CONGRESS REACHES AGREEMENT ON OPIOID LEGISLATION
A comprehensive federal opioid legislative package, H.R. 6, is now on President Trump's desk for his signature following months of negotiations in Congress. The Senate approved H.R. 6 on Oct. 3, while the House had previously approved the legislation on Sept. 28.
The omnibus bill, known as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, serves as the vehicle for a number of smaller bills that had been under consideration in both chambers. The final package focuses on improving the federal response to the opioid epidemic via changes to Medicare and Medicaid, expansion of treatment resources for health care providers, and enhancement of recovery supports for patients.
Of particular interest to counties, H.R. 6 requires state Medicaid programs to suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid benefits for justice-involved juveniles, and directs the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best practices around providing health care for justice-involved individuals returning to their communities from county correctional facilities. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation are also directed to incentivize health information technology demonstrations for behavioral health providers, and Medicaid's Institutions for Mental Diseases' (IMD) exclusions are partially lifted to allow states to receive federal Medicaid payments for substance use disorder services provided in IMD facilities. Federal programs that support counties addressing substance abuse disorders are also reauthorized.
Counties continue to support strong state, county and local partnerships, reinforced with appropriate resources, to effectively address the opioid epidemic as a priority for 2018.
FCC APPROVES ORDER LIMITING LOCAL AUTHORITY IN 5G DEPLOYMENT
On Sept. 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an order intended to facilitate 5G wireless network and small cell deployment by constraining local government authority related to permit review timelines and by limiting application fees.
Specifically, the orer limits application fees local governments may charge telecommunications companies for the placement, construction and collocation of new wireless facilities to $500 for up to five sites and $100 per site thereafter. Recurring charges for placing wireless facilities on public property are limited to $270 annually, including right-of-way access fees and attachment fees. The ruling also constrains local governments to 60 days to approve applications to attach small cells to existing structures and 90 days to construct entirely new structures. Local governments would face enforcement action if applicants challenged them in court based on noncompliance with these requirements. Both CCAP and NACo had submitted comments to the FCC prior to the ruling opposing restrictions on the permit review process and local government authority to work with applicants in the best interests of their constituents.
The order is set to take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, but several cities across the country have already indicated they are considering legal action against the new rules, citing increased costs and imposition of unreasonable burdens on local governments, and ultimately taxpayers.
Legislation has been introduced in the PA General Assembly with similar aims. House Bill 2564, introduced by Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks), would also impose stricter timelines and fee limits on application and permit review for small cell facilities, as well as limit the ability of local governments to regulate small cell development in rights-of-way. CCAP submitted comments to the House Commerce Committee in August as part of a hearing on the bill, expressing similar concerns to those raised regarding the FCC order. In addition, counties remain concerned with language that would allow collocation of small cell facilities on utility poles and other structures in rights-of-way as a use by right not subject to zoning review or approval. Local governments argue that review and update of local zoning codes and permit processes to facilitate development of small cell infrastructure should be open to discussion among local governments and wireless providers to assure the best interests of neighborhoods and residents are met. CCAP's comments can be found by selecting Legislative Testimony under the Legislative Action Center at www.pacounties.org.
IMMIGRATION DETAINER REQUESTS CONSIDERED BY HOUSE PANEL
The House Judiciary Committee reported legislation on Oct. 10 that would address release of individuals in the custody of local governments who are subject to federal immigration detainer requests.
As approved by the Senate in February 2017, SB 10, introduced by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny), would have imposed liability on counties for injuries caused by an individual who was subject to a detainer request and released. The bill created a lose-lose situation for counties, who would be exposed to costly lawsuits from bail-qualified individuals detained in a county prison pursuant to a detainer request, since federal courts have clearly established that ICE detainer requests are voluntary requests, not mandatory orders, or if they release the detainee and that individual later causes injury to another.
The committee adopted by a 20-4 vote an amendment rewriting the bill and removing some of the problematic language. While not wholly addressing the underlying conflict the bill creates between counties' responsibility to due process and their responsibility to this law, it does offer some relief for the liability exposure counties would face under federal case law, by requiring the state to take on the responsibility for defending local governments in any civil lawsuit that might arise as a result of their compliance with this law and by holding the state liable for any judgment or settlement that might result from such action.
The committee reported SB 10 as amended by a 19-5 vote, moving the bill to the full House for further consideration
UPDATES TO FIREARM RELINQUISHMENT IN PFA CASES
The Senate voted 43-5 on Oct. 3 to send HB 2060, updating restrictions on firearms possession in protection from abuse (PFA) proceedings, to Governor Wolf's desk.
While current law permits a court to order firearms used or threatened to be used in an incident of abuse to be relinquished, HB 2060 will require anyone who is convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving domestic violence to relinquish all firearms or firearms licenses within 24 hours to a law enforcement agency or licensed firearms dealer. If the relinquishment is required by a PFA, other weapons and ammunition must also be relinquished, and may in that case be turned over to a sheriff. In addition, House Bill 2060 eliminates the ability of the abuser to turn their firearms over to family or friends. Review and analysis on the potential impacts on firearms storage needs for sheriffs as a result of the legislation are ongoing.
The bill will head to the governor's desk, where, according to media reports, he has promised immediate signature. It would take effect 180 days after signature.
IFO RELEASES SEPTEMBER REVENUE REPORT
The state's Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released its monthly trends report for September, showing that the state's general fund revenue collections for the first quarter of FY 2018-2019 were $204.3 million (2.8 percent) greater than estimates. September's collections are primarily responsible, which came in $137.8 million (4.7 percent) greater than estimates, owing to higher-than-expected corporate net income tax payments and sales tax revenue collections. The IFO cautioned in its report, though, that it is too early to project those gains forward to the rest of the fiscal year, as it does not anticipate that growth can be sustained. In addition, personal income tax revenues have been slightly below estimate for the first three months of the fiscal year. The full IFO report is available at ifo.state.pa.us.
COMMISSION VOTES ON FIRE/EMS RECOMMENDATIONS
The SR 6 Commission, established in 2017 to recommend improvements to the delivery of emergency services, voted in September on 92 recommendations to the General Assembly to help avert a crisis across Pennsylvania caused by increasing demand on services combined with limited resources. Tioga County commissioner Mark Hamilton has been representing CCAP on the commission, along with numerous fire and EMS organizations and local governments from across the state.
The recommendations came from six subcommittees focusing on ensuring access to emergency services, government support, potential innovations that could be implemented, recruitment, retention and training, and updates to regulations and codes. Now that the recommendations have been voted on, a final report will be compiled by Nov. 30.
NEXT GENERATION 911 COST ESTIMATE REPORT RELEASED
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Telecommunications and Information Administration recently published a cost-estimate report prepared by their joint 911 Coordination Implementation Office, as requested by Congress, on the nationwide implementation of Next Generation 911 (NG911). The report estimates that upgrading public safety answering points (PSAPs) to NG911 would cost between $9.5 and $12.7 billion over a ten-year period, and offers detailed information needed to achieve a coordinated deployment effort.
According to the study, deploying next-generation technology in a multi-state model would be the most economical approach at $9.5 billion, compared to individual state implementation projected to cost $10.5 billion, and to service solution implementation (in which states would purchase all core services and PSAP maintenance from a NG911 service provider), requiring an estimated $12.7 billion. Further, the report explores NG911 implementation logistics and timelines, operation, maintenance, and training of those using the system. The report's intent is to assist Congress in considering whether to develop a long-term funding mechanism to support NG911 implementation.