Washington Watch Blog
|Rural Action Caucus Leaders Meet in D.C. to Promote Rural County Priorities|(read more)10 days ago | 0
Last week, more than 20 members of the Rural Action Caucus (RAC) traveled from counties across the country to discuss pressing rural county legislative and policy issues during the RAC fly-in in Washington. Participating RAC members met with more than 60 members of Congress and key committee and federal agency staff to discuss many crucial county priorities, including Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding, tax reform and the potential impact on municipal bonds and surface transportation reauthorization. For a full list of the 2014 RAC priorities, click here.
In addition to the many meetings on Capitol Hill, RAC members also met with Administration officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation to discuss rural county priorities in surface transportation reauthorization. With counties owning and operating over 44 percent of the nation’s highways and bridges, NACo – including the Rural Action Caucus – is pushing for a long-term reauthorization bill that helps facilitate funding directly to state and local governments while expanding opportunities for rural areas. To view county priorities on surface transportation ...
|Senators Reveal Plan for Map-21 Reauthorization|(read more)10 days ago | 0
On April 10, Senate transportation leaders including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.), Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, held a press conference to outline their plans and priorities for the reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
Unless Congress acts, MAP-21 will expire at the end of September.
EPW Committee staff will be working over the next two weeks to finalize a discussion draft for a six-year bill that would authorize highway, bridge and transit programs at current funding levels and focus on the following principles:
- Passing a long-term bill, as opposed to a short-term solution
- Maintaining the formulas for existing core programs
- Promoting fiscal responsibility by keeping current levels of funding, plus inflation
- Focusing on policies that expand opportunities for rural areas
- Continuing efforts to leverage local resources to accelerate the construction of transportation projects, create jobs, and spur economic growth
- Requiring better information sharing regarding federal grants
Chairman Boxer hopes to mark up the bill by ...
|FY 2015 Appropriations Process Moves Ahead |(read more)10 days ago | 0
On April 9, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2015 Military Construction/Veteran's Affairs and Legislative Branch Appropriations bills by voice vote. This follows the plan outlined by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) to move less controversial spending bills at the beginning of the appropriations process. The House Appropriations committee plans to move forward with consideration of the remaining 10 spending bills after the spring recess and once final allocations for each spending bill have been provided by the Congressional Budget Office.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, continued preliminary hearings on their spending bills. Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) plans to begin moving FY 2015 appropriations bills through the committee beginning in May. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also set aside time this summer – two weeks in June and two weeks in July – for floor time to debate and vote on FY 2015 spending bills.
NACo has been working with members on both House and Senate appropriation committees about several discretionary funding appropriation bills. Some of NACo’s legislative priorities, including the Community Development Bloc...
|House Committee Passes Bill Limiting EPA Veto Authority|(read more)10 days ago | 0
On April 9, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed H.R. 524, a bill that prohibits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from retroactively denying a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit after final issuance. The bill passed by a vote of 34-20 with four Democrats – Reps. Cheri Busto (D-Ill.); Andre Carson (D-Ind.); Rick Nolan (D-Minn.); and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) – supporting the bill.
A Section 404 permit regulates the discharge of dredged or fill materials into a “water of the U.S.” A number of counties hold Section 404 permits for roadside ditch and flood control channel maintenance activities. Section 404 permits can be time consuming and expensive for counties to obtain and counties often have to start planning for permit renewal soon after they are originally granted.
H.R. 524 stems from Mingo Logan Coal Co.v. EPA, a federal appeals court case in which EPA retroactively vetoed a Section 404 permit three years after it was issued (while the Army Corps of Engineers oversees the Section 404 dredge-and-fill permit, EPA has veto authority). Prior to the permit issuance, EPA had e...
|Agencies Release Administration’s National Wildland Fire Strategy |(read more)10 days ago | 0
On April 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior released the Administration's National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (the Cohesive Strategy). The Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC), made up of federal, state, tribal and local government representatives, developed the Cohesive Strategy to improve the coordination of efforts to restore and maintain healthy landscapes, prepare communities for fire season, and better address wildland fire threats on a national scale. Lake County, Ore., Commissioner Dan Shoun, a NACo Public Lands Steering Committee member, represents counties on WFLC.
