Congress is back in session and America’s cities, towns, and villages are looking for 2020 to be a year of action, partnership, and progress. For local leaders and their residents, this year is about addressing critical community priorities before the legislative process slows during the election cycle. Here are a few key things we expect Congress to focus on in 2020.
Cities, towns and villages need a transportation boost and hope to get it in the form of reauthorizing the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
Congress will dive deep on issues around cutting-edge technology, including cybersecurity threats, data privacy, artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and 5G networks. Cities should watch closely to ensure that preemption is not slipped into any must-pass technology bills.
The Administration could take action that would threaten local authority through rule changes and proposals intended to “streamline” infrastructure deployment in communities. However, new opportunities will open for rural communities to expand broadband access through the rollout of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect grant and loan program, and the FCC’s new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
Local leaders want to ensure workforce development is a part of a comprehensive infrastructure package. If Congress is planning to release a draft infrastructure bill in the first six months of 2020, cities, towns and villages across America hope to have workforce and investment in skills training be part of that equation. Ensuring that we have skilled and trained workers to do the much-needed work in our communities is imperative. NLC has been supporting the BUILDS Act (H.R. 2831/S. 1517), which would help ensure that communities have a pipeline of skilled, trained workers to meet the growing needs within infrastructure sectors.
NLC will continue to beat the drum in 2020 about the need for State Opioid Response Grants (SOR) to make their way to the local level. Local leaders and Congress are frustrated that there is lack of clarity about how and where these funds are being spent. We hope to ensure that reporting of these funds becomes available in 2020 and that Congress finally moves to include appropriations language that would require states to automatically pass-through a portion of these funds to the local area.
In 2020, Congress and the Administration are likely to begin advancing incremental housing finance reforms that have bipartisan support and delay consideration of anything contentious until after the presidential election. It will be important for city leaders to weigh in on housing finance reform in 2020 as Congress begins to work in earnest at identifying policies that will have the votes to be included in a large housing finance reform package. NLC’s top policy priority for housing finance reform is including strong “Duty to Serve” requirements that advance affordable housing goals, including contributions to the National Housing Trust Fund.
NLC will also urge Congress to advance legislation authorizing grants to cities to provide cash assistance to low-income renters facing eviction as a result of a crisis, such as unexpected job-loss or health emergency.
Congress is expected to stick to their two–year cycle of passing a water resources bill to authorize flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Senate is expected to unveil their bill early this year, which is likely to include additional provisions related to wastewater, as they have in the past. In both chambers, improving resilience and strengthening infrastructure have been a focus of early conversations about the bill.
Additionally, NLC will be advocating for other water infrastructure bills to make it across the finish line, including HR 1497 to reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, provide grants for stormwater management, and allow states the flexibility to issue pollution discharge permits up to 10 years. This legislation has advanced through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and we hope it will come to the House floor for a vote soon, as well as see companion legislation in the Senate.
The issue of community resilience has seen bipartisan support across chambers in recent years. The transportation reauthorization bill includes provisions for reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector through a mix of formula and competitive grant programs, as well as improving the resilience of roads and bridges to natural disasters and extreme weather events. Additionally, House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats unveiled a legislative proposal to transition the economy to clean energy by 2050, with hopes for House action this year. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is expected to release policy recommendations early this year.
The House Financial Services Committee reported a bill for the long-term reauthorization of the NFIP, the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 3167), in October 2019. The final FY2020 appropriations package extended NFIP through Sept. 30, 2020.
In August 2019, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2019 established the National Criminal Justice Commission. The commission must conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, make recommendations for criminal justice reform, and disseminate findings and guidance to the federal government and to state, local, and tribal governments. We expect the new Commission will issue a final report to the President in 2020 that will once again make recommendations for significant changes to law enforcement programs and the criminal justice system.
The Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Act of 2019 (H.R. 1646) was introduced by Congressman Ami Bera (CA-7) in March 2019. The legislation provides funding for peer counseling programs for public safety officers and collects data on post-traumatic stress among public safety officers to assist in developing best practices and improve measures to recognize, prevent, and treat mental health issues among public safety officers. NLC will be working with the sponsors of the legislation in 2020 to advocate for programs to support local government efforts to prevent and treat first responder PTSD.
We expect Congress to consider legislation to de-schedule the use of cannabis related products. While this legislation is not expected to pass in 2020, there is considerable pressure on Congress to do something to reduce the conflict between federal and state laws around the use of cannabis.
These are just a few of the items that makes 2020 a crucial year for cities, towns and villages. Local leaders must continue to amplify the stories of their communities and residents. Together, we can build partnership and consensus in Washington. Stay up to date with the latest analysis, action alerts and updates on federal issues affecting cities by signing up for NLC’s Federal Advocacy Newsletter.
About the author: Irma Esparza Diggs is a senior executive and director of federal advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Irma on Twitter @iediggs.