Week Ending June 19, 2020

Police reform and infrastructure plan advance.

  • House Begins Work on Five-Year Infrastructure Plan
  • House Panel Advances Policing Bill
  • Education Leaders Tell House Education Committee More Federal Aid is Needed
  • U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Trump in DACA Protections

House Begins Work on Five-Year Infrastructure Plan

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began marathon consideration of the “Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act” (H.R. 2), a major piece of the House’s infrastructure agenda that includes a five-year renewal of surface transportation programs. More than 300 amendments to the $500 billion plan were submitted at a committee meeting as panel members worked around the clock to send a final package to the full House before July 4.

  • National Infrastructure Crisis – Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said during the markup, “America’s surface transportation infrastructure is in crisis. Our system of roads, bridges, public transit and rail systems are badly outdated, causing stress and safety hazards for our citizens, strain on our economy, and an enormous toll on public health and our planet. For years, Congress has bypassed solving the toughest problems plaguing our surface transportation system, allowing the system to limp along and fall further and further into disrepair and disservice. That all changes with the INVEST in America Act.”
  • Substantial New Funding for Infrastructure – The bill invests $319 billion for highway programs, including $105 billion in transit, $60 billion in rail, and over $7 billion in transportation alternatives, ensuring that more Americans have access to efficient and reliable transportation options.
  • Funding for Natural Disasters – The bill provides $6.3 billion through a new pre-disaster mitigation program, helping states prepare for and limit the impacts of extreme weather and natural disasters, whether that’s earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, flooding in the Midwest, or hurricanes in our coastal communities.
  • Alternative Fuel Technology – The bill also invests in innovation, providing $3.1 billion for alternative fuel charging stations and zero-emission buses, and creates a new green highway materials research, development and deployment program. And, the bill invests $8.3 billion in a new carbon pollution reduction program, giving states the flexibility to reduce emissions through the projects that are right for their communities, whether that’s highways, transit or rail.

What You Need to Know: The package from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee does not include financing plans, which will be addressed by the Ways and Means Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats also announced plans for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that calls for a huge increase in funding to repair roads and bridges while expanding broadband access in rural areas. The infrastructure bill, known as the “Moving Forward Act,” includes $25 billion for drinking water, $100 billion for broadband, $70 billion for clean energy projects, $100 billion in funding for public housing, and $25 billion for the postal service. The largest component is the $500 billion Democrat-led bill from the House Transportation Committee that could be considered by the House in coming weeks.

House Panel Advances Policing Bill

The House Judiciary Committee approved the “Justice in Policing Act” along party lines after more than 12 hours of debate. A vote on the bill by the full House is scheduled for June 25.

  • Police Accountability – With the passage of the bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said, “The Justice in Policing Act would finally allow for meaningful accountability in cases of police misconduct and it would begin the process of reimagining policing in the 21st Century.”
  • Major Provisions – According to Nadler, the legislation makes it easier for the federal government to successfully prosecute police misconduct cases, bans chokeholds, ends racial and religious profiling and encourages prosecutions independent from local police. The bill modifies the doctrine of qualified immunity in civil rights lawsuits against police officers. The bill also collects and publicizes data on a number of key policing matters; creates a national database on police-misconduct incidents to prevent officers with track records of misconduct from moving from department to department; ends no-knock warrants and the militarization of local policing; and specifies that lynching is a federal hate crime. It also creates a new grant program for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces on policing innovation to reimagine how public safety could work in a truly equitable and just way.

What You Need to Know: Senate Republicans also unveiled a policing bill of their own, a day after an executive order was signed by President Donald Trump. The order would create federal incentives through the Justice Department for local police departments that seek “independent credentialing” to certify that law enforcement is meeting higher standards for the use of force and de-escalation training. Trump noted that those standards would include banning the use of chokeholds, “except if an officer’s life is at risk.” Trump’s order would also incentivize local departments to bring on experts in mental health, addiction and homelessness as “co-responders” to “help officers manage these complex encounters.” And it would encourage better information sharing to track officers with “credible abuses” to prevent them from moving from one department to the next. A Senate vote is scheduled next week, but it is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will gain the 60 votes needed to advance it. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others criticized the Senate proposal as a “half-measure” that doesn’t go far enough.

