Federal Advocacy Update: Week Ending April 8, 2016

In this issue:

  • National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic Holds Inaugural Convening
  • Senate Moves Forward with Federal Preemption in FAA Bill
  • Learn How Cities Can Participate in Infrastructure Week
  • NLC Highlights City Leadership in Economic Mobility at National Conference
  • Water Infrastructure Bills Set for Senate Action 
  • NLC Makes the Case for Clean Power Plan 
  • NLC Argues Against Expansion of Clean Water Act
  • Fed Rule Doesn't Go Far Enough
  • Department of Justice Resumes Equitable Sharing
  • FCC Modernizes Lifeline Program to Include Broadband Access

National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic Holds Inaugural Convening

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

NCCOTF April 7 Group Photo
The National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic convened April 7, 2016 at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Local leaders from across the country have come together to take action in response to the rapid escalation and deadly impact of prescription drug abuse and heroin use in cities and counties. The National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemicconvened on April 7 for its inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C. to share experiences, engage with national experts and explore solutions to stem the tide of drug abuse and related fatalities.

A joint initiative by the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), the 24-member task force explored how cities and counties can strengthen collaboration with each other and state, federal, private-sector and non-profit partners to tackle the opioid crisis.

Prevention and education, treatment, public safety and community wellness were front and center on the task force's agenda. Local leaders shared information about challenges and effective local responses that could be replicated in communities across the country.

Following the convening, the task force will take the following actions:

  • Continue national dialogues where city and county leaders will explore the main impacts of this crisis and comprehensive responses that have proven to be effective;
  • Convene special forums, webinars and other opportunities to engage with national experts, federal, state and other partners; and
  • Publish a national summary report with policy recommendations and best practices that promote prevention and education, effective treatment options, public safety and community wellness.

For more information, visit www.nlc.org/OpioidTaskForce.

Senate Moves Forward with Federal Preemption in FAA Bill

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176


This week, the Senate voted to move forward with their 18-month reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Unfortunately, the bill brought to the floor by Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) still contains language that would tell cities and states they cannot regulate when and where drones fly in our own communities. Instead, the FAA would be the sole authority on whether or not unmanned vehicles fly over our schools, homes, parks, and crowded events like parades and sporting events.

NLC is working hard to build momentum for a bipartisan amendment (Senate Amendment 3464) introduced by Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Tillis (R-NC), and Blumenthal (D-CT) that will spell out a clear role for states and municipalities to restrict drone use.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Arizona State University Law School professor Troy A. Rule criticizing this dangerous overstep by leadership in the Commerce Committee. In his article, Professor Rule cited NLC's letter to Senate leadership, urging them to reconsider preempting local authority on the airspace just feet above our heads. In addition, NLC published a blog article on citysspeak.org, entitled 3 Things Every City Should Know About Drones.

With the bipartisan amendment now filed, NLC is asking city officials to send a letter your senators urging them to cosponsor Senate Amendment 3558 to support local control of drones.

Learn How Cities Can Participate in Infrastructure Week

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

City leaders know that investment in infrastructure of all kinds - transportation, water, telecommunications, and more - is necessary to keep our economy moving forward and improve quality of life for our residents. Despite that need, the public funds for infrastructure are limited and face more threats every year. That's why NLC is participating in this year's Infrastructure Week, taking place in Washington, DC and around the nation May 16 - 23. Now in its 4th year, Infrastructure Week is led by several organizations from the business, labor, and public policy sectors.

To learn how you can participate in one of the many events that NLC will host, as well as how you can participate in your own cities click here to register for our upcoming webinar.

Date: Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Time: 2:00PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

NLC Highlights City Leadership in Economic Mobility at National Conference

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

EDA Conference
NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony and Operation HOPE CEO and Founder John Hope Bryant speak at the Economic Development Administration's National Conference.

Yesterday, NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony was a featured speaker at the Economic Development Administration's National Conference in Washington, D.C. Anthony appeared before approximately 800 economic development professionals and Administration staff to discuss local leadership for economic mobility.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams kicked off the session on economic mobility. Anthony appeared alongside John Hope Bryant of Operation HOPE, Erin Currier of the Pew Charitable Trust, Sarah McKinley of The Democracy Collaborative, and Maureen Conway of The Aspen Institute.

"I strongly believe that if you aren't participating in your city's economic system - if you can't get a job, or buy a house, or provide for your family - that place that you live won't feel like your home," said Anthony in his remarks. "City leaders are trying to create a place where everyone can participate in the American Dream."

Anthony concluded his remarks by highlighting a number of NLC initiatives designed to assist local leaders seeking to improve economic mobility for people in distressed neighborhoods, including the REAL program (Race, Equity, and Leadership) and the partnership between NLC and the U.S. Department of Commerce to highlight local practices in Cities of Opportunity.

Water Infrastructure Bills Set for Senate Action 

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

With the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, still very much on the minds of legislators, NLC continued its advocacy in support of bills that would provide funds for communities nationwide to address aging infrastructure and conduct lead pipe removal projects.

The first bill, the Firm, Unwavering National Dedication to Water Act (FUND Act, S. 2583) would reauthorize and more than triple the authorization level for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs. The second bill, the Grants and Education to Tackle Homeowner Exposure to Lead Ensuring American Drinks Only from Unpolluted Taps Act (GET THE LEAD OUT Act, S. 2588) would provide grants to local governments for lead pipe replacement. Both bills are sponsored by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and have been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW).

It is expected that the EPW Committee will mark up these bills at the end of April, and they could potentially be included in the Water Resources and Development Act that both the Senate and House are currently drafting.

