Federal Advocacy Update: Week of February 13, 2019

United States Capitol Building rotunda
United States Capitol Building rotunda

In this issue:

State Municipal Leagues Build Relationships with New Congress

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

During the week of February 4, more than 40 executive directors and local leaders from 19 state municipal leagues across the country traveled to Washington, D.C., for NLC’s third annual state municipal league fly-in.

State League Fly-In

At meetings and a briefing on Capitol Hill, state municipal league partners and NLC staff advocated for NLC’s top legislative priorities, including infrastructure investment, preventing future federal government shutdowns and broadband expansion. Together, we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that city advocates are ready to build local-federal partnerships that will help to move America forward.

SML Hill Day.PNG

In their time on the Hill, state league leaders met with more than 45 congressional offices across 21 states, and built relationships with 23 newly-elected Members of Congress. For more on this event, visit NLC’s blog CitiesSpeak.

 

Senate Passes LWCF Permanent Reauthorization

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

On February 12, the Senate passed a bipartisan public lands package that includes a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47), sponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), which includes more than 100 public lands, natural resources, and water bills, passed the chamber by a vote of 92-8. 

The LWCF was established as a visionary and bipartisan program in 1964 to create parks and open spaces, protect wetlands and refuges, preserve wildlife habitat, promote environmental stewardship, and enhance recreational opportunities for all Americans. The program’s authorization lapsed last fall. In addition to a permanent reauthorization of LWCF, NLC supports full and permanent funding for the program, which is not addressed in S. 47. 

The Every Kid Outdoors Act is also included in the bill, which will support efforts to connect children to federally managed lands and natural areas. The bill codifies the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Every Kid in a Park program that provides fourth graders free access to publicly accessible federal lands and waters. 

In 2013, NLC signed an Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the YMCA for the Let’s Move Outside initiative to close the nature gap and support cities that enable young people to play, learn, serve, and work outdoors. Since then, through the Institute for Youth, Education and Families, NLC has provided technical assistance to cities across the country to connect children with nature, particularly low-income children and children of color. Cities have advanced strategies such as green schoolyards, youth stewardship and green career pathways, early childhood natural learning environments, and park activation.

The bill now heads to the House, where it could come up for a vote by the end of the month. 
 


NLC Launches Opportunity Zones Resources

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107; Kyle Funk, 616.402.8714; Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

Few issues have captured the attention of city leaders like “opportunity zones,” but for many cities, towns and villages, there is more confusion than clarity. The opportunity zone program was created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to provide local and national investors with a tax incentive for investments made in economically distressed areas of the country. More than 8,700 census tracts were designated as opportunity zones across all 50 states for the next 10 years. Local leaders in communities with zones should familiarize themselves with how the incentive works and be aware of how the program could influence investment in their communities. 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is currently working through the opportunity funds’ rulemaking process in order to address outstanding investor questions. Opportunity fund investment will likely increase once rules are finalized. In the meantime, NLC compiled some frequently asked questions, a map of each designated zone, and a host of other external resources to help local leaders find answers to their questions. 

Visit our resource page to learn more and stay updated on NLC’s continuing work on opportunity zones. 


Join Local Leaders: Innovations in Workforce Development Hill Briefing

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, 202.626.3098

On Thursday, February 14, the National League of Cities (NLC) will host Love Your Workforce: Local Innovations in Workforce Development, a Capitol Hill briefing that will shine a light on the innovative workforce programs and services provided at the local level. We know that in order to attract businesses and grow economic vitality in communities, cities, towns and villages need a skilled workforce. Local leaders across the country are working closely with their local workforce boards, community colleges, universities, and local service providers to ensure that their residents are trained and prepared to meet the growing needs of employers. 

As we look towards the future, and a potential federal infrastructure investment, an investment in workforce services is increasingly important to ensure that we can continue to meet the needs of the sectors that build and maintain our roads, bridges, water infrastructure, and broadband networks.

Join us to hear from Councilmember Robin Arredondo-Savage of Tempe, Arizona, and NLC’s Human Development Federal Advocacy Committee Chair about the way in which Tempe is building their workforce pipeline. 


USDA Extends Application Deadlines, Reschedules Webinars for Broadband Grant Program

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on February 6 that it would extend the application deadlines for its Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect) due to delays caused by the recent partial federal government shutdown. Initial application deadlines were pushed back until May 31, 2019, or later to allow applicants to seek assistance from USDA staff. The agency also announced a new resource guide for rural communities to help match broadband projects to grants, loans, and technical assistance available through USDA.

The ReConnect Program, as previously reported, includes $600 million in new one-time grants and loans for rural broadband development, with a focus on connecting rural residences, farms, and anchor institutions. Qualifying communities will have populations of 20,000 or less and either lack an internet service provider completely or only have access to internet speeds of up to 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload.

For more information on the program and to check for more upcoming technical assistance events, visit reconnect.usda.gov


EPA, Army Corps Move Forward on WOTUS Rulemaking

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Now that the federal government reopened after a prolonged partial shutdown, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) are moving forward with an informational webinar and a rescheduled public hearing on the proposed rule on the Definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS). The informational webinar is scheduled for February 14 from 3:30-4:30p.m. EST, and the public hearing will be held in Kansas City, Kansas, on February 27 and 28. 

The proposed rule is part of the agencies’ two-step rulemaking process to rescind and revise the 2015 Clean Water Rule to clarify which waterbodies are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule aims to help landowners better understand and easily identify which waters require a federal permit. The agencies proposed limits to where federal regulations apply and, as a result, give states more flexibility to determine how best to manage waters within their borders. Some states, however, have laws prohibiting them from enacting stricter rules than the federal government.

The proposed rule defines six categories of waters that are federally regulated as “waters of the U.S.” and eight categories of exclusions. The six categories that would be considered “waters of the U.S.” are traditional navigable waters, tributaries, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments, and adjacent wetlands. 

Categories that would not be considered “waters of the U.S.” include waters that are not included in the categories above, as well as features that are only wet during rainfall events, groundwater, certain ditches, prior converted cropland, stormwater control features, wastewater recycling structures, and waste treatment systems.

The proposed rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, February 14. The agencies will take comment on the proposal for 60 days – until April 15.  A pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice, the supporting analyses, and fact sheets are available on the EPA website

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