Federal Issues Update
June 22, 2017
In other developments, the House on June 20 approved five bipartisan, no-cost child welfare bills. Each measure represents a section of a comprehensive child welfare reform package, known as the Family First Prevention Services Act (HR 253). While certain provisions of HR 253 would be problematic for California and its counties, the aforementioned bills were noncontroversial. It should be noted that CSAC, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, the State Department of Social Services, and a number of child advocacy organizations in the state reviewed the bills and either supported them outright or had no significant concerns.
The measures include extending the competitive grant program for initiatives providing substance abuse treatment grants to entities serving families who have children involved in the child welfare system (HR 2834); implementing model foster home licensing standards similar to California’s system (HR 2866); using existing funding, extending Chafee independent living supports from age 21 to 23, and allowing educational vouchers to remain available up to age 26 instead of 23 (HR 2847); allowing states to use federal foster care funds to cover the cost of children living with their parents in family-based substance abuse treatment facilities (HR 2857); and, establishing an electronic case management system for expedited cross-state placement of children with relatives or an adoptive family (HR 2742).
On June 20, Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) reintroduced a forestry reform bill – the Resilient Federal Forests Act (HR 2936) – that aims to increase timber production and reduce the risk of wildfires on National Forest System land largely by expediting the environmental review process for certain projects. The legislation also would establish a procedure for requesting a wildfire disaster declaration on federal lands. While HR 2936 proposes to limit judicial review of forestry projects, the renewed legislative effort does not include some of the more severe restrictions that were in a previous iteration of the bill. In an attempt to expedite consideration of legal challenges, the measure would create a new pilot program that seeks to resolve disputes through binding arbitration.
Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Federal Lands Subcommittee held a legislative hearing on a draft version of the bill, and the full committee is slated to vote on the measure on June 22. The legislation is expected to pass, with the votes breaking largely along party lines, as congressional Democrats continue to have concerns with the proposal. In their view, while HR 2936 represents an improvement from the measure that passed the House in 2015, it would still undermine environmental safeguards and diminish public participation.
Across Capitol Hill, the Senate is discussing options for forest management reform and will likely consider a similar bill later this year. As the process moves forward, CSAC will be working with the California delegation, as well as other key members of the House and Senate, to improve federal land management practices.
House and Senate committees have held a series of hearings in recent weeks to examine various aspects of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget request. Appearing before a number of key Appropriations subpanels have been cabinet secretaries and other administration officials who have been called to Capitol Hill to defend the budget plan submitted by the White House.
Looking ahead, congressional Republicans are wrestling with how to advance a fiscal year 2018 budget resolution, which would serve as a blueprint for this year’s 12 appropriations bills. At this juncture, GOP Budget Committee leaders are floating a plan that would further increase defense spending above the $603 billion proposed by the White House, while keeping non-defense spending close to current levels. To help offset any increases in defense funding, House Republicans are considering the inclusion of highly specific budget reconciliation instructions that would compel authorizing committees to cut mandatory spending programs, such as food stamps and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Additionally, conservative House members are proposing to add work requirements of 100 hours per month for able-bodied adults who receive food stamps and Medicaid, while limiting waivers on existing work requirements under the TANF program. It’s unclear how such proposals would fit into the context of the budget resolution.
For their part, congressional Democrats are aggressively pushing back against any potential changes in entitlement program funding. In addition, Democrats have repeatedly stated that any defense spending above the current statutory caps should be matched by comparable increases in domestic programs. It should be noted that any increases in defense or non-defense discretionary spending levels in fiscal year 2018 would require Congress to adopt changes to the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).
On Wednesday, June 21, Republican leaders of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee released draft legislation that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for six years. Programmatic authority for the FAA is currently operating under a one-year extension, which is set to expire on September 30, 2017.
The House legislation – dubbed the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (AIRRACT) – includes a plan that would transfer air traffic control operations from the FAA to a nonprofit corporation. The controversial proposal, which was the primary cause of stalled negotiations over last year’s aviation rewrite, has received the support of the Trump White House.
The House T&I Committee is planning a June 27 markup of its FAA bill. Of particular interest to California’s self-help counties, an amendment may be offered during markup that would clarify that local sales tax measures of general application are not subject to provisions of federal law that require the proceeds of certain taxes to be spent for aviation purposes. The amendment is strongly supported by CSAC, as well as other state and local interests in California.
The impetus for the expected amendment is a 2014 FAA ruling that requires States and local governments to spend the proceeds of any aviation-related tax – those derived from excise taxes and local sales taxes – on airport uses only. It should be noted that the FAA’s ruling amounts to a reinterpretation of a particular section of federal law that addresses how the proceeds of aviation fuel taxes are to be spent. Incidentally, the Conference Report to the law in question (PL 100-223) states that the requirement is “intended to apply to local fuel taxes only, and not to other taxes imposed by local governments, or to state taxes.”
It is estimated that the FAA’s policy reinterpretation will mean a loss of over $100 million for the State of California and its local governments. Nationwide, a recent study suggests that state and local governments will lose roughly $190 million a year under the FAA rule change. Furthermore, because sales taxes on aviation fuel are not segregated from other taxable sources, state and local governments will need to implement an extensive new tracking system(s) in order to comply with the FAA’s policy.
Across Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is expected to release its own FAA rewrite this week.
The House Financial Services Committee recently approved a series of bills that would reform and reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP, which is currently beleaguered by nearly $25 billion of debt, is set to expire on September 30, 2017.
On June 15, the committee approved two pieces of legislation designed to improve various aspects of the flood insurance program. The first bill (HR 2874) would enhance the development of more accurate estimates of flood risk through new technology and better maps, as well as increase the role of private markets in the management of flood insurance risks. The other measure (HR 2868) is designed to protect NFIP policyholders from unreasonable insurance premiums and would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to study the characteristics of flood insurance coverage of urban properties.
On June 21, the committee cleared five additional NFIP bills, including legislation (HR 2246) that would repeal mandatory flood insurance coverage for commercial and multifamily properties that are located in flood hazard areas. The legislation also would allow state and local governments, as well as local transportation planning agencies, to submit their own flood maps to the NFIP.
Looking ahead, House committee leaders plan to combine all seven measure into one package and bring the consolidated bill to the floor in July.
Finally, across Capitol Hill, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) recently introduced a bipartisan, six-year NFIP reauthorization measure. The comprehensive bill, similar to the aforementioned House measures, includes provisions designed to lower flood insurance rates, boost the private insurance market, modernize flood-zone mapping, and incentivize flood mitigation actions.