold on implementation of the rule while the litigation against the rule proceeds.

There remains some uncertainty about whether the 6th Circuit Court has the authority under the Clean Water Act make such a ruling.

Following a preliminary injunction of the rule in the 13 states that was issued by a U.S. District Court judge in North Dakota, the rule has been in effect in 37 states since Aug. 28.

Cities Urge Congress to Pass Legislation Supporting Homeless Veterans

Image removed.

Elisha Harig-Blaine testifies before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Oct. 6, 2015.

Speaking this week before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Elisha Harig-Blaine, National League of Cities principal housing associate for veterans and special needs, told the committee that Congress must act to pass two bills-S. 1885 and S. 2013-to help homeless veterans find stable housing. The bills make needed improvements to how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs serves homeless veterans and their families. NLC urges Congress to swiftly pass both bills to strengthen federal support of local initiatives focused on ending veteran homelessness.

"Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Blumenthal and the entire Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs have done an outstanding job to bring veterans issues to the forefront," said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities (NLC). "As a nation, we owe it to our veterans and their families to end veteran homelessness for good. We will continue to work with our partners in Congress, the administration and private foundations to make veteran homelessness in our cities a thing of the past."

"Since Phoenix became the first city to end chronic veteran homelessness in 2013, cities from New Orleans to Houston to Salt Lake City have worked tirelessly to ensure veterans in their cities have secure, safe and stable housing," said Elisha Harig-Blaine, principal housing associate for veterans and special needs at the National League of Cities (NLC). "Local efforts are leading the way to end veteran homelessness in our communities, and Congress must pass S. 1885 and S. 2013 to support these initiatives."

NLC is the lead partner with the Administration for the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To date, more than 800 leaders have accepted this challenge, including 628 mayors, nine governors and 165 county and city officials. NLC also supports national technical assistance initiatives that are accelerating local efforts to end veteran homelessness.

Florida League of Cities Advocates Call for Long-Term Transportation Funding

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Florida city leaders visit NLC headquarters

This week, over thirty city leaders from Florida visited Washington to meet with members of Congress and the Administration to advocate for city priorities. Led by Mayors Matthew Surrency of Hawthorne, Susan Haynie of Boca Raton, and Frank Ortis of Pembroke Pines, the advocates from the Florida League of Cities' Federal Action Strike Team descended on Capitol Hill to press for passage of a long-term transportation bill ahead of the upcoming October 29 deadline, instead of another short-term extension of transportation funding. The group also pushed for e-fairness legislation, and preservation of the federal tax exemption for municipal bonds.

Following a legislative briefing at NLC's headquarters, the group met with their congressional delegation, the White House, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The advocates also had an opportunity to see their fellow mayor, Gary Resnick, testify at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing.

If your city or state municipal league is planning an advocacy visit to Washington, please contact NLC for assistance and to coordinate advocacy efforts.

EPA Announces Tougher Ozone Standard

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reduced both the primary and secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), down from the current standard of 75 ppb, which was set in 2008.

The more stringent NAAQS for ozone will dramatically increase the number of regions classified as non-attainment. By EPA's own analysis, using the most recent monitoring data (2012-2014), 241 counties and their cities currently have measured ozone above 70 ppb.

EPA will make attainment/nonattainment designations for the new standard by October 2017 based on 2014-2016 air quality data. States with nonattainment areas have until 2020 to 2037 to meet the primary standard, with attainment dates varying based on the ozone level in the area.

EPA projects that a variety of existing and proposed federal rules will help states meet the ozone standard and that by 2025 the vast majority of counties will meet the updated standard without additional action to reduce emissions.

NLC's comment letter on the proposed ozone rule raised concerns about how a new ozone standard would impact the transportation conformity compliance process. We have since learned that the March 2015 final rule to implement the 2008 ozone standard revoked the 1997 ozone standard for all purposes, including transportation conformity. The only ozone standard for which areas must currently determine conformity is the 2008 ozone standard.

