Capitol Comments

Brian Pallasch is the managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in Washington, DC. He was among the presenters at a policy roundtable CSG hosted on May 12 as part of the 2015 Transportation Policy Academy in Washington. During these excerpts from his remarks, he discusses ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the economic costs of not investing in infrastructure, why ASCE supports an increase in the federal gas tax and a permanent fix for the Highway Trust Fund and why he believes a proposal to eliminate the federal role in transportation is a bad idea.

If you know anything about the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) you know that it files amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases affecting state and local government. The SLLC made an exception and filed an amicus brief in a federal circuit court of appeals case because of the importance of the issue to SLLC members.

In Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl the Tenth Circuit will decide whether Colorado’s law requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue is unconstitutional. At least three other states have similar notice and reporting requirements (Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont).

In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court declined to decide one of the most important questions this term for state and local government: whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires police officers to accommodate suspects who are armed, violent, and mentally ill when bringing them into custody. But the Court held that the officers in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan were entitled to qualified immunity.

When police officers entered Teresa Sheehan’s room in a group home for persons with mental illness to take her to a hospital for psychiatric care, she threatened to kill them with a knife she held, so they retreated. Before backup arrived, the officers decided to reenter her room to prevent her from gathering more weapons or escaping. Upon reentry, Sheehan still had the knife in her hand and yelled for them to leave. One officer pepper sprayed Sheehan but she refused to drop the knife. The officers then shot her multiple times but she survived.

Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn was the keynote speaker at the opening dinner of the 2015 CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, DC on May 11. Rahn, who was appointed by Governor Larry Hogan on January 21st of this year, is the first person to lead transportation departments in three different states—New Mexico, Missouri and now Maryland. In these excerpts of his remarks, Rahn touched on hot button topics like Hogan’s reassessment of two light rail projects in the state and recent decision to lower tolls on bridges and roadways in the name of tax relief. He also weighed in on how he thinks Congress might address expiring federal transportation program authorization and the dwindling Highway Trust Fund.

State lawmakers in Nebraska voted last week (May 14) to override the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts and approve a six-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase. In doing so, Nebraska became the sixth state to approve a gas tax increase for transportation needs this year. That equals the number of states that moved major transportation funding packages in 2013, the most recent big year for such efforts. The news came during Infrastructure Week just as many participants were hearing that Congress is unlikely to follow suit anytime soon to shore up the dwindling Highway Trust Fund and provide any long-term certainty for state transportation officials.

To bring a lawsuit in federal court a plaintiff must have “standing” per Article III of the U.S. Constitution. An undisputed element of standing is that the plaintiff has suffered an injury. But what if Congress allows plaintiffs who have suffered no concrete harm to sue based upon a mere violation of statute? The Supreme Court will decide whether such plaintiffs have Article III standing in Spokeo v. Robins

While the impact of this case on state and local governments may not be obvious, there is a finite number of statutes where Congress has created a private right of action and a plaintiff may be unharmed by a violation of the statute. Most are consumer protection statutes like the Truth in Lending Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which don’t apply to state and local governments. But a few such statutes do apply—the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).  

According to CSG’s Book of the States, three states will hold gubernatorial elections in 2015, followed by twelve states in 2016, two states in 2017, and 36 states in 2018. Here's a look at the upcoming gubernatorial elections, with a breakdown of the party seats that are up for grabs.

Econ Piggy

The Pew Charitable Trusts has released an informative short video that evaluates what makes economic development policies - particularly those related to business incentives like tax credits and grants - successful. According to the video, states have dramatically increased spending on incentives and each year states spend billions of dollars on these programs. The video then asks a critical quesion:"Are they worth the price?". Check out the video below to learn what questions your state leaders should be asking when evaluating incentive programs.

CSG Midwest
Michigan voters have put the brakes on a $1.2 billion plan to raise taxes in order to invest more in the state’s roads and bridges. The plan, approved by the Legislature in late 2014 as a constitutional amendment, was soundly defeated at the polls — by a margin of 80 percent to 20 percent.
CSG Midwest

Seeking to improve transparency and remove conflicts of interest for elected officials, Indiana lawmakers have revamped their state’s ethics laws. According to the South Bend Tribune, legislators will be required to report more on their financial-disclosure forms and on their statements of economic interest. They must now report close relatives who are lobbyists, for example, and also disclose any business interest worth at least $500,000.

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