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DOJ Sues CA Over Immigration, and Infrastructure Back in the News

March 8, 2018

DOJ Files Lawsuit Against State of California

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a legal action challenging certain provisions of three California immigration laws.  According to the DOJ, the statutes in question (SB 54, AB 103, and AB 450) “intentionally obstruct and discriminate against the enforcement of federal immigration law.”  The Department is seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief in the Eastern District Court of California.

Pursuant to the complaint, DOJ contends that the aforementioned State laws are preempted by federal law and impermissibly target the Federal Government in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  DOJ also has indicated that the Department is reviewing other related statutes that have been enacted in California.

In response to Session’s announcement, Governor Jerry Brown and State Attorney General Xavier Becerra – both of whom are named in the litigation – forcefully shot back at the Trump administration.  Both officials have pledged to aggressively fight DOJ’s lawsuit and other recent federal enforcement actions in what Brown has characterized as a “war against the State of California.”

On a related legal matter, U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick earlier this week rejected a request from the State of California to block DOJ’s efforts to deny certain federal funding to states and localities that are deemed to be in noncompliance with a federal immigration statute (8 USC Section 1373).  That particular section of federal law requires jurisdictions to share information with federal immigration authorities regarding the citizenship/immigration status of individuals in their custody.

It should be noted that Judge Orrick’s refusal to impose a preliminary injunction against DOJ’s enforcement action does not rule out the possibility that the State will ultimately prevail in the ongoing legal challenge.  In fact, Orrick questioned several key aspects of the Trump administration’s justifications in seeking to withhold federal grant funds from jurisdictions it deems to be in noncompliance with federal law.

Infrastructure

This week, the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held two hearings of interest to California’s counties.  The first hearing, entitled “Examining the Administration’s Infrastructure Proposal,” featured testimony from Elaine Chao, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)

The lengthy discussion between Secretary Chao and committee members was marked by lively exchanges over a number of issues, including options for financing increased investment in transportation infrastructure.  For her part, Chao indicated that the Trump administration is open to considering “all potential revenue sources,” though stopped short of endorsing any particular funding mechanism, including a potential boost in the federal gasoline tax.  It should be noted that the legislative outline released by the White House last month would pay for the federal share of the administration’s infrastructure plan ($200 billion out of a total of $1.5 trillion) by cutting a number of existing federal programs.

While lawmakers are split over whether Congress should raise the current gas tax, such a course of action has strong bipartisan backing within the committee, with Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) both in favor of an increase.  In contrast, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated at a recent town hall meeting that the lower chamber would not vote to raise the gas tax to pay for new infrastructure spending.

The second T&I Committee hearing, entitled “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Long-Term Funding for Highways and Transit Programs,” featured testimony from state DOTs and industry executives.  On the issue of how to finance future infrastructure improvements, the witnesses overwhelmingly expressed their support for a gas tax increase.  One witness – the Western Road Use Charge Consortium (RUC West) – called for an increased focus on the viability of imposing a road usage charging system that relies on a mileage-based fee.

Finally, Senate Democrats this week released their own infrastructure investment plan.   The legislative outline, which is a counterpunch to the Trump administration’s proposal, would direct $1 trillion in federal funding over ten years for a host of public works projects, including roads and bridges, transit, water and sewer systems, rail, ports, broadband, and schools.

The bill would be paid for by rolling back a number of the tax cuts that were signed into law in December.  As anticipated, such a plan was immediately rejected by Senate Republicans.

 

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