Education Leaders Tell House Education Committee More Federal Aid is Needed

The House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing this week to examine the impact of COVID-19 and likely state budget cuts on learning and public education. Testimony was provided by NEA, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and North Carolina’s superintendent of public schools. Witnesses discussed financial challenges facing schools as they reopen following extended closures: increased student needs, continued demands for increased internet and technology access, and the looming state budget shortfalls.

Key Points of Testimony:

  • The pandemic – not fiscal irresponsibility – is responsible for the large cuts schools are facing. 
  • States are already making cuts to education, including shedding 750,000 education jobs. Cleveland reported facing budget cuts of 25%.
  • As states face budget shortfalls of about $615 billion, not including shortfalls from localities, the $13.5 billion in earlier aid to K-12 schools is insufficient to address revenue shortfalls and new expenses. Further, it’s far below the $60 billion Congress provided under the Recovery Act, which was too small and ended too soon. Budget cuts from the Great Recession hurt students, especially those from low-income households and students of color, resulting in lower test scores and lower college admissions.
  • Only 60% of low-income students and 60% to 70% of students in schools serving predominantly black and Latino students regularly log in to online instruction, while 90% of high-income students do. Part of this is due to the “homework gap,” the lack of access to connectivity and devices.
  • Schools and students need more resources, especially affordable connectivity and devices to enable remote learning.

What You Need to Know: Democrats on the committee uniformly urged more aid to ensure safety and prevent learning gaps while Republicans suggested “reopening the country,” including schools, would help boost tax revenues. Some questioned the need for additional aid. The House-passed HEROES Act includes $58 billion in state aid. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has rejected the HEROES  Act and does not intend to consider another COVID aid bill until July. 

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Trump in DACA Protections

DACA recipients can breathe a little easier – for now – as the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA protects immigrants, who through no fault of their own, were brought to the United States as children. In DHS v Regents of the University of California, Chief Justice John Roberts tipped the scales in favor of DREAMers, who faced deportation and uncertainty.

  • DACA Background – In June 2012, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memorandum announcing an immigration relief program for “certain young people who were brought to this country as children.” Known as DACA, the program applies to children arrivals who have continuously resided in the U.S. since 2007; were under the age of 31 in 2012; are current students, had completed high school, or were honorably discharged veterans; have not been convicted of serious crimes; and do not threaten national security or public safety. DHS concluded that individuals who meet these criteria warrant favorable treatment under the immigration laws because they “lacked the intent to violate the law,” are productive contributors to our society, and “know only this country as home.”
  • What the Ruling Means – Today’s ruling, while surprisingly positive, means Congress must act to legislate the future of DACA and DREAMers. It’s clear that Trump’s administration can indeed end the program, but it must follow administrative procedure, which it failed to do and/or prove prior to this ruling. Roberts wrote, “The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.” Roberts also wrote that DHS did not properly consider “what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients” if the program were to be terminated. The University of California Regents  repeatedly stated that the administration’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious,” and the chief justice agreed.
  • Who Are DACA Recipients? – DACA recipients include union members, U.S. military service men and women, and front-line workers such as doctors and nurses. 

What You Need to Know: The Trump administration now has a blueprint for the necessary steps to take before they can again seek to rescind DACA. The future of DACA and DREAMers may rest on the outcome of the 2020 elections.

Additional State and Local Aid Is Still Needed

We urgently need you to call your senator. Time is running out for Congress to provide aid before state and local governments lay off more workers. Nearly 1.6 million public employees have already been pink-slipped. Front-line public service workers like you are critical to fighting this pandemic and reopening our economy. America can’t do either without you.

Senate: 1-888-981-9704

Tell your senator that it’s urgent to fund the front lines NOW with no less than $1 trillion for states, counties and cities – including more Medicaid and education funding – for essential public services to fight COVID and reopen our economy.

For more ways to take action, visit the AFSCME COVID-19 webpage.

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