Federal Legislation – From March Madness to April Action

Darryl Nirenberg
Eva Rigamonti
Lesley Brock
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

White House Submits Budget Request for FY2020

While America was captivated in March by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament, Washington was preparing for its busiest time of year — appropriations (funding) season.

With the fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding bill signed,1  lawmakers have begun to focus on FY2020 legislation. Congress is in the preliminary stages of appropriations; members of the Appropriations Committee are beginning to hold hearings with relevant agencies to discuss funding priorities. On March 11, President Donald Trump published his 2020 budget proposal, the first step in the federal appropriations process. His proposal asks for $29.2 billion (a reduction of $1.7 billion) to fund the Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency responsible for handling law enforcement priorities, including issuing law enforcement–related grants. 

Among other things, the president’s budget request also asks for:

  • $405 million for the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) program ($18.5 million less than FY2019 funding).
  • $99 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program (compared to $228 million in FY2019 — a $129 million decrease).
  • $200 million in combined funding for the Violent Gang and Gun Crime Reduction/Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) program ($50 million more than funding provided in 2019) and the STOP School Violence Act ($25 million more than funding in FY2019). These grants provide important resources to law enforcement for preventing gang violence and active shooter situations, respectively.
  • $492 million in Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funding ($5 million less than FY2019)
  • $77 million to support human trafficking victims ($8 million less than the funding provided in FY2019).
  • $673 million for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) — the office working out of the DOJ responsible for handling all immigration cases — to add 100 additional immigration judge teams (including judges, their support staff, etc.).
  • $2.3 billion to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to combat the opioid epidemic (including an additional $35 million to enhance heroin enforcement efforts, end anonymous online drug trafficking and pursue bad actors, such as transnational criminal organizations).

Grant programs such as COPS and Byrne-JAG provide critical resources to state and local law enforcement. COPS grants can assist with technical training, the development of policing strategies, applied research, guidebooks, the hiring of officers (both new and rehired laid-off officers) and the maintenance of officers scheduled to be laid off. Byrne-JAG is the leading source of funding to local jurisdictions to support law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement and crime victim and witness initiatives.

At the time this issue went to press, PORAC’s Board of Directors was preparing to visit Capitol Hill to discuss law enforcement priorities, including urging California representatives to expand, rather than reduce, funding for these law enforcement programs.

Congress Outlines Judiciary Priorities

House: Judiciary Committee Passes Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

On March 13, the House Judiciary Committee held a markup (i.e., a committee meeting in which legislators go through the text of a bill and offer amendments) on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (H.R. 1585). The act provides funds to local law enforcement to combat gender-based violence, domestic violence, etc. President Brian Marvel testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year on the importance of reauthorizing VAWA funding, highlighting the critical support it provides to state and local law enforcement to protect their communities.

During the markup, several members offered amendments to the legislation unrelated to funding, which caused the bill to be viewed as partisan. While the Committee approved the bill by a vote of 22–11, it passed along party lines. All 22 Democratic members supported the legislation, while all of the Republican members on the Committee voted against it.

The House plans to vote on the legislation in the first weeks of April. PORAC is monitoring the bill and will review the final text with its D.C. federal advocates before expressing a position.

Senate: McConnell Deliberates Nuclear Option to Speed Judicial Confirmations

The Senate reportedly is planning to vote on a measure to change the Chamber’s long-standing rules surrounding debate on district court judges and most lower-level executive nominees. The new rule would limit the amount of time required to debate a nominee from 30 hours to two hours. Senate Republicans hope this change would allow for an expedited process of confirming President Trump’s nominees. As of March 13, President Trump has 128 district court vacancies still left to fill.

Specifically, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) is thinking of invoking “the nuclear option” (i.e., approving nominees with a simple majority of 50 votes instead of the typically required 60) to limit debate. While Republicans would prefer to have Democratic support and avoid using the nuclear option, Democrats have signaled that they oppose changing the rule. Republicans argue, however, that if Democrats take back the Senate and the White House in the 2020 elections, they would, according to Senator John Cornyn (R–Texas), “likely pursue the same rule change.”

The Senate plans to vote on the measure before mid-April. 

PORAC Prepares for Capitol Hill Visit

During the last week of March, members of PORAC’s Board of Directors will come to Washington to discuss law enforcement priorities with members of Congress. As of the time this issue went to press, PORAC is scheduled to meet with several members, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. The Board is looking forward to representing their members in Washington and advocating for (1) reducing tax penalties that hurt law enforcement and deprive police officers of maximum Social Security benefits; (2) increasing funding of law enforcement grant programs; (3) stopping violence against police; and (4) modifying the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program to maximize education, death and disability benefits that the program offers law enforcement and their families in the event of a tragedy.

Details of the fly-in meetings will be covered in-depth in next month’s issue.