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Legislative Updates

Keeping you up to date on policy action from the presidential administration and the U.S. Congress.

May 2011

Download PDF: May 2011

» 2011 NBCSL Policy Committee Leadership

Thank you for your service to NBCSL and to your constituents!

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» Announcements and Administrative Activity

  • Early this month, President Barak Obama, Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other administration officials took to the podium to address the recent strike against and death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. The federal government promised to "remain vigilant and resolute" as it anticipates threats of retaliation to avenge Bin Laden's death. Since the attack, American diplomatic facilities around the world have been on high alert and have issued global travel warnings for Americans.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS) announced over $100 million in funding for up to 75 Community Transformation Grants. The initiative, created by the Affordable Care Act, is aimed at helping communities implement projects proven to promote healthy lifestyles and to reduce chronic diseases.
  • The White House has launched a website for African Americans with up-to-date information where visitors can sign up to receive alerts. Click here to go to the website.
  • The U.S. Department of Education announced that two states will receive funding to turn around persistently low achieving schools through the School Improvement Grant. Kansas and Missouri are two states to receiving a part of the $546 million funding made available to states through the SIG program in fiscal year 2010.
  • The White House announced Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, TN as the winner for the 2011 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge. The school's graduation rate went from 55% in 2007 to 81.6% in 2010. The commencement challenge was established as part of President Obama's goal for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
  • In the wake of recent natural disasters throughout Midwest and Southern states, the U.S. DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered those states several options to expedite Medicaid eligibility for those who may need health services but have no income or resources to pay for it.
  • The Federal Coordinated Health Care Office, created by the Affordable Care Act, was established to help Medicare and Medicaid work together more effectively in improving patient care and lowering costs. The new office will lead a series of initiatives, working with states to save money and better coordinate care for those enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid.
  • In 1962, President Kennedy issued a proclamation designating May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day. Having evolved into what is now affectionately referred to as "Police Week," this annual event attracts tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world to Washington, D.C. to participate in activities honoring those who have fallen in the line of duty. President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Napolitano honored "Top Cops" for the third consecutive year in the White House's Rose Garden.

» 2011 Partnership with NAACP's Legal Defense Fund (LDF)- Redistricting & Voting Fairness

"Discriminatory Purpose Threatens Integrity of Redistricting Process"

In May, the State of Louisiana became one of the first to submit and complete its redistricting plans for federal review pursuant to the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. The State took the unusual step of seeking preclearance from both the U.S. Department of Justice and the D.C. District Court. However, it is anticipated that other states, particularly those still wrestling with tight budgets, will continue to submit their plans to the Justice Department for review which is more cost-effective, speedy, and administratively efficient. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, National Urban League, and Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP have submitted a letter urging DOJ to reject the plan for the State House because of evidence that it was adopted with discriminatory purpose. A small, majority white community mounted an intense lobbying effort to ensure that its community would not be included in a majority black district, and the evidence shows that its racially-driven agenda ultimately shaped the final plan that was adopted by the state. Discrimination has no place in the redistricting process, and the Voting Rights Act contains important provisions aimed at blocking and deterring precisely this kind of discrimination. If you uncover evidence of discriminatory purpose tainting the redistricting process in your state or other redistricting-related problems that threaten African American voters, please contact the NAACP Legal Defense Fund at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


The Debt Ceiling

The federal government has now reached its borrowing limit also known as the "debt ceiling," and Congress must take action in order to prevent the United States from defaulting on its loans. In giving Congress more time until the federal government actually begins to default on its loans, the Treasury Department has begun efforts to temporarily bridge the gap. For example, the Treasury Department will stop issuing State and Local Government Series Securities (SLGS). These securities allow state and local governments to accrue interest and use that to pay their bondholders. This year, state and local governments have invested $23 billion in SLGS and, in turn, they have issued $63 billion in debt. While current SLGS will be safe, new SLGS will not be issued until the debt ceiling has been raised, which eliminates an important tool for states to manage their debt.

The FY2012 Budget Process

Given the late resolution on the FY2011 budget, Congress is off to a slow start on the FY2012 budget process. The first step in is the acceptance of a budget resolution by each chamber, and then the respective Appropriations Committees can begin their work on funding the various accounts. The House has accepted its budget resolution (otherwise known as Rep. Paul Ryan's budget). Now the House is beginning to markup the appropriation bills within the Appropriation Committee. As of today, only Homeland Security and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and related agencies' bills have been released.

