Federal Issues Update
June 14, 2018
House Set to Vote on Immigration Reform; FY19 Appropriations Process Continues
House Republican leaders announced on June 12 that the chamber will vote next week on two competing immigration reform measures. The announcement follows weeks of discussions between GOP moderates and conservatives over several contentious issues, including the fate of undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as children. The deal between the factions will allow floor votes on the following bills: the Securing America’s Future Act (HR 4760), which is supported by conservative members; and, a yet-to-be-finalized “compromise” package.
HR 4760 would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program recipients to apply for three years of work authorization and deferred deportation. Under the bill, the deferred deportation period could be extended if an individual were to qualify.
The measure also includes a number of provisions aimed at boosting border security, including language authorizing funds for the construction of a border wall. Additionally, the bill would eliminate the diversity visa program and make the E-Verify program mandatory.
Notably, HR 4760 includes provisions that are designed to crack down on so-called sanctuary jurisdictions. Specifically, the legislation would seek to compel states and localities to carry out federal immigration enforcement activities by withholding certain federal grant funding from noncompliant jurisdictions. The bill also includes language that would “clarify” ICE detainer authority.
The forthcoming compromise legislation, which is still being drafted, will reportedly address in some fashion President Trump’s “four pillars” on immigration – border security, DACA, ending the diversity visa lottery and scrapping family-based migration. According to Republican leaders, the legislation also will include a provision ensuring that children are not separated from their parents at the border. The issue of family separation has made headlines in recent weeks after the Department of Justice announced that it would begin implementing a “zero tolerance” policy for individuals who cross the southern border illegally.
While House Republicans have been discussing legislative options on immigration reform for months, the discussions came to a head earlier this week after a group of GOP moderates fell just two signatures shy of the 218 needed to force floor votes on a series of immigration measures. Had the members been successful in advancing their “discharge petition,” the House would have been required to vote on four separate pieces of legislation under what’s called a “queen of the hill” scenario. By rule, the bill that passed by the biggest margin would have ultimately advanced through the House. With nearly all Democrats – as well as Republican moderates – in favor of a permanent DACA fix, GOP leaders were facing the prospect of the House clearing an immigration reform measure that lacked the support of a majority of Republicans. This week’s deal obviates the possibility of the four-bill vote-a-rama.
On June 12, Senate appropriators considered their fiscal year 2019 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), Interior-Environment, and Legislative Branch spending bills. As of this writing, the committee was still debating the respective measures, but all three are expected to advance. Once they win final approval, the committee will have approved seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills, including those funding Energy and Water Development (E&W), Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD), Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon), and Agriculture.
For its part, the full House has approved three fiscal year 2019 spending measures – E&W, MilCon, and Legislative Branch. In addition, the House Appropriations Committee has cleared another six bills, namely: T-HUD, CJS, Agriculture, Interior, Defense, and Financial Services.
To follow is a summary of the recently approved Senate bills with highlights of key county programs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to approve its fiscal year 2019 CJS spending bill later today. The legislation would provide nearly $63 billion in total discretionary funding for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, NASA, and related agencies. The proposed investment represents a $3.4 billion increase over the fiscal year 2018 enacted level and $500 million more than its House counterpart.
With regard to state and local law enforcement and criminal justice grant programs, the legislation would provide $2.87 billion, or roughly level funding. Within the aforementioned total, the CJS bill would increase funding for the Byrne-Justice Assistance Grant program (+29.5 million), the Violence Against Women Act (+$5.5 million) and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring program (+$9.5 million). With regard to the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), the legislation would provide level funding ($4.4 billion) for victim services programs authorized under the law, matching an all-time high for the program that was set just last year.
Additionally, the bill includes $100 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), or a $140 million decrease in funding. It should be noted that the upper chamber typically provides limited funding for SCAAP, with senators dedicating resources to other local justice programs. However, the House has consistently endorsed higher SCAAP funding levels, resulting in a more favorable appropriation.
The Senate legislation also includes language that would prohibit federal funding from being used to prosecute individuals or businesses acting in compliance with state-legal medical cannabis laws. While the language, often referred to as the Rohrabacher-Farr rider, has been included in previous spending bills dating back to fiscal year 2015, this is the first time these protections have been included in the Senate’s base CJS bill. It should be noted that similar language was added as an amendment to the House version of the legislation. The inclusion of the rider in both measures all but ensures the Rohrabacher-Farr language will remain in place for at least another year.
Senate appropriators are expected to approve their fiscal year 2019 Interior spending bill on June 14. All told, the legislation would provide nearly $35.85 billion in funding for the Department of the Interior (excluding the Bureau of Reclamation), the Environmental Protection Agency, and a number of related agencies. It should be noted that the proposed spending is $601 million more than the fiscal year 2018 enacted level and $7.6 billion more than President Trump’s budget request.
Among other things, the bill would provide full funding for the Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. It also would slightly increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund ($1.69 billion) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund ($1.16 billion). In addition, the measure includes level funding ($63 million) for the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program.
With regard to wildfires, the bill would fund suppression activities at the 10-year rolling average. However, in anticipation of another costly season, the legislation would provide an additional $900 million to fight wildfires, as well as an additional $5 million for hazardous fuels reduction activities.
On June 7, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced bipartisan legislation (S 3032) that would take a states’ rights approach to cannabis legalization. While cannabis would continue to be illegal at the federal level, S 3032 would create an exemption to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for states that have legalized cannabis in one form or another, protecting users and businesses from federal interference.
The bill – titled the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, or simply the STATES Act – also would require states to abide by certain restrictions, including a minimum age for marijuana sales and employment, as well as a prohibition on sales at highway rest stops. Additionally, S 3032 would ease restrictions on banking by declaring that state-legal cannabis transactions do not constitute trafficking. Finally, the bill would remove industrial hemp from the CSA entirely. It should be noted that Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) are sponsoring a House companion measure (HR 6043).
While the legislation is unlikely to move in the foreseeable future, it is expected to gain some traction on Capitol Hill. Also of note, President Trump recently indicated that his administration is reviewing the bill and anticipates that he will ultimately end up supporting it.
The Senate Agriculture Committee this week adopted on a 20-1 vote its Farm Bill reauthorization legislation (S 3042). Unlike the House version of the bill (HR 2), the bipartisan Senate measure does not include deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated during the committee’s consideration of S 3042 that he intends to bring the legislation to the floor before the Independence Day recess.
Across Capitol Hill, House GOP leaders have stated that their Farm Bill renewal will be subject to a revote late next week. HR 2 was defeated in the lower chamber last month after fiscal conservatives from the House Freedom Caucus voted no on the bill due to their frustration over a lack of action on immigration legislation. With the House slated to vote on two immigration reform measures next week (please see previous section), HR 2 is expected to advance.