Capitol Comments

The U.S. Constitution Equal Protection Clause’s “one-person one-vote” principle requires that voting districts have roughly the same population so that votes in each district count equally. But what population is relevant—total population or total voting population—and who gets to decide? The Supreme Court will decide these issues in Evenwel v. Abbott.

Janet Kavinoky is the Executive Director for Transportation and Infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC and Vice President of the Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition. Pat Thomas is Vice President of Global Public Affairs for UPS and currently serves as First Vice Chairman at the American Trucking Associations. Both were speakers at a transportation policy roundtable May 12 in Washington as part of the 2015 CSG Transportation Policy Academy. In these excerpted portions of their remarks to state legislators attending the academy, they spoke about why both of their organizations support a federal gas tax increase, why Congress hasn’t been able to reach agreement on a plan to meet the nation’s infrastructure investment needs, what it may take to convince them to do so and how predicted changes ahead for freight transportation makes a national focus on the issue imperative.

Joung Lee is the Policy Director at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in Washington, DC. He was among the speakers at a policy roundtable CSG hosted May 12 in Washington as part of the 2015 Transportation Policy Academy. During these portions of his remarks, Lee spoke to state legislators attending the academy about why the federal Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency again this summer and some of the options Congress could consider to address the situation.

While the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which regulates private employer retirement plans, does not apply to state and local government retirement plans--a fiduciary duty does. A lower court determining the precise nature of the fiduciary duty state and local governments owe employees under a state law similar to ERISA regulating public retirement plans may look to the Supreme Court’s opinion in Tibble v. Edison International.  In this case the Court held unanimously that employers have a continuing duty to monitor retirement investments and remove imprudent ones.   

In a 5-4 decision in Comptroller v. Wynne the Supreme Court held that Maryland’s failure to offer residents a full credit against income taxes paid to other states is unconstitutional. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC)/International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) filed an amicus brief in support of Maryland. 

Maryland taxes residents’ income earned in- and out-of-state. If Maryland residents pay income tax to another state for income earned there, Maryland allows them a credit against Maryland’s “state” tax but not its “county” tax. Maryland also taxes nonresident income earned in the state. Nonresidents pay Maryland “state” tax and a “special nonresident tax” equivalent to Maryland’s lowest “county” tax.

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.

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