The staff of the National League of Cities (NLC) serves as our advocate in our Nation’s Capital. As Congress returns from its Election Season recess, and departs for its Thanksgiving Break, NLC has provided us with the information for this update on developments effecting local governments.
I. Congress Returns for Lame Duck Session
Following the midterm elections, House and Senate members returned to Washington last week to begin a lame duck session. It now appears that the session may last as long as three weeks into December after Congress returns on November 29 from its Thanksgiving break. So far, the rhetoric in Washington following the elections does not suggest a more civil cross-party engagement, as the recession and its consequences remain a stark reality for the nation. Both Republicans and Democrats are struggling to find a path forward on several contentious policy issues, including expiring tax rates and unemployment benefits, spending, and nuclear arms policy. As the session continues, NLC will focus its efforts on protecting local government authority and federal funding for local government programs.
II. Mandatory Collective Bargaining Legislation Update
According to Hill sources, Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to file cloture on the stand-alone mandatory collective bargaining bill (S. 3194) this week, with a vote on the legislation set to follow the Thanksgiving Holiday. This bill will not effect New Jersey municipalities, already required to bargain by State law. We report on it, however, in the interest of municipal solidarity and because it appears that Senator Reid also plans to file cloture on several other bills, including the DREAM Act, a controversial bill that would offer a path to legal status to the children of illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements.
While Senator Reid's actions may simply be an effort to fulfill campaign promises to bring these bills up for a vote, and it would be difficult to pass the legislation in an already crowded lame duck session, NLC and its national coalition partners are reaching out to our supporters on the Hill to remind them of NLC's position against the legislation. In addition to these efforts, municipal officials are encouraged to reach out to their Senators over the Thanksgiving break to urge them to vote ‘no’ to this legislation on the grounds that it interferes with states' and local government rights' to manage their employment relationships; violates federalism principles; and may be unconstitutional.
III. NLC Submits Comments on EPA Proposed Coal Combustion Residual Rule
Recently, NLC, in a joint letter with the American Public Works Association, National Association of Counties, National Association of County Engineers, and U.S. Conference of Mayors, submitted comments on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to regulate, for the first time, coal ash from the disposal of the wastes generated by electric utilities and independent power producers.
EPA is considering two possible options for the management of coal ash. Under the first proposal, EPA would list these residuals as special (hazardous) wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of the Resource, Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA), when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments. Under the second proposal, EPA would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA, the section for non-hazardous wastes. Currently, coal ash is considered exempt wastes under RCRA.
The joint letter calls on EPA to "consider the unintended consequences of any new regulatory policy regulating coal combustion residuals (CCRs)," such as discouraging beneficial use and "new and uncertain requirements for shipping, handling, use and disposal" of coal ash under a hazardous waste designation.
IV. Street Sign Changes Are a Gradual Process
Recent media reports have highlighted some recent and not-so-recent changes in federal rules impacting street signs to improve readability. NLC reported on this issue earlier this month in Nation's Cities Weekly, in an effort to address lingering questions regarding the steps necessary to ensure municipal compliance.
As background, the Federal Highway Administration issued significant updates to the federal guidelines governing street signs, pavement markings and all other standards for streets and roads open to public traffic back in 2000, 2003 and 2009. In general, the updates reflect a greater emphasis on safety and the ability of drivers to read signs more quickly, especially at night. The new rules and compliance deadlines apply to sign "retroreflectivity," which will improve night viewing of street- and ground-level signs, and for minimum sign letter heights.
The update garnering news headlines of late was a required change from street name signs with all capital letters to ones with mixed case letters—a fix that the FHA assures has no deadline and may be completed by municipalities whenever they would replace their street name signs due to normal wear and tear.
Click here to view the full Nation's Cities Weekly article, which contains links to additional resources and details.
V. NLC Signs Amicus Brief Defending New York's Clean Vehicle Promotion Law
Last week, NLC's Legal Advisory Committee approved a recommendation to support New York City's petition for certiorari in City of New York v. Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade. In the case, the Supreme Court is being asked to consider whether federal law—the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and Clean Air Act—prevents states and local governments from enacting regulations to promote clean vehicle use. Specifically, the Court will consider whether New York City can regulate the taxicab industry to encourage clean vehicle use through pricing incentives. In a lower court decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against New York City. To show its support, NLC joined an amicus brief to be filed by the City of Chicago that calls for deference to local government policy determinations and legislative discretion.
We will next alert you to Congressional activities, as the Lame Duck session gathers steam, after the Thanksgiving break. If you have any questions, contact Jon Moran at 609-695-3481, ext. 121.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.