21 Aug 2014
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County Sets 2014 Federal Agenda; Votes to Fund Salton Sea Restoration, Opposes Military Closures

The county's 2014 federal advocacy action plan includes more than 50 items that the county's Washington, D.C., lobbyists will be directed to monitor, promote or oppose.

County Sets 2014 Federal Agenda; Votes to Fund Salton Sea Restoration, Opposes Military Closures

Riverside County supervisors Tuesday ratified a federal legislative platform that advocates strengthening free trade initiatives, increasing funding for restoration of the Salton Sea, enhancing public health protections and opposing moves to close military installations.

The county's 2014 federal advocacy action plan was approved unanimously. A state legislative platform was approved last month.

The federal platform includes more than 50 items that the county's Washington, D.C., lobbyists will be directed to monitor, promote or oppose.

One of the leading concerns is the Salton Sea, which is gradually disappearing as water reclamation efforts leave little to feed the 365-square- mile landlocked body, predicted to turn into a mud hole -- and eventually a dust bowl -- if circumstances don't change.

The county's federal platform supports the Water Resources Development Act of 2014, which could make $30 million available for Salton Sea restoration, according to Executive Office documents.

The measure is hung up in a conference committee working to synthesize the U.S. Senate proposal with a similar bill passed out of the House of Representatives.

Assemblyman Manuel Perez, D-Indio, sent a legislative assistant to appear before the Board of Supervisors to laud its effort to secure funding to save the receding sea.

"The addition of federal dollars to current resources will complement existing efforts aimed at securing permanent and sustainable funding solutions for restoring the Salton Sea," said Emanuel Martinez, who read a letter from Perez to the board. "Community and legislative advocacy the past several years has raised the profile of the Salton Sea to unprecedented levels."

The board also directed the county's lobbyists to redouble efforts to get Department of Homeland Security and Department of Commerce authorization for expansion of the Palm Springs International Airport Foreign Trade Zone, designated FTZ 236, as well as for the establishment of the Four Winds Tribal Coalition Trade Zone.

FTZ 236 currently encompasses the airport and its immediate surroundings, but the county wants to stretch the boundaries to include Cabazon and Banning to the west and the balance of the Coachella Valley to the east.

The Four Winds trade zone would comprise roughly 4,500 acres of mostly sovereign land controlled by area tribes.

Firms with trade zone status are spared paying import duties on products they bring into the country for use in manufacturing. The goods are treated as though they're still outside the United States and not subject to taxes, which are assessed when the finished products go to market.

According to the proposed federal platform, the county backs mandatory health screenings for immigrants who receive H-1B work visas.

"There is a lack of health screening for visa applicants and their families, some of whom are already in the United States," according to an Executive Office statement. "This presents a potential health risk due to communicable diseases."

County officials pointed to higher risks of tuberculosis, particularly in light of the fact that plans are afoot to more than double the number of annual work visa recipients -- from 65,000 to 180,000.

H-1B visas are generally issued to foreigners with "high-skilled" backgrounds.

Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit reiterated the board's support for comprehensive immigration reform, stressing the need for a guest worker program.

"Whether we do it all at once, or in segments, let's do it," Ashley said. "Our agricultural industry here needs a dependable worker program."

One of the chief items federal lobbyists will be tasked with battling against this year is renewal of Base Realignment and Closure initiatives proposed by the Obama administration.

"The Economic Development Agency opposes further BRAC action in the county," according to the platform. "March Air Reserve Base, Norco Naval Surface Warfare Center and National Guard armories could be targeted."

Other items pinned onto the advocacy agenda include opposition to any further cuts to defense appropriations, particularly those that impact military readiness and national security, and support for:

  • Increased funding for the FAA Airport Improvement Program, from which the Jacqueline Cochran Airport in Thermal and other county-operated fields could benefit
  • Increased Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development
  • Clearing the backlog of U.S. Veterans Administration disability claims;
  • Expansion of U.S. Export-Import Bank programs
  • Increased funding for the Department of Homeland Security's Metropolitan Medical Response System, under which counties and cities receive grants to buy equipment and train personnel in how to prepare for natural disasters and mass-casualty terrorist attacks.

– City News Service.

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