November 2016

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DMGS Election Preview: Recreational Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Support for legalized Marijuana in the United States is growing nearly as fast as its profits. With recreational marijuana legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and now Alaska, sales have projected to hit $4.3 billion in 2016, according to the Marijuana Business Daily’s 2016 factbook. Some experts have even predicted a $22 billion industry by 2020. These figures have attracted state’s and investors hoping to cash in on a lucrative revenue source. In November, voters in four states—Arizona, Massachusetts, California Nevada, and Maine—will decide whether to permit recreational marijuana (REC). All of these states currently allow Medical Marijuana (MMJ), which they hope to integrate into their regulatory framework. If voters approve their respective initiatives, it could further legitimize cannabis’ economic value.

In light of these ballot proposals, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced in August that marijuana would remain a schedule 1 narcotic under the Controlled Substance Act. Written in 1970, the Controlled Substance Act categorizes marijuana—as well as heroin, ecstasy, and other narcotics—as a “drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” In their announcement, the agency cited a need to further study and research the benefits of Marijuana. The DEA’s decision comes after the Department of Health and Human Services recommended moving the drug from a schedule 1 classification to a schedule 3 classification, which would acknowledge its health benefits and make it easier to prescribe. Currently, doctors can only “recommend” cannabis to patients in a state with medical marijuana.

To help stymie the potential for prosecution, President Obama issued a memo in 2009 to federal prosecutors encouraging them not to prosecute medical marijuana operations that are in accordance with state law. In 2013, after Colorado and Washington had passed laws legalizing marijuana, the Department of Justice announced an update to their marijuana enforcement policy. The announcement stipulated that marijuana would remain illegal under federal law, but they expected states like Colorado and Washington to create “strong state-based enforcement efforts…” Ultimately, the DOJ reserved the right to challenge their policy, but they maintained “they wouldn’t do it at this time.”

As a result, the four states with marijuana ballot proposals in 2016 have mirrored their legislation off the legal cannabis markets in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. All stipulate that 21-year-olds can legally purchase and possess up to an ounce of pot. However, cultivation policies, tax rates, state revenue and the distribution of those funds all differ. Here’s a glimpse at the current marijuana regulatory framework in place.

To read more, visit DMGS's "Capitol Commentary" Blog

 

 

October Congressional Review

Cuban Sanction Changes

Effective October 17, Americans have even more reasons to travel to Cuba. As part of changes announced October 14 by the Treasury & Commerce Departments, Americans will now be allowed to perform medical research with Cubans as well as allowing Americans to develop or improve Cuban infrastructure. The change are also a boon for Cuban rum & cigar aficionados who no longer have value limits placed on products brought back to the United States in their baggage.

Consumer Financial Protection Lawsuit Results

While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) survived a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, it did not emerge unscathed. Set up to offer additional protections for consumers of mortgages & credit cards, the CFPB was found to be “unconstitutionally structured” by the appellate court & was found to have violated due process in penalizing mortgage company PHH Corp. The court found the nature of requiring the president to show cause in order to dismiss the Bureau’s director to be a “gross departure from settled historical practice.” The court also found that the CFPB had reinterpreted prohibitions against insurance kickback schemes and had retroactively applied those standards to PHH Corp. The CFPB may appeal the three-judge ruling to the full complement of judges on the District of Columbia District Court and petition for Supreme Court review.

November Congressional Preview

Appropriations

Once Congress returns to session in the wake of what will be a historic election on November 8, their first priority will be the passage of the remaining 11 appropriations bills  for the fiscal year. To date, only the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects have budgets due to congressional sluggishness. While a Continuing Resolution was passed prior to the fall recess, “nonessential” government functions are only funded until December 9, when Congress will either need to have passed all of the appropriations, or will need to have passed a second Continuing Resolution lest the government shutdown again. Democrats have pushed for an omnibus bill of all 11 appropriations in order to hopefully ensure that Congress is not once again facing an eleventh hour measure to avoid government shutdown. In contrast, Republicans are largely in favor of an array of “minibus” bills of two to three appropriations they agree with the most, and passing a CR to leave more contentious appropriations such as the Labor-HHS-Education & Interior-Environment bills until the 115th Congress.

Bills to Watch

In addition to the significant task of deciding the spending of the federal government in the year to come, Congress has a long to-do list of other critical legislative issues to resolve in their final 20 days. They include:

  • Water Resources Development Act, a bill to authorize the construction of 27 water-related infrastructure projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as funding to address the lead contamination of drinking water in US cities
  • 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $618.2 billion in funding for Pentagon programs
  • Supplemental defense funding, a total of $6 billion requested by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in order to cover unanticipated costs of troop presences in Iraq & Afghanistan as well as increased air operations
  • 21st Century Cures Act, which would increase funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Food & Drug Administration in order to increase rate of medical treatment innovation.
  • Mental Health Legislation, to provide Medicare funding for behavioral health treatments & allow caregivers more access to mental health information

 
Congressional leaders have also expressed interest in passing legislation addressing Medicare COLA increases, mandatory-minimum sentencing, alternative energy tax breaks, sovereign immunity, and presidents’ staff pensions. However, with an already significant workload, It is uncertain whether all or any of these legislative efforts may reach President Obama’s desk before December 17.