The Cohesive Strategy includes approaches to address challenges like climate change, increasing community sprawl, and pests and disease affecting forest health across landscapes. Some of the approaches include:
- Adopting preventive measures, such as fuels thinning and controlled burns
- Promoting effective municipal, county and state building and zoning codes and ordinances
- Ensuring that watersheds, transportation and utility corridors are part of future management plans
- Determining how organizations can best work together to reduce and manage human-caused ignitions
|Senate Passes Unemployment Benefits Extension|(read more)10 days ago | 0
On April 7, the Senate passed bipartisan bill H.R. 3979 by a vote of 59 to 38 to renew federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for the long-term jobless. The bill would provide five months of retroactive payments to two million Americans whose unemployment benefits expired last December. Although, several Senate Republicans voted in favor of the motion to proceed with the bill and its final passage, it remains unclear whether the House will consider the legislation.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has opposed passing the legislation due to concerns with costs and the fact that the bill does not include provisions to create more private sector jobs. However, some House Republicans would like a vote on the measure, and Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) have urged Speaker Boehner to move the Senate bill or an alternative. House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is pushing to tie the legislation to jobs measures and the extension of tax cuts, such as permanent extension of bonus depreciation for business investment.
The UI bill’s $10 billion cost to renew federal jobless ben...
|NACo Meets with FCC Chairman Wheeler |(read more)10 days ago | 0
On April 4, NACo and several other local government groups met with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler to discuss the ongoing Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the siting or placement of wireless facilities and equipment. NACo and the other groups involved in the meeting urged that any rules be narrowly drawn to respect local authority. Counties are typically the governmental authority that regulates land use and the placement of wireless facilities like towers and base stations.
Chairman Wheeler also discussed the IP transition and stated that he would adhere to four principles including: universal accessibility, reliable interconnection, consumer protection and public safety and security.
Additionally, Chairman Wheeler expressed interest in municipal broadband networks and sought county examples. “Muni Broadband” commonly refers to the provision of Internet by a governmental entity like counties. Current NACo policy states: “NACo opposes efforts to restrict or prohibit, at state and federal levels, county or municipal ownership of communications facilities when such services are unavailable or are made prohibitively expensive by the lack of adequate competition. Counties, however, should not use their economic capacity to unfairly co...
|NACo Submits Filing on E-Rate, Telecom Discount Program for Schools and Libraries|(read more)10 days ago | 0
On April 7, NACo filed a letter with the FCC urging them to modernize and streamline the E-Rate program. E-Rate provides discounts to schools and libraries for telecommunications services based on a number of factors including the number of students enrolled in the school lunch program. In the letter, NACo urged the FCC to increase bandwidth goals, streamline the application process, focus funding on broadband by phasing out services like paging and voicemail and strengthen the buying power of counties to purchase bandwidth by providing more options.
E-Rate allows interested school and library applicants to submit a request to the FCC to obtain funding for telecommunications services – eligible funding items are prioritized into two lists: Priority 1 and Priority 2. Priority 1 items focus on connection to the building and thus funds items like Internet access (to the building, not the classroom), leasing of lit or dark fiber, telephone service, paging and email service. Priority 2 funding eligible items focus on internal connections and funds items like cabling, connectors and routers. Due to the high volume of E-Rate funding requests ea...
|FCC Issues Proposed Rulemaking on Enhanced 911 (E911) and Seeks Comments|(read more)10 days ago | 0
In February, the FCC released its third further notice of proposed rulemaking on the topic of “Wireless E911 Location Accuracy Requirements.” Currently, 70 percent of all calls to 9-1-1 are made from mobile phones. Counties typically manage and oversee the Public Service Answering Points (PSAP) which accepts and dispatches police, ambulances and other emergency and law enforcement professionals to the caller’s location. When wireless calls are made from outdoors, the caller’s location can be determined by using the location of the closest cell tower off of which the call was made and delivered. Determining the exact location of an indoor, wireless 9-1-1 call is very difficult and the technology to do this is being developed now. However, given the heavy use of cell phones, the FCC now seeks comment on its near-term and long-term goals to establish indoor location accuracy, which are:
- Near-term:locate callers (x-axis and y-axis) within 50 meters for 67 percent of indoors calls within two years; locate callers within 50 meters for 80 percent of indoor calls within five years; ...
|Senate Plans to Hold Mark Up on Housing Finance Later this Month|(read more)3 weeks ago | 0
On April 29, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) plans to hold a mark-up on a proposal by Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Michael Crapo (D-Idaho) to reform the housing finance system. This proposal would come as an amendment to the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act (S. 1217), introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) which provides a housing fin. The bipartisan proposal would replace government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a new government backed reinsurance system. Nine out of ten mortgages are backed by the federal government, mainly through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It remains unclear whether the bipartisan plan will reach the Senate floor.
