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Federal Legislative Update - Week of May 6th, 2024

House and Senate Action

The House and Senate are both in session this week.

In a major victory for special districts and the National Special Districts Coalition (NSDC), the House approved this evening the Special District Grant Accessibility Act (H.R. 752). The legislation, which was cleared on an overwhelming 352 to 27 vote, would codify a first-ever formal definition of special district. Additionally, the bill would direct the White House Office of Management and Budget to require federal agencies to ensure that special districts are eligible for all appropriate forms of federal assistance. Action now turns to the Senate, where NSDC is working with key Members in an effort to advance a companion measure.

Later this week, the House will also consider legislation (S. 870) that would reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), as well as two programs that benefit local fire departments, namely the Assistance for Firefighters Grants (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program.

House, Senate Ag Leaders Release Competing Farm Bill Proposals

Last week, House and Senate committee leaders released competing proposals to reauthorize the Farm Bill. For his part, House Agriculture Committee Chair GT Thompson (R-PA) unveiled a 5-page summary document with a broad overview of key policy objectives. Draft text of the bill is expected to be available by the end of next week, as Thompson is planning to consider the bill in committee ahead of the Memorial Day recess. Across Capitol Hill, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) posted a much more extensive outline of her proposal. While the release of the two blueprints represents the most significant action on Farm Bill reauthorization this Congress, both proposals include provisions that are framed as non-starters for the opposing party.

In terms of the policy, Democrats and Republicans both emphasize the need to bolster conservation programs, but they differ in how to achieve that goal. Republicans are aiming to use Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funds for an expanded range of conservation practices. However, Democrats are opposed to any reprogramming of IRA funds, unless it directly addresses climate change. In addition, Democrats will push back against any reforms that would reduce benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While Chairman Thompson has insisted he doesn’t intend to cut SNAP, he does want to reverse Biden-era reforms that have increased food aid. The Senate package would leave nutrition funding untouched. Democrats and Republicans also agree on the need to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health. For example, both parties want to increase the size and scope of the Good Neighbor Authority, which lets federal managers contract with local governments to thin publicly owned forests.

The latest extension of the Farm Bill expires on September 30.

DEA Agrees to Reclassify Cannabis; Comprehensive Legalization Legislation Introduced

On May 1, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agreed to move cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) – which includes drugs with high abuse potential and no medical value – to the less restrictive Schedule III. It should be noted that a Schedule III designation is applied to drugs with moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence and has been shown to have some medical value. While cannabis would remain federally prohibited, the new designation would remove significant barriers to research and allow state-licensed businesses to make federal tax deductions. Looking ahead, the reclassification must now go through a formal rulemaking process, which could take months to complete.

Following DEA’s announcement, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a coalition of other Democratic senators reintroduced legislation (S. 4226) to legalize and regulate cannabis at the federal level. The comprehensive proposal, entitled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), would require the Attorney General to completely remove cannabis from federal drug schedules under the CSA within 180 days of the bill’s enactment. Beyond ending the prohibition on cannabis, the CAOA would expunge nonviolent federal cannabis-related criminal records and create a pathway for resentencing.

Relevant Hearings and Markups

House Ways and Means – On Friday morning, the panel will conduct a field hearing in Scottsdale, Arizona, to discuss empowering Native American and rural communities. Additional information on the hearing can be found here.

House Appropriations – There are a number of budget hearings before the various subcommittees this week. Lawmakers are expected to hear from Administration officials representing the Department of Commerce, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A full list of hearings is available here.

Senate Appropriations – Like their House counterparts, there will be a number of budget hearings before the various subcommittees this week. Lawmakers will hear from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, and FDA Secretary Robert Califf, among others. A full list of hearings is available here.

Senate Environment and Public Works – On Wednesday morning, Senators will hear from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan on the president’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal for the agency. More details on the hearing can be accessed here.

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