Policy Area

I have an article in this week’s issue of CSG’s The Current State wrapping up the various perspectives on the prospects for infrastructure investment in 2018 that were proffered during Infrastructure Week last month in Washington. But another topic that received some attention from various I-Week speakers and participants involved something else emphasized in President Trump’s infrastructure plan issued in February: streamlining the process by which infrastructure projects receive the go-ahead to move forward, which can often produce years-long project delays.

In a 7-2 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission the Supreme Court reversed a ruling against the owner of a cake shop who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. The Court concluded the cake maker was entitled to but did not experience a “neutral decisionmaker who [gave] full and fair consideration to his religious objection.” The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Colorado.

Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins filed a complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop claiming it violated Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, when it refused to create a wedding cake for them. The cake shop owner Jack Phillips explained:  “to create a wedding cake for an event that celebrates something that directly goes against the teachings of the Bible, would have been a personal endorsement and participation in the ceremony and relationship that they were entering into.”

In 2014, the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, FVAP, found that only an estimated 4% of overseas American citizens were participating in voting. David Beirne, Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, says that employers of overseas Americans can help further the FVAP mission in ensuring their overseas employees are made aware of the benefits when utilizing FVAP’s resources to register and request an absentee ballot.

At a May 14 event to kick off Infrastructure Week 2018 in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao both reiterated the Trump administration’s hopes for a comprehensive infrastructure package this year and acknowledged the challenge inherent in making it a reality.

“This administration sent out a bill on Feb. 12 of this year to the Congress and we hope that there will be a bipartisan effort to talk about how we can rebuild and repair our infrastructure,” she said. “The difficulty is how do we pay for it.”

Virginia Legislature Votes for Expansion

On May 30, the Virginia Senate voted, with 4 Republicans supporting the measure, to expand Medicaid eligibility to all individuals with income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, according to the Washington Post. Later in the day, the House of Delegates approved the bill by 67 to 31. Gov. Northam, a pediatrician who campaigned in 2017 on expanding Medicaid, is expected to sign the bill.

Climate Adaptation

Earlier this year, electric utility FirstEnergy announced that it would close three nuclear power plants—Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania, Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants in Ohio—by 2021.

According to an analysis done by the research firm Brattle Group, the retirement of these three nuclear...

Recent polls record the American public’s concern about health care costs—and analysis documents the increase in out of pocket costs, up 11 percent on average in 2017. Policymakers worry that national health care spending—reaching $3.3 trillion or $10,348 per person in 2016 according to the official federal estimate and accounting for 17.9 percent of gross domestic product—is unsustainable.

At a recent meeting I attended in Washington, D.C., a group of researchers and health care industry officials addressed the question “Why are Healthcare Prices So High, and What can be Done About Them?”

My biggest take aways were slides showing that 50 percent of healthcare cost increases are driven by the prices charged and that Medicare and Medicaid have been able to hold healthcare prices steady while private insurance has seen a 70% increase since 1996.

Collins v. Virginia is like a tricky logic problem. Police need a warrant to search the curtilage of a home but not to search a vehicle. So is a warrant needed to search a vehicle located on the curtilage of a home? Yes holds the Supreme Court.

More technically, in an 8-1 decision the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment automobile exception does not permit police officers to search vehicles parked in the curtilage of a home without a warrant.  

In addition to the prospects for a federal infrastructure package in 2018, one of the other major topics at various events during Infrastructure Week 2018 (May 14-21) in Washington, D.C. was public-private partnerships. The National Association of Counties and the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings hosted an event May 17 on “modernizing infrastructure policies to advance” P3s. Two veterans of P3 deals, John Porcari of WSP and Judah Gluckman of the D.C. Office of Public-Private Partnerships, were among the panelists. Here’s a report on some of what was said. 

While a comprehensive infrastructure bill may not be in the cards for 2018, that doesn’t mean infrastructure won’t factor into this year’s Congressional agenda. It also didn’t mean Infrastructure Week (May 14-21) was completely devoid of infrastructure-related news. Far from it. Here’s a roundup of some of the infrastructure news from the last couple of weeks.

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