Federal Advocacy Update: Week of January 15, 2019

Flags on the National Mall
Flags on the National Mall

In this issue: 

Unending Shutdown is Uncharted Territory for Cities, Towns, and Villages

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025 

The current partial federal government shutdown has lasted longer than any shutdown in U.S. history. There appears to be no middle ground or bipartisan way forward among congressional leaders or within the leadership of the administration. And cities are starting to bear more of the consequences. On January 11, NLC President Karen Freeman-Wilson sent a letter to Senate leadership urging a vote on legislation to reopen shuttered federal agencies:  

“The shutdown is having real-life consequences in our communities and our economy. And each day those consequences appear to grow as it becomes harder to purchase a new home, take out a small business loan, and provide services for veterans, seniors, homeless, and other “vulnerable” groups.”

NLC’s message was delivered following a week of votes in the House to approve spending bills that would reopen all federal agencies, both collectively and individually. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains steadfast in his opposition to permitting votes on any spending bills without President Trump’s permission. The president is seeking more than $5 billion in additional Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 funding for construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. At the same time, the White House is considering diverting already appropriated funds from their original purpose to the wall, including funding intended for cities and states under the Army Corps of Engineers for infrastructure projects in areas that experienced natural disasters in 2017.

NLC is helping city leaders anticipate potential disruptions resulting from the partial government shutdown with a series of blog posts on NLC’s blog CitiesSpeak. In addition, NLC created a resource center for local leaders on all things related to the partial federal government shutdown at www.nlc.org/shutdown.

Is your community seeing the effects of the shutdown? Share how the uncertainty in federal funding is impacting your city, town or village on social media using #shutdownstories and tagging @leagueofcities or emailing your story to advocacy@nlc.org.

Congress Passes Integrated Planning Legislation

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

As the 115th Congress came to a close and in a show of bipartisanship, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (H.R. 7279) that would codify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework (Integrated Planning Framework) as a useful tool for local governments to comprehensively deal with wastewater and stormwater investments, as well as unfunded mandates. The bill passed the House by a vote of 351-10 and passed the Senate under Unanimous Consent. It was signed by the president on January 14. 

Sponsored by Reps. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Bob Latta (R-OH), Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Steve Chabot (R-OH), the bill allows local governments to work with their state and EPA to prioritize investment in wet weather overflows and flooding collectively, rather than individually, and to sequence and schedule projects to best meet the needs of the community.

In a statement of support, NLC and a broad coalition of local government organizations said, “The Water Infrastructure Improvement Act gives much-needed flexibility to local governments, who are currently facing huge unfunded mandates, in meeting the requirements of the CWA more affordably.”

The legislation allows local governments who undertake integrated planning to incorporate green infrastructure components into municipal stormwater, combined sewer overflow (CSO) and other water plans in a more cost-effective way. 

The legislation also establishes an EPA Office of Municipal Ombudsman to work directly with communities in complying with federal environment laws, particularly with regard to the opportunity to prepare integrated plans in the context of consent decrees or administrative orders. 

Together these provisions will help reduce costs for fixed- and low-income citizens who spend a significant portion of their income on water and wastewater bills.

Codifying the Integrated Planning Framework and incentivizing green infrastructure techniques has been one of NLC’s federal priorities for several years, including as a key component of NLC’s Rebuild With Us campaign. 

NLC Urges SAMHSA to Verify if Opioid Funding Supports Local Programs

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, 202.626.3098  

On January 14, NLC sent a letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), regarding State Targeted Opioid Response Grants, which were created through the 21st Century Cures Act. Municipal leaders across the country have continued to voice their concern that the billions of dollars in funding that was approved through this program to combat the opioid epidemic is not making it to the local level where leaders are working hard each day to combat this growing challenge, particularly as opioids are now being coupled with an uptick in heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine usage.

NLC’s letter calls on HHS to require states to provide a detailed report on how the money is being used to support local programs. States must be held accountable on how they are using the money to address local concerns. We are concerned that if the federal government continues to appropriate money with no follow-through, audit or scrutiny, only a fraction of the money will continue to make it down to cities, towns and villages, limiting the good we can do together. NLC will continue to work hard with Congress as well to ensure that these funds are being used as they intended and that future appropriations include detailed language about how to ensure that the funds make their way beyond the state.

If your city, town or village is encountering challenges with accessing these funds to provide support to your community, please reach out to Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman at martinez-ruckman@nlc.org  or Yucel Ors at ors@nlc.org to share your story and challenges. It is critically important that your Members of Congress understand how these funds are being used at the local level – especially where you are encountering challenges.

NLC Joins Legal Battle to Halt FCC Small Cell Order

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Despite an ongoing government shutdown that has shuttered the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and threatens to close federal courts, litigation over the FCC’s fall preemptive order on small cell deployment remains in full swing. On January 10, NLC joined dozens of cities and local advocacy groups as intervenors in an ongoing lawsuit to overturn the FCC’s small cell order. That same day, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion to stay the order, following a denial by the FCC of a similar stay motion made by NLC and a large number of cities. The 10th Circuit also chose to transfer the small cell cases to the 9th Circuit, which is hearing a related case on an FCC order preempting local wireless siting moratoria.

In the short term, the circuit shuffling means very little for cities’ day-to-day activities. Because the court and the FCC both declined to stay implementation of the order, the order went into effect on January 14 as scheduled. In the FCC’s denial of a motion to stay, the agency extended the deadline for cities to develop compliant aesthetic standards to April 15, 2019. 

Longer-term activity at the court will be more significant for cities. The litigation, in which NLC and many state municipal leagues and individual cities are involved in, aims to overturn the FCC order entirely. The timeline for this case is uncertain – the FCC may ask the court to give it some time to resolve the petition for reconsideration it received in December, and regardless of how the case is decided, it is likely to be appealed.

NLC Comments on Opportunity Zone Proposed Regulations 

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025 

On December 21, NLC submitted comments to the IRS and the U.S. Treasury on their proposed regulations on the Opportunity Zone tax incentive. NLC’s “Comments on Opportunity Zones (Investing in Opportunity Funds)” have been posted for the public on www.Regulations.gov and can be downloaded directly here.  A total of 145 comments were submitted.  

NLC made recommendations under five categories:

  1. Performance Measures and Public Accountability
  2. Coordination and Integration with Local Authorities
  3. Allowing Opportunity Funds to Invest in Infrastructure
  4. Asset and Revenue Requirements
  5. Federal Interagency Coordination

Together, NLC’s recommendations urged the administration to prioritize communication and coordination between Opportunity Zone investment managers and city leaders; and to improve federal assistance to medium and small cities for the opportunity zone designations within their communities.

An IRS hearing on investing in Opportunity Zones scheduled for January 10 was cancelled as a result of the partial government shutdown.

2019 National Municipal Policy Released

Avery Peters, 202.626.3020

NLC's National Municipal Policy (NMP) is a compilation of federal policy positions adopted by the full NLC membership. These positions focus on federal actions, programs, and legislation that directly impact municipalities and guide all of NLC's federal advocacy efforts.

The 2019 National Municipal Policy has been updated to include policy amendments and resolutions approved during NLC's Annual Business Meeting held at the conclusion of the recent City Summit in Los Angeles, CA.

Click here for more information and to download the NMP.

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