Federal Recap: From Nashville to Capitol Hill
July 19, 2018
NACo’s 83rd Annual Conference and Exposition – hosted by Davidson County/Nashville, Tennessee – brought together more than 3,000 county officials and staff from across the country. The conference, which ran from July 13-16, provided a valuable opportunity for county officials to network, as well as share information and best practices with their colleagues from every corner of the United States.
On July 16, San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox was sworn in as NACo president at the Annual Business Meeting, taking the helm of the new executive team. He will be joined by Immediate Past President Roy Charles Brooks (Tarrant County, TX), First Vice President Mary Ann Borgeson (Douglass County, Nebraska), and newly elected Second Vice President Gary Moore (Boone County, KY).
In his opening remarks, Supervisor Cox highlighted his presidential initiative Connecting the Unconnected, pledging to help ensure that county government is able to connect the most vulnerable citizens to valuable services and resources. Prior to being officially sworn in, Cox joined the Healthy Counties Advisory Board to outline his initiative and discuss why integrating data and systems is important to counties. Later in the day, Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore joined Cox at the Resilient Counties Luncheon to discuss how county investments in technology, like the 2-1-1 program in San Diego County, can improve disaster preparedness.
In other developments, CSAC – along with the Washington State Association of Counties and the Association of Oregon Counties – was successful in securing a NACo platform change relative to federal cannabis policy. The language, which was offered at the Justice and Public Safety Policy Steering Committee by CSAC First Vice President and Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass, urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes and respects states’ rights to regulate cannabis.
The cannabis language will now be added to NACo’s American County Platform, which is the association’s permanent policy document that reflects the philosophy and overall objectives of NACo’s membership.
In addition to the aforementioned platform change, CSAC also spearheaded and supported several other policy resolutions, including resolutions addressing key transportation and health and human services issues.
House Lawmakers Consider “Minibus” Appropriations Measure
The House voted along party lines today to approve a two-bill minibus appropriations package (HR 6147) that combines the Interior-Environment and Financial Services spending measures. All told, the legislation would provide nearly $35.3 billion in funding for the Department of the Interior (excluding the Bureau of Reclamation), the Environmental Protection Agency, and a number of related agencies. The proposed spending is on par with the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.
Among other things, the bill includes $500 million for the Payments-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. However, the projected full-year cost estimate for PILT is not yet available, so this figure will serve as a placeholder until Interior officials calculate the full funding amount. In addition, the bill would fully fund the 10-year average for wildland fire suppression costs for both the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. It also would provide an additional $500 million for suppression operations, as well as an extra $30 million for hazardous fuels management.
In addition to providing funds for departmental operations, the legislation contains several policy add-ons. Among other riders, the spending bill includes language that would insulate the California WaterFix project from federal or state legal challenges. Notably, the WaterFix provision would not only preclude state and federal judicial review of the final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, the language would shield the forthcoming Record of Decision – as well as any other agency decision or downstream determination – from the threat of litigation.
Similarly, the legislation would exempt from judicial revie the operations of the State Water Project, the Central Valley Project, and the storage projects authorized under CALFED. An effort by Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) to strip both California water policy riders from the Interior bill fell short during the House Rules Committee’s consideration of the legislation.
House Appropriators Release FY19 DHS Spending Bill
On July 18, the House Appropriations Committee released its spending legislation for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the last of the funding measures for fiscal year 2019. For its part, the committee has cleared the other 11 appropriations bills, several of which are still awaiting floor action.
In total, the legislation would provide $51.4 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, $3.7 billion above current levels. However, the additional funding would be used to partially offset the $5 billion included in the bill for President Trump’s border wall. According to the committee, the amount would provide for over 200 miles of new physical barrier construction. It should be noted that the administration formally requested $1.6 billion for the wall as part of its fiscal year 2019 budget submission to Congress, though the president has informally told lawmakers that he would prefer $5 billion.
Furthermore, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), would see increases in their budgets. The additional funding would allow both agencies to hire additional officers, train new canine teams, and increase detention beds, among other things. The legislation also includes additional funding for several FEMA grant programs, including State Homeland Security Grants (a $31 million increase) and the Urban Area Security Initiative (a $31 million boost).
Following the release of the spending measure, Congressional Democrats harshly criticized GOP appropriators for including the additional wall funding, foreshadowing what will likely be a drawn-out fight over the DHS bill as it moves through the legislative process. Looking ahead, Democrats will continue to oppose the increased funding for the wall, particularly in the absence of a permanent solution to the expired Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.