Steptoe & Johnson LLP
Lawmakers returned from the August recess and dove headfirst into the fall agenda. Despite having only 12 legislative days in September, they faced several pressing issues, including temporary funding measures to avoid a government shutdown, the nuclear agreement with Iran and the passage of a long-term highway-funding bill before the current, short-term patch expires later this month.
PORAC was also busy. During the week of September 27, PORAC visited Washington, D.C., to discuss important law-enforcement-related issues with policymakers. In the two-day fly-in, PORAC engaged in discussions with influential members of the House and Senate, targeting members who have been active on law enforcement matters.
For instance, PORAC met with Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) office. A member of the Judiciary Committee, Schumer is in line to be the next Senate Democratic leader, a position currently held by longtime law enforcement ally Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid endorsed Schumer to succeed him when he announced his retirement earlier this year.
PORAC also met with the office of Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who recently introduced the Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act (S. 1897). This bill would authorize $100 million annually in grants to aid in establishing body-worn camera (BWC) programs at state and local levels. In a meeting with Scott’s office in May, PORAC emphasized that BWC funding must be not be taken from existing law enforcement funding. Scott agreed with PORAC’s concerns, and included new funding mechanisms in his bill to pay for the proposed grant program.
To advocate for law enforcement funding, PORAC met with the offices of Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations CJS Subcommittee, and Representative David Reichert (R-Wash.), co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus. Earlier this year, Reichert, a former sheriff from Washington state, introduced an amendment to increase the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program by $100 million in order to offset House cuts to the COPS Program. In conversations with these lawmakers, PORAC continued to emphasize the need for increased funding for law enforcement agencies and the importance of federal grant programs as Congress considers action on appropriations legislation.
PORAC met with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as well as several offices from the California delegation, including Senators Barbara Boxer (D) and Dianne Feinstein (D), and Representatives Eric Swalwell (D), Doris Matsui (D), John Garamendi (D), Pete Aguilar (D) and Ami Bera (D). Throughout those meetings, PORAC advocated on behalf of law enforcement and discussed several legislative items that would affect its members and the broader law enforcement community.
Law Enforcement Funding
October 1 marked the start date for the new fiscal year. Under the Budget Act, prior to this date Congress is supposed to enact annual appropriations bills that determine the funding for various government agencies and programs. Earlier this year, the House passed by a vote of 242 to 183 the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act of 2016 (H.R. 2578). The CJS appropriations bill is generally the legislative vehicle by which the Department of Justice (DOJ) receives its annual funding, which is used for important law enforcement programs such as the COPS Hiring Program. While the Senate’s version of the fiscal year 2016 CJS Appropriations bill passed the Appropriations Committee, the legislation was not considered on the Senate floor.
At the time of this publication, next year’s funding had not yet been determined. As there were few workdays and many controversial tasks to complete before the end of the fiscal year, it appeared that Congress would prove unable to pass appropriations legislation by October 1, instead enacting a continuing resolution (CR) in an effort to keep the government temporarily funded until lawmakers can hammer out a long-term budget for the remainder of the year. A CR generally extends the pre-existing appropriations at the same levels as the previous fiscal year for a set amount of time. At press time, Congress was expected to proceed with a short-term CR that would keep the government funded through mid-December.
The presence of sanctuary cities (cities that refuse to report detained undocumented immigrants) has garnered attention and sparked debate on a national scale. On July 1, Kathryn Steinle, a California resident, was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had seven prior felony convictions. Since this incident, several pieces of legislation have been introduced to deny federal funding to these sanctuary cities.
Earlier in the summer, for example, the House passed the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act (H.R. 3009), introduced by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). The bill would ban local policies that limit police inquiries into immigration status in certain situations. If a state or local subdivision maintains its policies, funding from specific DOJ programs — the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), the COPS Program and the Byrne-JAG Program — would be withheld.
In response to questions from lawmakers, PORAC noted that law enforcement personnel are not policymakers, and withholding federal funds jeopardizes community safety and the goals of community-oriented policing.
Action on ECPA
Earlier this year, the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), sponsored by Representative Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), obtained a supermajority of support with more than 291 members of the House, or two-thirds, signed on as co-sponsors. Despite the strong support for the bill, which seeks to reform the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) by requiring the government to obtain a search warrant to access the contents of Americans’ electronic communications, it is still pending in the House Judiciary Committee.
September marked the first congressional activity on ECPA this year: a hearing to discuss reforming the Act, a likely precursor to the House Judiciary Committee marking up the legislation. PORAC will continue to explain to lawmakers that the ability to obtain and investigate the contents of electronic communications is vital to effective law enforcement. While PORAC supports ECPA reform, it wants to ensure that such legislation does not hinder law enforcement investigations.