Thus far, the numbers have been concerning for state and local government. FEMA's grants to state and local government were reduced by $2.1 billion in the House Homeland Security Appropriations bill. In addition, the Bill will allow for more grants to be competitive rather than formula-driven, which means that rather than receiving guaranteed funding, states will have to compete against one another. The firefighter grants are also slated to be cut by 54% under the House proposal. Such dramatic cuts are a sharp departure from previous bipartisan support, and are of particular note given the heightened level of risk faced after Bin Laden's death.

The Senate has yet to produce a budget resolution and has, therefore, been unable to assemble any appropriations bills. There is a possibility that the Senate may not pass its own Appropriation Bills but simply negotiate with House on its levels. That legislative strategy would be similar to what was employed in the FY2011 discussions. Some insiders argue that this strategy could also allow the Democrats to avoid displaying cuts that look diminutive next to the Republicans'.

Three Percent Withholding Rule

This month, the Senate moved forward with a vote on S.1038, PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, to extend certain provisions of the Patriot Act, without any votes on amendments. Certain provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire at end of the month if an extension is not passed. The expiring provisions have not been modified since 2006, and the current legislation will extend them "as is" for another four years. The three provisions in question are referred to as the "business records" provision that allows federal law enforcement to pursue a court order for "any tangible thing" they argue is related to a terrorism investigation, such as Internet, phone, or business records; the "roving wiretaps" provision that allows government to tap any communications device the suspect uses (as opposed to a court order limited to one phone number or one e-mail account); and the "lone wolf" provision, which allows government surveillance of suspected terrorists not tied to a particular group or foreign nation.

» Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security

This month, the Senate moved forward with a vote on S.1038, PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, to extend certain provisions of the Patriot Act, without any votes on amendments. Certain provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire at end of the month if an extension is not passed. The expiring provisions have not been modified since 2006, and the current legislation will extend them "as is" for another four years. The three provisions in question are referred to as the "business records" provision that allows federal law enforcement to pursue a court order for "any tangible thing" they argue is related to a terrorism investigation, such as Internet, phone, or business records; the "roving wiretaps" provision that allows government to tap any communications device the suspect uses (as opposed to a court order limited to one phone number or one e-mail account); and the "lone wolf" provision, which allows government surveillance of suspected terrorists not tied to a particular group or foreign nation.

» Housing

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced that $152.7 million in funding was awarded to eight cities throughout the nation. This funding will go towards converting public housing developments within these cities into "mixed-income communities." The funding is provided through the HOPE VI program, which improves housing conditions for American communities and families. The eight housing authorities that received rewards were selected from a field of 36 FY2010 HOPE VI applicants.

The following cities and housing authorities will be receiving HUD funding:

  • Boston, MA - The Old Colony public housing development ($22 million)- FY2010
  • Denver, CO - The South Lincoln public housing development ($22 million)- FY2010
  • Louisville, KY - The Sheppard Square public housing development ($22 million)- FY2010
  • Patterson, NJ - The Alexander Hamilton public housing development ($18.4 million)- FY2010
  • Phoenix, AZ - The Frank Luke Addition public housing development ($20 million)- FY2011
  • Portland, OR - The Hillsdale Terrace public housing development ($18.5 million)- FY2011
  • St. Louis, MO - The Arthur Blumeyer public housing development ($7.8 million)- FY2010
  • Taunton, MA - The Fairfax Gardens public housing development ($22 million)- FY2010

HUD also announced that it will provide another competition ($65 million in FY2011) to fund implementation of its new Choice Neighborhoods Program. The Administration is encouraging communities to conduct changes within neighborhoods that not only improve the living environments of residents but improve quality of life as well. They say this can be achieved by efficiently connecting these neighborhoods to schools (especially those that provide early childhood education programs), public transportation, jobs, social services, and income support. Housing authorities are selected to receive HOPE VI funding based on multiple factors, such as their revitalization plan effectiveness and readiness; green/energy efficiency strategies; and the housing authority's capacity, ability to acquire funding from other sources, and ability to provide services to displaces residents.