In addition to these bills, NLC continued to urge senators to support the Drinking Water Safety and Infrastructure Act (S. 2579). This proposal would provide a $220 million aid package for the City of Flint to resolve the drinking water crisis, as well as funding to support communities with aging water systems nationwide. The Flint aid proposal is one of a handful of major items on the Senate's agenda before appropriations work gets underway and since there is still no agreement on a path forward for the Flint aid proposal, it is important that you send a letter to your senators today and tell them to support S. 2579.

NLC Makes the Case for Clean Power Plan 

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, NLC, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, more than 50 city and county governments from 28 states, and the mayors of Dallas, Knoxville, and Orlando, filed an amicus brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals explaining why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan (CPP) is critical to the safety and economic security of local communities across the United States.

The local government brief recognizes and builds on strong demand for climate action by cities and counties, which view the CPP as a "legally necessary step toward addressing the extraordinary threat posed by climate change."

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the CPP, halting implementation while the rule is under review. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case on June 2.

In 2015, more than two dozen mayors sent a letter to President Obama urging him to "provide a path forward to make meaningful reductions in carbon pollution while preparing for the impacts of climate change." Furthermore, more than 125 U.S. cities have already committed to the Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of more than 460 mayors pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, track their progress transparently and enhance their resilience to climate change.

For additional information on the local government brief, click here to read an exclusive article in The Atlantic: Cities Speak Up to Save Obama's Clean Power Plan.

NLC Argues Against Expansion of Clean Water Act

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week in an amicus brief filed in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, NLC argued against an expansion of the Clean Water Act. In Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al. v. County of Maui, the court will decide whether to uphold a lower court ruling that could expand the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to include a "conduit" theory of liability.

Under the conduit theory, according to the district court, any release of pollutants into groundwater that migrates to hydrologically connected navigable waters violates the CWA. This theory has far reaching implications, potentially requiring a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for any source - including underground storage tanks, surface impoundments, landfills, and pipelines to name a few - that may release pollutants to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to navigable waters.

The brief highlights the lower court's disregard for the threshold "point source" requirement of the NPDES program and argues that the lower court erroneously imposed liability based on the migration of pollutants via groundwater, which is neither a Water of the United States nor a point source itself. If upheld by the Ninth Circuit, the district court's decision and its novel "conduit" theory will effectively rewrite the CWA by eliminating the distinction between point source discharges that require an NPDES permit and nonpoint source discharges that do not require a permit.

Joining NLC on the brief were the League of California Cities, National Association of Counties, California State Association of Counties, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, International Municipal Lawyers Association, among others. A decision is expected late this year.

Fed Rule Doesn't Go Far Enough

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Last Friday, the Federal Reserve released its final rule that would amend the 2014 Liquidity Coverage Ration rule and admit some muni securities as high quality liquid assets (HQLA). While the rule is less restrictive than what the Federal Reserve initially proposed last summer, it still has significant shortcomings (such as permitting HQLA designation to GO bonds but not revenue bonds). The Federal Reserve's rule would also only apply to two of the nine bank holding companies with over $250 billion in assets affected by the 2014 rule, so would not be nearly as inclusive of muni securities as a rule that is coordinated rule with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC), or what is outlined in the House-passed H.R. 2209.

In coordination with the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) and others, NLC will be on the Hill next week to meet with offices of members of the Senate Banking Committee to discuss our ongoing concerns with the 2014 LCR Rule and the Federal Reserve's final rule, and stressing the need for Congress to enact legislation that would require the Federal Reserve, FDIC and OCC to classify all investment-grade, liquid and readily marketable municipal securities as HQLA. Only legislation will compel the FDIC and OCC to act on this issue, and ensure that the greatest number of municipal securities can be classified as HQLA.

Department of Justice Resumes Equitable Sharing

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it is resuming equitable sharing payments to states and local governments through its Asset Forfeiture Program. The payments were temporarily suspended late last year when $1.2 billion in program funds were rescinded. The rescission threatened the financial solvency of the Assets Forfeiture Fund, and forced the Department to take cost-cutting steps across all discretionary programs, including suspending the equitable sharing payments.

Congress is still considering legislation that would limit DOJ's future ability to transfer property and funding to state and local law enforcement agencies through the program. While NLC supports program reforms, city leaders oppose legislation that would limit local law enforcement's ability to participate in the program and call on Congress to maintain the program, while also establishing appropriate requirements that safeguard individual rights and remove financial incentives for potential misconduct.

FCC Modernizes Lifeline Program to Include Broadband Access

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Last week, in a move that NLC supported, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to modernize its Lifeline program, which will make it easier for millions of low-income Americans to afford broadband service. The Lifeline program is the FCC's program to help make communications services more affordable for low-income consumers. Currently, the program provides subscribers a discount on monthly telephone service purchased from participating providers in the marketplace. With the Commission's vote, those who receive Lifeline subsidies will be able to use those funds on a landline service, a mobile broadband service, or a bundled voice and broadband package.

Last year, NLC called on the FCC to update the program. The modernized plan includes: the establishment of minimum service standards for fixed broadband that account for varying broadband speeds across the country; the reduction of waste, fraud, and abuse by establishing a third-party entity to verify program eligibility; and flexibility to enable a wider variety of providers to participate in the program.

The vote came late after a series of meeting delays and contentious debate by FCC commissioners, who eventually voted on the Order along party lines. While all commissioners were broadly in support of modernizing the Lifeline program and the goal of expanding it to incorporate broadband access, they were sharply divided on the program's budget, standards of service for subsidized broadband, and the availability of enhanced subsidies in certain designated tribal areas.

This partisan divide has been echoed in Congress with one legislator stating that the subsidy would be used to "watch cat videos on YouTube." Next week, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on the CURB Lifeline Act (H.R. 4884), legislation that would cap the Lifeline program's budget below the FCC-proposed amount and prohibit subsidies from being used on cell phones or other mobile devices.

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