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August 5, 2014

Federal Update – Several Matters

I. Congress Passes Transportation Program Extension
II. Urge Your Senator to Support S 2609, the Marketplace and Internet Fairness Tax Act
III. Department of Transportation Proposes New Rail Safety Standards
IV. NLC Urges Support for Resolution Recognizing CDBG 
V. President's Plans to Help Cities Prepare for the Impacts of Climate Change
VI. Veterans Affairs Reform Bill Passes Both Houses

Dear Mayor:

Here is an update on the key developments in our Nation’s Capital.

I. Congress Passes Transportation Program Extension

Last week, the U.S. Senate agreed to a short term extension of federal transportation programs (See our July 16 letter at www.njslom.org/letters/2014-0716-Transportation-Funding.html), avoiding a reduction in federal reimbursements to state departments of transportation for highway, bridge, and transit projects. The bill extends the current federal transportation program through May 2015.

We have thanked our Congressional delegation for its work to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent. We also called on legislators to continue working toward a long-term, comprehensive transportation bill.  You can visit the National League of Cities’ (NLC's) website for a transportation funding advocacy toolkit to use with our congressional delegation during the August recess.

II. Urge Our Senators to Support S 2609, the Marketplace and Internet Fairness Tax Act

On July 15, Senators Enzi (WY), Durbin (IL), Alexander (TN), Heitkamp (ND), Collins (ME) and Pryor (AR) introduced the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA). We support this legislation, which combines the Marketplace Fairness Act (which passed the Senate last year with a strong bipartisan majority - 69-27), with a ten-year extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA.) (We last reported on this issue in our May 16 “Washington Watch” update at www.njslom.org/letters/2014-0512-Fed-Update.html.)

With most Senators returning to the districts during the five week recess and with the potential for a Senate vote on MITFA as early as September when the session resumes, now is the time for local leaders to meet with their Senators and urge their support for this important legislation.

If you have the opportunity, please contact Senators Menendez and Booker and urge them to sign on as co-sponsors and to support passage of the legislation. You should also urge them to reject any efforts to make the moratorium on Internet access taxes permanent.

Early last month, the House, which has yet to schedule action on MFA, passed the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act. We have opposed that bill, which fails to recognize the enormous technological changes that have occurred and which would permanently grant electronic merchants a competitive advantage over our Main Street retailers.

III. Department of Transportation Proposes New Rail Safety Standards

Responding to a year's worth of disasters and near disasters, the U.S. Department of Transportation has released the long awaited proposed rule setting new standards for transporting oil by rail. Both this proposal and a Canadian transportation regulation issued earlier this year would strengthen tank car designs and force shippers to test hazardous materials before shipping.

The Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), is proposing: (1) new operational requirements for certain trains transporting a large volume of Class 3 flammable liquids; (2) improvements in tank car standards; and (3) revision of the general requirements for shippers to ensure proper classification and characterization of mined gases and liquids. The proposed requirements are "designed to lessen the frequency and consequences of train accidents/incidents (train accidents) involving certain trains transporting a large volume of flammable liquids," according to the rule.

The growing reliance on trains to transport large volumes of flammable liquids poses a significant risk to life, property, and the environment. These significant risks have been highlighted by the recent instances of trains carrying crude oil that derailed in Casselton, North Dakota; Aliceville, Alabama; and Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada.

The proposed changes also address National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendations on the accurate classification and characterization of such commodities, enhanced tank car construction, and rail routing. NLC will file comments on aspects of the proposed rules impacting local governments. 

IV. NLC Urges Support for Resolution Recognizing 40th Anniversary of CDBG

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which President Ford signed into law on August 22, 1974, the co-chairs of the Congressional Urban Caucus, Representatives Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Michael Turner (R-OH) and a bipartisan group of supporters have introduced House Resolution 668 – Supporting the Goals and Ideals of the Community Development Block Grant Program.

The National League of Cities is working with these long serving congressional champions of the CDBG program to help secure additional cosponsors for the resolution.

On behalf of League Past Presidents, Mayor Chris Bollwage of Elizabeth and Mayor Art Ondish of Mount Arlington – the Co-chairs of our CDBG Task Force – we urge you to reach out to your Congressman, asking him to join as cosponsor of H.Res.668. To show your support for the CDBG program with your Congressman, click here to access NLC’s internet connection.

 V. President's Plan to Help Cities Prepare for the Impacts of Climate Change

As the President's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience met for the final time last month, President Obama announced a series of actions to respond to the Task Force's early feedback to help local leaders prepare their communities for the impacts of climate change by developing more resilient infrastructure and rebuilding existing infrastructure stronger and smarter.

Several of the actions focus on disaster resilience, including new details on a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition that will make resources available to communities that have been struck by natural disasters in recent years. Other actions include:

  • A pilot program through FEMA's Mitigation and Recovery programs that will equip communities to rebuild in a more resilient fashion using a single funding source and program. 
  • New guidance for State Hazard Mitigation Plans that calls upon states to consider climate variability as part of their requirement to address the probability of future events in state planning efforts.
  • Two "Preparedness Pilots" in cooperation with the City of Houston and the State of Colorado to bring together federal agencies and local communities to assess and plan for their region-specific vulnerabilities associated with the impacts of climate change. This effort will advance preparedness planning on the ground and help create models for other communities and agencies to follow.
  • Advance green stormwater infrastructure by provide funding assistance in at least 25 communities across the country for green infrastructure projects and technical assistance to create integrated green stormwater management and hazard mitigation plans. Agencies will also add guidance on green infrastructure to existing U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) peer-to-peer exchange and training programs.

Several of the President's announcements were presented to the Task Force in May as part of an NLC effort, working through the Resilient Communities for America campaign. The Task Force, which consists of 16 local elected officials and 8 governors and included Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, was charged with developing recommendations on how the federal government can support local adaptation efforts.

VI. Veterans Affairs Reform Bill Passes Both Houses

Following action in the House of Representatives, (The vote was 420 – 5, with 7 abstentions) the U.S. Senate (on a vote of 91-3) approved sweeping legislation to overhaul the beleaguered Veterans Affairs Department. The legislation was the product of extensive negotiations between Representative Jeff Miller (R-Florida) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Chairmen, respectively, of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees.

The legislation, H.R. 3230 was moved in response to the scandal in the Veterans Affairs health care system, in which officials at many facilities had manipulated patient waiting lists to conceal long delays caused in part by shortages of doctors and nurses.

The bill dedicates about $10 billion  to fund a new program, which will allow veterans to seek care outside the VA system if they have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. Another $5 billion will be set aside for hiring more doctors and nurses and for some construction. About $2 billion is allocated to lease 27 new medical facilities.

We thank the Federal Relations staff at the National League of Cities for their advocacy on most of these issues and for the quality of information that they share with us. If you have any questions or comments on any of these matters, contact Jon Moran at 609-695-3481, ext. 121 or jmoran@njslom.com

Very truly yours,

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

 

 

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