The Johnson/Crapo proposal would eliminate Fannie and Freddie Mac over a five year period with possible extensions to prevent market disruption. It would allow private entities to replace most functions of the GSEs. The new system would be regulated by the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation (FMIC), modeled in part after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. This system is intended to avert another catast...
|Dear Colleague Letters in Support of CDBG Sent to House and Senate Appropriators |3 weeks ago | 0
“Dear Colleague” letters in support of $3.3 billion in funding for the
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in FY 2015 were sent this week to
Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Committee leaders
in the House and Senate, respectively. Counties across the nation rely on CDBG
funding to support critical housing, community and economic development
projects at the local level. NACo supports this level of funding for CDBG in FY2015
and helped to circulate the House and Senate letters, gaining significant
support for the letters in each chamber.
The bipartisan House CDBG “Dear Colleague” letter sent to
House T-HUD Chairman Tom Latham (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.)
included 130 House member signatures. To view the final letter and
to see if your Member of Congress signed on, click here.
Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) CDBG letter sent to Senate
T-HUD Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Susan Collins
(D-Maine) closed with 39 Senate
member signatures. To view the final Senate letter click here.
Contact: Daria Daniel at email@example.com or
|House Committee Passes Budget Resolution|(read more)3 weeks ago | 0
On April 2, the House Budget Committee adopted the FY 2015 budget resolution proposed by Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The budget resolution is a non-binding blueprint and is not signed into law by the President. The House will take up the proposal next week. The Senate is not expected to consider a budget resolution this year.
The measure leaves intact the $1.014 trillion discretionary spending cap agreed to in December’s budget deal (P.L. 113-67), but similar to last year it includes major changes to entitlement programs. The budget resolution makes several changes that would impact counties including, the most include proposed block grants for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and elimination of the Social Services Block Grant. Additionally, the resolution would once again repeal Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act and the subsidies to help pay for coverage in the exchanges. Finally, it again proposes to turn the Medicare program into a voucher system for future participants beginning in FY 2024. The Chairman’s proposal would increase the current defense spending cap by $482 billion and save a to...
|Medicare “Doc Fix” Extension Enacted, Affects County DSH Payments and Other Programs|(read more)3 weeks ago | 0
On April 1, President Obama signed into law the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (P.L. 113-93). The measure delays for one-year the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, which would reduce physician reimbursement rates and is commonly known as the “doc fix”. As in previous extensions, the measure is paid for by extending the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payment cuts under the Affordable Care Act. The DSH cut implementation is delayed by a year until FY 2017 and would be lower than current law in FY 2018 and FY 2019. However, the cut increases in subsequent years and is extended through FY 2024. As a result, the overall reduction in DSH payments will be $35.1 billion instead of $20.1 billion.
Despite the DSH cuts, P.L. 113-93 does have other provisions that are of interest to counties. First, it includes the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which provides $900 million for two-year demonstration programs in eight states to expand access to community mental health and substance abuse centers. Second, it extends through March 31, 2015 the Transitional Medical Assistance program, which provide...
|NACo President Testifies before House Committee on Disaster Mitigation|(read more)3 weeks ago | 0
On April 3, NACo president Linda Langston, Supervisor, Linn County, Iowa testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management in a hearing titled Disaster Mitigation: Reducing Costs and Saving Lives. Langston's testimony focused on the important role of counties in disaster response and recovery and emphasized the many roles of counties in disaster mitigation.
The hearing, led by subcommittee Chairman Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) and Ranking Member Andre Carson (D-Ind.), focused on flood mitigation activity and methods for improving participation in the National Flood Insurance Program's (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS). CRS is a voluntary incentive program that provides discounts on flood insurance premiums to policyholders in participating communities for conducting floodplain management activities that exceed minimum NFIP requirements. Langston was joined by David Miller, Associate Administrator for the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Bryan Koon of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and Chad Berginnis of the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM).
Counties play a critical role in justice and public safety policy and ...
|NACo Releases Analysis of County Priorities in the President's FY 2015 Budget|(read more)4 weeks ago | 0
NACo has just released new analysis of the president's FY 2015 budget highlighting key programs that are important to the nation’s counties. Prepared each year by the president and the White House's Office of Management and Budget, the president's budget informs Congress of the president's vision for U.S. fiscal policy.
Click here or on the image above to view the presentation.
NACo's analysis of the President's Budget includes the following:
- A primer on the federal budget process and the role of the President's Budget within that process
- An overview of the President's FY 2015 Budget, including noteworthy eliminations, cuts and increases to county priority programs
- Detailed analysis of proposals on issues and programs important to counties, including:
- The tax-exempt status of municipal bonds
- The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
- Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT)
- Secure Rural Schools (SRS)
- The State Criminal Assistance Alien Program (SCAAP)
- The consolidation of U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant programs
These are just a few of the programs and issues covered in NACo's analysis of county priorities. NACo will continue to monitor the FY 2015 appropriations process; Congress is e...
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