Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

Cities Urge President Obama to ‘Go Local' in 2015 State of the Union Address

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

When President Obama addresses the nation next Tuesday, January 20, NLC hopes that he will "go local" in his policy proposals and push Congress to consider the federal priorities that cities and their residents need most. Ahead of the President's speech, NLC President Ralph Becker, mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, said, "Cities need strong federal partners that work proactively to support the needs of our residents and communities. Last year, legislation on critical city priorities too often fell victim to partisan bickering and Beltway politics. Without Congressional action on important legislation, our nation's cities will again be left to go at it alone."

We will be watching to see if President Obama focuses on cities' urgent needs, especially:

  • Passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act - This bill, backed by legislators from both sides of the aisle, would help Main Street businesses and bring sales taxes into the 21st century by enabling local stores and online sellers to operate under the same rules.
  • A new, long-term federal surface transportation program - Cities need a new program that makes our infrastructure more efficient, upgrades older systems, and adds new modes like light rail and bus rapid transit. Investment in local infrastructure creates jobs and boosts local economies.
  • Protecting the tax exemption for municipal bonds - Tax-exempt bonds are how local governments finance infrastructure projects-three-quarters of all public infrastructure projects in the U.S. are built by states and localities and paid for with tax-exempt bonds. If the federal income tax exemption is eliminated or limited, states and localities will pay more to finance projects, leading to less infrastructure investment, fewer jobs and a greater tax burden on citizens.

Join NLC in watching the State of the Union next Tuesday, whether on television or streamed live online. Follow our reaction to the speech on Twitter and respond to us at @leagueofcities using the hashtag #golocal.

Congress Finally Extends Terrorism Risk Insurance Program

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

After failing to take action in the eleventh hour of the last session of Congress, the new one heeded NLC's call and passed a six-year extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) with broad, bipartisan support. Terrorism risk insurance enables city governments to continue to provide critical services to residents in the event of an attack by protecting against loss or liability that could affect a municipality's personnel, property and finances. TRIA's public-private risk sharing mechanism ensures that risk insurance coverage remains available and affordable to local governments. The legislation was one of the first items the new Congress passed and the President signed into law this year.

Former City Leaders Have Strong Showing in New Congress

Angelina Panettieri and Seantae Byers

The freshman class of senators and representatives sworn in on January 6, 2015, bring with them to Washington a diverse set of experiences and perspectives. In addition to making the 114th Congress the most demographically diverse Congress in our nation's history, over a quarter of the freshman class of this Congress have previous experience in city government. Twenty one representatives and one senator (Sen. Gary Peters, formerly of the Rochester, Mich. City Council) previously served as council members, commissioners, selectmen, and mayors.

Public service at the local level is a unique experience city leaders share with many members of Congress. Don't let the newest members of Congress forget their time spent balancing municipal budgets while working to improve the quality of life in their cities. As you get to know and work with the new members, remind them that taking action to ensure the needs of cities and the 80% of Americans who live in them are met will help the country achieve its goals.

Click on the interactive map below to learn more about the newest residents of Capitol Hill. Zoom in to view smaller congressional districts, or hover over a state or congressional district to find out information about each new senator or representative, his or her prior city government experience, and access their official congressional websites.

If you have a new member of Congress and have not yet met him or her, use these tips to get started on building a strong working relationship. Better yet, join NLC in Washington for the Congressional City Conference March 7-11, and get to know members of Congress and their staff in person.

Local Governments Mostly Win Cell Tower Supreme Court Case

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

The Telecommunications Act (TCA) requires that a state or local government's decision denying a cell tower construction permit be "in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record." In T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell the Supreme Court held 6-3 that that local governments have to provide reasons for why they are denying a cell tower application so that courts can determine whether the denial was supported by substantial evidence. The Court rejected, however, T-Mobile's argument that the reasons must be set forth in a formal written decision denying the application instead of council meeting minutes because nothing in the TCA "imposes any requirement that the reasons be given in any particular form."

But the Court also held that, because wireless providers have only 30 days after an adverse decision to seek judicial review, the council meeting minutes setting forth the reasons have to be issued "essentially contemporaneous[ly]"with the denial. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief, which NLC supported, agreeing with the Court that meeting minutes are sufficient but disagreeing that they must be issued contemporaneously to the denial letter.

In light of the Court's holding that denials under Section 332(c)(7) must include reasons, local governments that include these reasons in separate documents-usually, council meeting minutes or transcripts-are strongly advised to wait to issue the denial letter until the accompanying documents are ready so that they are all issued together. The 30-day period in which the provider may seek judicial review begins to run from the issuance of the denial letter, and the Court held that the reasons need to be available around the same time as this 30-day period begins to run. The local government must still issue the denial within the limits of the FCC's shot clock (90 days for collocations and 150 days for other siting applications).

Feb. 17 Webinar: NLC's Advocacy Agenda for 2015

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Get ready for advocacy and get an inside look ahead at the upcoming legislative year with a special NLC webinar on Tuesday, February 17 at 2:00PM (EST). We will introduce you to NLC's 2015 advocacy agenda, and examine the impact of the president's budget proposal on cities and the upcoming FY2016 budget debates in Congress.

The president's budget, set to be released on February 2, is the opening salvo in the annual federal appropriations process. Nearly all of the federal programs that result in funding for local priorities are impacted by this process. City advocates should be in the know about this process to help ensure that their interests and needs are front and center.

Find out the latest on NLC's legislative strategy for the new Congress. Register now to be a part of this webinar. You must register in advance to participate.

Register Now for Early Bird Rate on Legislative Conference

Mari Andrew, 202.626.3027

You have two more weeks to get the best deal on our annual legislative conference! Join mayors, councilmembers, and other elected leaders and municipal staff from across the U.S. for The Congressional City Conference, March 7-11 in Washington, D.C. You'll hear directly from policy makers and thought leaders on the federal policies that affect your city, as well as funding opportunities and emerging practices you can pioneer in your community. The last day and a half of the conference has been left open to allow you to meet with your representatives to make sure Congress doesn't forget local government. Learn more on the Congressional City Conference website, and register before January 30th at the early bird rate!