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There's promise of a bipartisan bill that could restore the "ACIR."
WASHINGTON — The work of a special House task force on intergovernmental affairs neared its end on Friday—at least for now—with the bipartisan leaders of the panel both voicing support for restoring a commission to promote cooperation between levels of government.
Even though 13 House lawmakers are listed as members of the Speaker’s Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, Friday’s hearing began and ended with only one of them in attendance, its chairman, Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, of Utah.
“I think the hearings we’ve had have been not terribly well attended, but the information has been great,” Bishop said after the meeting.
The top Democrat on the panel, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, was on hand for part of the hearing.
He told Route Fifty he is preparing a bill that he may introduce before the end of the year, or in the next Congress, that would form a panel similar to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, or ACIR, which was active between 1959 and 1996.
The ACIR was designed as a bipartisan body of 26 members who could study problems, programs and other intergovernmental matters. Members included representatives of the White House, congressional lawmakers, governors, state legislators, mayors and county officials.
Connolly has unsuccessfully introduced similar legislation in the past. But he said that he’s “pretty optimistic” that, with bipartisan support, the latest iteration of his bill to revive the commission could gain traction with the incoming Democratic House majority.
Bishop said he intended to sign onto the legislation as a co-sponsor.
Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, who is aiming to retake that job now that the Democrats took control of the chamber in last week’s midterm elections, announced the task force in May 2017.
Since then, it has met publicly five times, including the latest convening.
Testifying Friday were Vermont Treasurer Beth Pearce, Britta Beckstead, a policy advisor for the Western Governors’ Association, and David Hemingway, an advocate for a constitutional amendment that would create a process whereby at least two-thirds of state legislatures could force the repeal of presidential executive orders and other federal rules and regulations.
Governors from Idaho, New Mexico and Utah, other state, city and county elected officials, people previously involved in the ACIR, academics, and a past White House intergovernmental affairs director are among those that appeared before the task force at other hearings.
Bishop said there are plans for the task force to issue a report with recommendations.
He was adamant from the time the panel launched that he had little interest in wading into budgetary matters and was instead keen to focus on procedures and processes that could afford states and localities more of a say in federal decision-making.
Bishop’s district covers a swath of northern Utah that stretches the entire east-to-west width of the state. He has served in the House since 2003 and won reelection last week with about 62 percent of the vote.
In Congress, he has a history of taking up causes that favor state power. For instance, in 2016, he and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington state Republican, proposed a constitutional amendment like the one Hemingway is advocating for.
And, last year, he introduced a bill to impose new restrictions on the authority presidents have to designate national monuments, like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two monuments in Utah that the Trump Administration has controversially taken action to downsize.
Bishop said that the recommendations in the forthcoming task force report could touch on issues like defining what federal “consultation” with the states means. He also wants to suggest that the Speaker’s Task Force be maintained, but with the speaker of the House as its chair.
Taking additional steps to ensure states are fully aware of the conditions they are required to meet when accepting federal grants was another possibility he mentioned.
Beckstead, with the Western Governors Association, submitted 36 pages of written testimony delving into details on how the group, which represents the governors of 19 western states, would like to see Congress clarify the processes for federal consultation with states.
Some of what WGA recommends includes identifying basic elements of effective state-federal consultation; directing federal agencies to put their consultation procedures in writing; and holding agencies accountable for developing and implementing those processes.
“There is a profound misunderstanding throughout the federal government regarding the role and legal status of states,” Beckstead’s testimony adds.
Pearce in her remarks emphasized the importance of the federal government providing flexibility to the states when it comes to financing projects, and urged that lawmakers revisit a provision in last year’s massive tax overhaul that eliminated tax-exempt advance refunding bonds, a common tool states and localities had used to refinance and restructure debt.
Connolly said he did not know whether the task force itself would continue into the new Congress, and that this would be up to the new speaker. But he added that, as a former Board of Supervisors official in Fairfax County, Virginia, it is a topic he remains interested in.
“I care a lot about this,” he said.
In his formal remarks, Connolly said reconstituting a body like the ACIR is “not a heavy lift,” and noted that the underlying law that allowed for it to exist in the first place is still on the books.
Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
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