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» Business, Financial Services and Insurance

Currently, there are two pending pieces of legislation that aim to increase growth of small businesses throughout the U.S. The House bill (H.R. 1425: The Creating Jobs through Small Business Innovation Act of 2011) reauthorizes extensions through FY2014 for two Small Business Administration (SBA) programs, which are administered through its Office of Technology. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs have been operating under extensions since 2008 and 2009 respectively and were set to expire on May 31, 2011. The Senate-passed version of the bill (S. 990: The Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011) agreed to a one-year extension of the programs. These programs promote and fund small businesses to participate in innovative, high-technology research and development. Under both programs, the maximum individual award for each company was increased from $100,000 to $150,000, and the maximum individual award under phase two was raised from $750,000 to $1 million. The bill allows the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the U.S. Department of Energy to distribute up to 45% of their SBIR funds to businesses that are majority-owned by venture capital groups (funds that contribute to early-stage, high-potential, high-risk, growth startup companies), private equity companies, or hedge funds. These bills would support the Obama Administration's agenda for the U.S. to "out-innovate and out-build" foreign nations. Sen. Mary Landrieu stated, "These programs give our country the opportunity to stay in the forefront of defense technology and scientific innovation."

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» Health and Human Services

  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced S.R.187, and the Senate passed it by Unanimous Consent, supporting national minority health awareness. The resolution brings attention to the severe health disparities faced by minority populations, such as American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asians, Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders.
  • The House passed H.R.236 (vote 237-185) providing for consideration of the bill H.R. 1213 to repeal mandatory funding provided to States in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to establish American Health Benefit Exchanges, and providing for consideration of the bill H.R. 1214 to repeal mandatory funding for school-based health center construction.
  • In April, Representative Joe Pitts (R-PA) introduced H.R.358 (co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL)), while, in May, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced bill S.877, both called The Protect Life Act, to prevent federal funding of elective abortions or abortion coverage by applying the longstanding policy of the Hyde Amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Hyde Amendment was introduced by Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) in 1976 and prohibits appropriated funds from being expended on abortions except in the case of the mother's life being endangered. Opponents, such as NARAL, say that the Protect Life Act would not make the same mother endangerment exception afforded by the Hyde Amendment. In a similar vein, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced S.906, No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, to prohibit taxpayer-funded abortions and to provide for "conscience protections" that allow medical providers and hospitals to opt out of providing abortions. This bill's companion legislation, H.R.3, passed earlier this month in the House chamber (vote 251-175).
  • Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced bill S.882, The STOP Act, to prevent the misuse, overutilization, and trafficking of prescription drugs by limiting access to such drugs for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries who have been identified as high-risk prescription drug users.
  • This month, The Healthy Families Act was reintroduced in both Congressional chambers by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) with H.R.1876 and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) with S.984. The legislation would require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, for attending to their own or a family member's illness, for taking preventive care measures, and for handling domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault incidents.

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» Law, Justice and Ethics

"Eminent Domain Legislation Returns"

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on The Private Property Rights Protection Act, H.R. 1433, which is a piece of legislation that would limit a state or local government's ability to use eminent domain for economic development purposes. This issue and similar legislation was active last time the Republicans controlled Congress in 2006, with legislation passing the House, but failing to pass the Senate. The current legislation has enjoyed wide bipartisan support because conservative proponents have viewed it as protecting personal freedoms and limiting government while liberal proponents have viewed it as protecting the poor and disenfranchised. This legislation would directly limit, if not halt, a state or locality's ability to use eminent domain by ensuring it could no longer receive federal funding for projects that use eminent domain. The legislation does not include exemptions for things such as the establishment of public housing, but does include exceptions for projects such as highways and sewers. Opponents concede that even though the legislation would protect personal property rights and limit gentrification, it would also severely limit the ability to develop and rehabilitate distressed neighborhoods. Since the Supreme Court's Kelo v. City of New London decision in 2005 upholding eminent domain and prompting action by Congress, 40 states have passed legislation to limit eminent domain in their state. The legislation is expected to be passed by the House, while the Senate is not expected to take up the legislation.

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» Energy, Transportation and Environment

EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Release Draft Guidance

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers released "Draft Guidance on Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act" on April 27th for a 60-day public comment period. The guidance will effectively help to expand the number of bodies of water protected under the Clean Water Act enabling the EPA to limit pollution. Experts on water infrastructure within your state may review this new guidance and submit comments, as this could have serious implications for how your state handles its water facilities. Click here for the full text: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm.

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