Federal Legislation – Trump Praises Law Enforcement as PORAC Heads to Capitol Hill

Darryl Nirenberg
Partner
Eva Rigamonti
Associate
Cameron O’Brien
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

President Trump Expresses Support for Law Enforcement in Address to Congress

On February 28, President Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress, striking an optimistic, bipartisan tone. In his speech, Trump touted the executive actions he has taken since his inauguration and outlined some broad objectives that he plans to pursue in conjunction with Congress.

As he regularly did throughout the campaign, Trump spoke very highly of law enforcement and reiterated that it has his full support. To create a future where every American child can grow up in a safe community, attend a great school and have access to a high-paying job, Trump noted, “We must work with — not against — the men and women of law enforcement.” Commending the dedication that law enforcement officers across the country demonstrate daily, Trump added that “they are friends and neighbors, they are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — and they leave behind loved ones every day who worry whether or not they’ll come home safe and sound.”

As mentioned in last month’s column, Trump’s pro-law-enforcement rhetoric appears to be at odds with his administration’s reported funding priorities at the Department of Justice, as early statements from the White House have indicated that the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office is under consideration for elimination. Maintaining, and if possible increasing, COPS grant funding is a top priority for PORAC and is one of the key items that the Association’s members discussed with lawmakers during the annual Capitol Hill fly-in.

In addition to supporting those who fight crime, Trump also promised to provide resources for victims of crime — specifically, crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Trump said that he has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office, with the aim of “providing a voice to those who have been ignored.” In the audience as presidential guests were a number of Californians whose lives have been forever altered by crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver attended in honor of their husbands, Placer County Sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, who were murdered in October 2014 by an illegal immigrant with a criminal background and two prior deportations. Detective Davis’ daughter was also a guest, and after calling her father a hero, President Trump said that the entire country was supporting and praying for her. Also in attendance was Jamiel Shaw, whose 17-year-old son Jamiel II was murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member in Los Angeles in 2008. Trump promised these family members that their loved ones would never be forgotten and that he “will never stop fighting for justice.”

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget and the Appropriations Process

Every year, Congress must fund the government through the annual appropriations process. That process is initiated when the president submits a budget to Congress. The president’s budget essentially functions as a recommendation, at which point Congress considers and ultimately passes a budget resolution that sets caps on allowable spending for various federal agencies and programs. Working under these budget caps, the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate begin to formulate 12 spending bills that encompass the entire federal budget.

Members of the Appropriations Committees wield significant influence as to what appears in the 12 spending bills. Prior to committee consideration of the spending bills, appropriators submit their own funding priorities to committee leaders — identifying federal funding and programs that they believe should be maintained, increased, cut back or eliminated altogether. In advance of the deadlines for these member-specific spending submissions, PORAC strongly advocated for the preservation of a number of effective law enforcement programs, especially the COPS Office, in meetings and in correspondence with appropriators.

Under a regular appropriations process, the House Appropriations Committee reports its appropriations bills to the full House for consideration in May and June, while the Senate Appropriations Committee usually begins reporting its appropriations bills in June and begins floor consideration of the bills in June or July. It is difficult to say how the other policy debates in Congress — including on the Affordable Care Act and tax reform — could impact the timing of the appropriations process.

Much of the attention on Capitol Hill has been consumed by the Affordable Care Act deliberations, but budget debates will soon come to the forefront, as government funding for fiscal year (FY) 2017 (which runs through September) is set to expire at the end of April. Republican leaders in Congress had hoped to pass a comprehensive FY2017 appropriations package in December that would have funded the government for the entire fiscal year, but the incoming Trump administration specifically requested that Congress instead pass a stopgap measure that would allow the new president to establish spending priorities. Thus, before adjourning in December, Congress passed a continuing resolution that will fund the government at last year’s levels through April 28, 2017.

Typically, Congress and the White House would work through the federal budgets for each fiscal year in chronological order, but Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently stated that the administration wants to address the FY2018 budget before making final spending decisions in the FY2017 budget. “Once we have a handle on FY18, we can start to backfill ’17,” Spicer said. President Trump presented his preliminary budget to Congress on March 16. It included drastic spending cuts across the federal government, as he has vowed to reduce its size and cost to taxpayers.

Spotlight on Legislation

Since the start of the new Congress in January, PORAC has been actively monitoring legislation that impacts law enforcement and has taken a position on a number of bills. Below is one bill that PORAC has expressed support for, as well as one that the Association opposes.

  • Synthetic Abuse and Labeling of Toxic Substances (SALTS) Act (S. 207): PORAC supports this bill, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), which is intended to make it easier to prosecute the sale and distribution of synthetic drugs. In recent years, some drug manufacturers have been deliberately exploiting weak labeling laws in order to sell products that, while marked “not for human consumption,” are widely recognized as synthetic drugs that often have dangerous side effects that threaten the safety of the user and other members of the community. S. 207 allows for the consideration of additional factors when determining whether a synthetic product is intended for human consumption — including its known use. This legislative change would make such products (and their producers) easier to prosecute, which in turn would help to drastically reduce the public availability of these deadly substances. S. 207 currently has 11 co-sponsors, including California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein.
  • Corey Jones Act (H.R. 158): PORAC opposes this bill, introduced by Representative Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), which would mandate (as a prerequisite for receiving COPS grant funds) that police departments prohibit plainclothes officers from engaging in routine traffic stops in unmarked vehicles. COPS grants are a critically important source of funding for state and local law enforcement agencies, and the ability to dress in plainclothes while conducting routine traffic stops is an important safety strategy. Threatening the inaccessibility of grant funds based on the use of an effective policing tool would be counterproductive to public safety efforts.

PORAC Members Advocate for Law Enforcement in D.C.

In late March, more than a dozen PORAC members traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with nearly 40 lawmakers and discuss the Association’s legislative priorities. Among the issues that PORAC discussed were funding for COPS grants, 9-1-1 emergency system reform and responsibly updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. A detailed recap of PORAC’s fly-in will be included in next month’s issue.