Federal Legislation – Law Enforcement Sees Wins in Congress

Darryl Nirenberg
Partner
Josh Oppenheimer
Associate
Patrick Northrup
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

May yielded several wins for public safety officers, with Congress pushing law enforcement priorities. The nation’s lawmakers considered several bills relating to law enforcement. While not every law enforcement–focused bill had been passed or signed into law at the time this issue went to print, all of these bills inched closer to becoming law. In addition, during National Police Week (May 12–18), members of PORAC visited the Hill and met with members of the California delegation to discuss PORAC’s priorities for this Congress. As we close the chapter on a spring of successful legislative accomplishments, PORAC will continue working with Congress this summer and fall on priority issues, such as advocating for increased law enforcement funding, expanded police benefits and additional resources that are valuable to PORAC’s members.

Bills Considered by Congress During Police Week

At the beginning of Police Week, PORAC sent letters to all the members of the California delegation with whom the Association met during our spring fly-in asking for their support on the below legislation. We thank them for working on a bipartisan basis to pass these bills. PORAC also would like to thank the bills’ sponsors, including S. 1208 sponsor, Senator Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa); Senator Patrick Leahy (D–Vt.)/Representative Bill Pascrell (D–N.J.), the sponsors of S.1231/H.R. 2379; and Senator Josh Hawley (R–Mo.)/Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R–Pa.), the sponsors of S.998/H.R. 2368.

  • The Protecting America’s First Responders Act (S. 1208): The bill would make a number of improvements to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program and provide additional death, disability and education benefits to police officers. PORAC worked closely with Senator Grassley in crafting the legislation and was pleased to endorse the bill. We look forward to working with the House to pass the measure and send the legislation to President Trump to be signed into law.

˚   Sponsor: Senator Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa)

˚   Status: On May 16, the Senate passed the bill unanimously by voice vote and sent it to the House. The measure was then referred to the House Judiciary Committee — the committee with authority over law enforcement–related legislation matters.

  • The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Permanent Reauthorization Act (S. 1231/H.R. 2379): The bill would permanently reauthorize the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program, allocating $30 million per year to state and local law enforcement agencies for the purchase of bulletproof vests. The program is highly important to police officers — to date, over 13,000 law enforcement agencies have purchased 1.35 million vests with the funding.1 Presuming the bill will be signed into law by President Trump, PORAC members will be guaranteed this funding that is critical to carry out law enforcement’s public safety mission and ensure the safety and security of our members.

˚   Sponsors: Senator Patrick Leahy (D–Vt.)/Representative Bill Pascrell (D–N.J.)

˚   Status: On May 16, the bill was passed by the House with a vote of 400–9 and by the Senate with a unanimous vote. The bill has been sent to President Trump to sign into law.

  • The Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act (S. 998/H.R. 2368): The bill would provide mental health services for police officers (i.e., suicide prevention programs, etc.) and reauthorize certain grant programs that offer family support services to law enforcement officers and their families.

˚                Sponsors: Senator Josh Hawley (R–Mo.)/Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R–Pa.)

˚                Status: On May 16, the Senate passed the bill unanimously by voice vote and sent it to the House. 

Let the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Funding Fight Begin: Breaking Down the Appropriations Process for Funding the Department of Justice (DOJ)

On May 17, the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee — the congressional subcommittee that appropriates funding for the DOJ, among other law enforcement agencies — amended and passed legislation to fund such agencies for FY2020.

There are a series of steps, however, that must be taken before the actual funding amounts for the DOJ will be decided. First, the House bill will be considered by the House Appropriations Committee and subsequently the entire House. At the time this issue went to press, the House Appropriations Committee had scheduled a markup (a meeting to review, amend and vote on the bill) for May 22. The bill is expected to pass through committee, and funding numbers for law enforcement are anticipated to remain at their proposed levels (discussed in further detail below).

The Senate CJS bill will also undergo the same process in that chamber. The Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee — which appropriates funding for the DOJ on the Senate side — will first have to pass its legislation, which will then be taken up by the full Senate Appropriations Committee and subsequently by the Senate. The Senate CJS Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R–Kan.) has started to hold hearings on what funding should be designated to the specific agencies but has not proposed a timeline for when the subcommittee will start considering legislative proposals.

In March, the president released his proposed budget request, which Congressional Appropriations Committees will generally take into consideration or use to guide their own budget requests; however, members are not required to adopt the specific funding amounts requested by the president. There are significant differences between President Trump’s budget request and the House CJS legislation. For example, while the House bill allocates $323 million toward the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program, the White House budget requested only $99 million for the program. Similarly, the White House budget request only asks for $405 million to fund the DOJ’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) program, compared to the House CJS’s bill allocation of $530.25 million. In terms of overall DOJ funding, the White House requested $29.2 billion for the agency, compared to the $30.2 billion included in the bill passed by the House Appropriations CJS Subcommittee.

If the president, the House and Senate cannot come to an agreement, then they will pass a continuing resolution (CR) — a short-term bill to fund the government while Congress and/or the executive branch continue negotiating.

However, even if there is no need for a CR and additional negotiations, as noted by the process outlined above, we still have a long way to go before the final DOJ funding for FY2020 is decided.

What’s in the House CJS Bill?

The bill that was passed by the House CJS Subcommittee would, among other things, fund the DOJ at $32 billion ($1.07 billion more than the funding the agency received during FY2019), including $3.4 billion toward state and local law enforcement grant programs that are important to PORAC. Key programs, among others, that would receive substantial funding through the House CJS legislation include:

  • Violence Against Women Act-related programs ($582.5 million, compared to $497 million in FY2019).
  • Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) program ($530.25 million, compared to $423.5 million in FY2019).
  • Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant programs ($323 million — this includes $239 million for certain grants for the hiring/rehiring of additional career law enforcement officers — compared to $303.5 million in FY2019).
  • Grants for anti-human trafficking efforts ($100 million, compared to $85 million in FY2019), reducing the backlog of sexual assault kits ($49 million) and bulletproof vests ($25 million).

PORAC endorses the funding amounts set forth by the House appropriations legislation and looks forward to working with the House and Senate to ensure that the DOJ receives full funding for the agency’s state and local law enforcement–related grant programs.