NLC Asks Congress to Strip CSO Prohibition from Appropriations

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, NLC sent a letter to House and Senate water infrastructure appropriators and authorizers asking that a provision that would prohibit all combined sewer overflow (CSOs) discharges, as well as blending, in the Great Lakes region to be removed from a final appropriations bill.

The proposed provision, sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), expressly contradicts and undermines the 1994 Combined Sewer Overflow Control Policy that Congress codified in 2001 by requiring communities to revise their Long Term Control Plans to achieve a goal of zero overflows. Additionally, the proposed provision would prohibit communities from discharging blended effluent that otherwise meets standards established by the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit program during peak wet weather events.

The proposed provision was originally contained in the Senate FY16 Interior and Environment appropriations bill, and remains included in the Senate "minibus" appropriations bill covering Labor-Health and Human Services, Interior and Environment, and Financial Services. While Congress recently passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded through Dec. 11, Congressional leaders continue to push appropriations bill and negotiate a new budget agreement on spending caps.

While the proposed CSO provision would only apply to the seven Great Lakes states, NLC is concerned about the national implications and precedent-setting nature of the language for all communities addressing CSO issues and negotiating compliance levels with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

NTIA Releases Broadband Funding Resource

Julia Pulidindi, 202.626.3176

Earlier this year launched, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Department of Commerce launched BroadbandUSA, a resource which provides communities with technical and strategic advice on how to expand broadband access and adoption.

As part of this new initiative, NTIA released their Guide to Federal Broadband Funding, a comprehensive manual of federal broadband funding opportunities and information about state and local funding sources for broadband. The guide details a wide range of opportunities. While the guide is not meant to provide an exhaustive list of all federal funding opportunities, it can serve as a starting point for communities to explore potential federal financing options.

More information about this manual can be found on the NTIA blog.

Excise Tax Would Burden Local Governments

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Last week, as part of an on-going rulemaking process, NLC on behalf of cities and towns and NLC-RISC, filed comments in response to IRS Notice 2015-52 and in support of the development of regulatory guidance regarding the Excise Tax on High Cost Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage ("excise tax"). The excise tax, which will take effect in 2018, imposes a 40 percent excise tax on employer sponsored health coverage that exceeds certain minimum thresholds.

In the comments, NLC highlights the undue financial and administrative burdens on local government employers across the country the excise tax will have. Local governments are already experiencing the immediate impact on collective bargaining and budget planning of state and local governments even though it does not take effect until 2018 with the greatest impact on municipal union contracts for fire, police and school district personnel, many of which will expire between now and the end of 2017.

Besides collective bargaining and budget planning, the excise tax will also impact local governments in states with statutorily mandated benefits for public sector retirees and their dependents. These types of benefits make it very difficult for local government employers to make benefit changes that would allow them to fall below the threshold, thereby avoiding the tax.

Additionally, local governments of all sizes are administratively burdened with the complexity of implementing and reporting the proposed regulations, but the hardest hit are those of less than 50 employees who do not have dedicated human resource staff.

To view the comments, click here.

Last Chance: Apply to Serve on a 2016 Federal Advocacy Committee

Avery Peters, 202.626.3196

October 14 is the last day to apply to serve on one of NLC's federal advocacy committees in 2016. Serving on one of NLC's 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 the efforts of the National League of Cities to proactively drive federal policy on issues that matter the most to cities. Depending on your availability and the level of commitment you seek, there is a spot for you to get involved with NLC.

Applications are available now to serve on the seven Federal Advocacy Committees. All applications are due October 14, 2015.

Want to learn more about the work of each committee? Click here to find out which committee is the best fit for you.

NLC's in-coming president appoints the leadership and members for the seven federal advocacy committees for the upcoming year. Leadership and members serve a one-year term and are eligible annually for reappointment. Committee chairs also serve as members on NLC's Board of Directors.

Appointment to a Committee requires:

  • Attendance at all meetings
  • Commitment to actively advocate on NLC's organizational priorities, as well as meaningfully contribute to the Committee you are serving on
  • Your city to be a member of the National League of Cities

You may submit a Federal Advocacy Committee Member Application here. Don't wait - the application is due by Wednesday, October 14, 2015.