INSIDE WASHINGTON/Federalism legislation looks likely
Members of local and state organizations are working with members of Congress to see that legislation that promotes and preserves federalism gets passed. Bills have already been introduced in the House and Senate that participants hope will ease the sometimes strained relationship between the federal government and local elected officials.
Called the Federalism Act in the House and the Federalism Accountability Act of 1999 in the Senate, the bill has bipartisan support and could be placed on a fast track when Congress returns in September from its summer recess. The bill would require Congress to consult with state and local officials and their representative national organizations prior to the consideration of any legislation or federal regulations that would interfere with historic and traditional state and local rights.
“This provision of the bill requires federal agencies to stop, look, listen and think, before they leap into the arena of federal preemption,” South Bay, Fla., Mayor and National League of Cities President Clarence Anthony told the House subcommittee. “It further provides cities with a much-needed voice in the rulemaking process regarding those rules that would have the most direct and potentially debilitating impact on our nation’s cities.” Should the bill pass, some legislation in Congress could be affected. For example, a bill currently working its way through Congress — the “Religious Liberty Protection Act of 1999” — would preempt local authority over zoning issues for religious land use. Already passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, the RLPA has local leaders concerned.
Santa Fe County (N.M.) Commissioner Javier Gonzalez, who serves as second vice president of the National Association of Counties, recently told a House subcommittee that the RLPA, “may have far-reaching consequences by preempting local ordinances on zoning, civil rights, child protection and a myriad of other state and local laws” when a person or institution claims to be exercising religious freedom.
Because the federalism bill also contains a “rule of construction,” which provides that no federal statute or agency rule can preempt state or local law unless preemption is expressly stated, the RLPA likely would not survive a challenge based on the bill. That language “would effectively help preserve the authority of local government laws and regulations,” Gonzalez says.
The bill also would require the federal government to submit a report describing the impact any proposed preemption legislation would have on state and local governments. The report would detail the costs to local and state governments as a result of the preemption. “This bill is important because it addresses the issues of unfettered federal government authority that directly and quite possibly adversely affect cities and towns,” says Susan Parnas, senior legislative counsel for the NLC.
Other bills that fall under the federalism umbrella also are being considered: * The Regulatory Right to Know bill would require an annual, aggregate accounting of the costs/benefits of major regulations for state and local governments; * the Regulatory Improvement Act would strengthen the consultation process between federal agencies and local government officials regarding new regulations; * the Federal Financial Assistance Improvement Act would standardize the federal grant application process for states and local governments; and * the Mandate Information Act would clarify the Congressional Budget Office’s capacity to score any proposal that would place ceilings on federal financial participation in mandatory and entitlement programs.