Congressional Schedule- November 2016

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DMGS Legislative Deep Dive: Regulating Drones

DMGS's Capitol Commentary Blog now features periodic "deep dives" into key legislative and regulatory issues in the US. Check back to our website for more information.
 

In early October, Verizon Communications flew a 17-foot remote control plane over Cape May, New Jersey as part of an emergency response exercise that assessed an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) ability to provide network data over dead areas. The trial came on the heels of Verizon’s announcement of their intentions to offer data packages through UAS, subsequently allowing drones to capture or stream video in mid-flight. Verizon’s proposal, as well as its exercise, signals yet another high-profile company’s venture into a rapidly growing market. In September, Verizon-rival AT&T unveiled plans to use drones for inspecting cellphone towers and testing the performance of wireless networks. AT&T has also begun offering data plans for UAS as well.

“The enactment of drone policies from state and municipal legislatures, like those in Cleveland, Tennessee and other locations, illustrates how a UAS regulatory framework may unfold elsewhere and how it will surely spark further regulatory debate” says Brett Goldman, DMGS Manager of Special Projects. “Once again” adds Goldman, “we find ourselves with an incredibly exciting, disruptive, and overall helpful technology that elected officials and regulators will one way or another learn to understand. Hopefully, that understanding comes with frictionless industry participation and results a smooth evolution of the technology into the hands of the consumer.”

 

To read more, visit DMGS's "Capitol Commentary" Blog.

 

 

STATEWIDE UPDATES

 

Pennsylvania: Legislative Session Look Back


This past week may possibly have been the last week of voting session for the 2015-2016 Pennsylvania Legislative Session. While, the House has November 14 and 15th scheduled and the Senate has November 16th scheduled, at this point in time, we are not hearing they plan to take up any additional legislation for a vote.
 
The Legislature, in a rush of legislation as the week ended, sent several bills to the Governor’s desk:

Potentially facing vetoes include:

 
Several important issues were not addressed during the waning days of October, including: 

  • Public pension reform, which was a priority of Legislative Leaders and the Governor;
  • A fix to the Gaming law responding to a Supreme Court decision striking the distribution of $140 million in local share monies to county and municipalities unconstitutional;
  • Regulation of internet gaming and daily fantasy sports, which was included as $100 million source of tax revenue in the 2016/2017 budget,
  • A transfer of funding from the Unemployment Compensation fund to address administrative concerns within the system;
  • Passage of animal cruelty prevention legislation dubbed as “Libre’s” law.  

 

New Jersey

The NJ Legislature is in full swing and DMGS is actively monitoring new and pending legislation for our friends and clients. For more information about this service, please contact us.

FDU poll: Americans support legalized sports betting

With New Jersey reportedly set to make another push at legalizing sports betting, a new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll released Wednesday shows there is support for doing so nationally. Some 48 percent of Americans surveyed said they were in favor of changing federal laws to make sports betting legal, compared with just 39 percent who said they were opposed to the idea. The last time the poll was conducted in 2012, 51 percent said they were in favor. Read more at NJ Biz..


Will lawmakers end ban on self-serve gas to offset tax increase?

Will a 23-cent increase in the gas tax prompt lawmakers to repeal the state's prohibition against drivers pumping their own gas to ease the pain at the pump? New Jersey and Oregon are the only two states which ban drivers from pumping their own gas. However, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle expressed strong support for keeping the ban in place on Wednesday. Most say that repealing the law would not be enough to help drivers who are feeling the sting of higher gas prices after the tax increase took effect on Tuesday. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney reiterated his earlier position that he would not post a bill repealing the self-serve ban, by offering a one-word comment, through a spokesman. "No." Read more at NJ.com...

Six things to expect out of the hearings on NJ Transit safety issues

Lawmakers holding hearings on NJ Transit issues, including safety and on-time performance, want to hear from commuters who ride the rails every day. That invitation comes from state Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Bergen), who are chairmen of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee looking into NJ Transit in the wake of a Sept. 29 train crash at the Hoboken Terminal."Our goal is to understand what's been happening to NJ Transit. We have the worst safety record in the country when compared to peer organizations," Gordon said. "We're trying to understand the root causes." McKeon said he also has numerous questions and is interested in exploring whether commuters are getting what they pay for in the wake of two fare increases. Read more at NJ.com...

 

 

DMGS Updates

Make sure to follow DMGS on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for real-time updates. Also, check out www.capitol-commentary.com for further in-depth analysis on PA, NJ, OH, NY, DC, and beyond. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions, please contact Brett Goldman, DMGS Manager of Special Projects.

 

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