Update from Washington, D.C.
June 25, 2020
House Set to Pass Democratic Police Reform Bill; GOP Version Stalls in the Senate
At press time, the House of Representatives was poised to pass a sweeping law enforcement reform measure designed to prevent the excessive use of force by police officers. Floor action on the bill (HR 7120), which was approved last week by the House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, comes on the heels of dozens of nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
The House legislation, entitled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases. Additionally, the bill would change “qualified immunity,” which, pursuant to current doctrine, shields law enforcement officers from being held personally liable for constitutional violations as long as an officer does not willfully violate “clearly established” law. Under HR 7120, a litigant could receive damages in civil court if it is determined that a police officer violated the individual’s constitutional rights with knowing or reckless disregard.
There are a number of other reforms in the House bill that would impact county and city police departments, including provisions that would require local governing bodies/law enforcement agencies to make a series of certifications and meet specified requirements in order to remain eligible for certain federal grant programs, namely Byrne Justice Assistance Grants and COPS Hiring Grants.
Across Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats earlier this week blocked the advancement of a Republican alternative to HR 7120. The GOP bill (S 3985), while similar to the House legislation in several respects, differs in a number of areas and would not make changes to the doctrine of qualified immunity.
Looking ahead, and in the absence of a bipartisan, bicameral compromise over the scope of legal protections for police officers acting in the line of duty, it appears likely that any broad law enforcement reform effort will remain idle.
House Democrats Release Details of Massive Infrastructure Bill; Floor Votes Scheduled for Next Week
Earlier this week, House Democrats unveiled the legislative text of a $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment package. The legislation (HR 2), entitled the Moving Forward Act, would authorize federal spending for roads, bridges, transit, rail, housing, broadband, drinking and wastewater systems, energy, health care, and other programs.
The foundation of HR 2 is a five-year, $500 billion surface transportation reauthorization measure. That particular legislation, which was approved last week by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would renew a host of highway, transit, and safety programs that are slated to expire at the end of the current fiscal year. As reported in last week’s Legislative Bulletin, the House reauthorization bill includes a number of provisions that are of direct interest and benefit to California’s counties.
In addition to authorizing new spending on surface transportation programs, HR 2 would provide the following investments:
- Housing – $100 billion for affordable housing infrastructure, including: $70 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund; $10 billion for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program; and, $5 billion for the HOME Investment Partnerships program, among other investments. The bill also includes an expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and would establish a new Neighborhood Investment Tax Credit aimed at subsidizing certain housing development costs.
- Broadband – $100 billion for the delivery of high-speed broadband across all parts of the country, including unserved and underserved rural, suburban, and urban communities.
- Drinking Water and Wastewater – $25 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and other programs, as well as $40 billion for new wastewater infrastructure. The bill also includes provisions aimed at unlocking more tax-exempt bond financing for water infrastructure projects.
- Health Care – $30 billion for hospital capacity upgrades and community health centers to aid in COVID-19 response and future public health emergencies.
- Child Care – $10 billion to upgrade child care facilities with a goal of generating additional state and private investments to ensure that child care settings comply with current and future public health directives.
Looking ahead to next week, House Democratic leaders have reserved three days of floor time for consideration of HR 2. While the comprehensive package is expected to clear the lower chamber, the Senate is not expected to take up an infrastructure package of such size and scope.
House Democrats Introduce Bill Expanding the Affordable Care Act
Political maneuverings surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) occurred this week when House Democrats introduced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act (HR 1425). Bill introduction comes at the same time the Trump administration is expected to file arguments with the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate the landmark health care law in its entirety.
Among other provisions, HR 1425 would build on the ACA by extending insurance subsidies to more middle-income individuals, as well as provide additional financial incentives to the 14 states that have not yet opted to expand health coverage through their Medicaid programs. The legislation also would reverse Trump administration rules that weakened certain elements of the ACA, including provisions addressing pre-existing health conditions and affordability.
Treasury Department Updates Coronavirus Relief Fund Guidance
This week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released updated guidance governing the use of federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars under the CARES Act (PL 116-136). Most notably, the Department clarified that payments from the CRF may be used toward Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cost-share requirements, provided the FEMA dollars are being used for COVID-19-related costs. The guidance also states that funds may be provided to non-profits for distribution to individuals in need of financial assistance, including rent relief. Additionally, CRF dollars can now be used to cover increased workers’ compensation costs and to market the resumption of local tourism.