Here We Go Again: Cut, Cut, Cut!
Your Executive Committee recently returned from its biannual pilgrimage to our nation’s capital. Last year around this time we were dealing with an upcoming election, so there was a whole lot of posturing going on. Unfortunately, the posturing did not work for the Democrats, since they lost the presidency and the Republicans kept control of both the House and Senate. Last year’s efforts were focused on the Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA), Next-Generation 9-1-1 and continued federal funding for DOJ programs. While we were lobbying to continue funding and ensure that the initiatives were laws we could work with, both candidates were trying to make themselves look good. At the end of the process, Donald Trump was successful in persuading the American people that Hillary Clinton was not the right option. While a Republican in office is good for law-and-order issues, it may not be so good for the bread-and-butter issues — i.e., benefits.
With that being said, it appears that the President’s initial budget shows a 3.8% reduction in DOJ spending. DOJ is responsible for Byrne JAG, COPS, HIDTA and body-worn camera pilot program funding. Unfortunately, his budget proposal is very ambiguous, otherwise known as a “skinny budget,” on the proposed funding levels for the offices and programs within DOJ. There are no specific amounts recommended for funding COPS, Byrne JAG and other programs instrumental to our efforts. As usual, our plight does not change, and during our meetings we encourage our respective members of Congress to maintain or increase spending in DOJ programs, and definitely not to cut the funding. What was concerning to us during this visit was that the “skinny budget” proposed to eliminate about $700 million in spending on programs that are considered outdated or thought to have reached their desired goal. The problem with such a proposal is: Who gets to make the decision about the program’s usefulness or whether its objectives have been met?
While the House passed its ECPA legislation during the last session, the bill contained some flaws. Our goal this time around was to get the Senate to take up its version of the ECPA bill, but with some changes to ensure that electronic communication does not have more protection than physical evidence. As it currently stands, there are no exigency, consent or plain view exceptions to the updated federal ECPA laws — which means we must obtain warrants to get electronic communication posted on public social media sites and, if a person gives us consent to access their emails or other electronic communication, the service provider does not have to comply and give us the information. It is obvious that the House legislation needs some work, and it’s our hope to get the Senate to realize these corrections need to be made.
The final piece was to continue pushing for Next-Generation 9-1-1. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been working on this project for a while, and it needs Congress to push it along and make it happen. Next-Gen 9-1-1 is geared toward fixing the issues with locating wireless callers along a horizontal and vertical plane — in other words, locating a person in a multistory building. In addition, it would fix the issue with multi-line phone systems, such as those found in most of our places of employment, hotels, etc. This would solve the problem of calling 9-1-1 from a hotel, enabling the person dialing to just dial the number and not have to enter the prefix for an outside line before 9-1-1. Finally, there are the complications with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). These systems are reliant on internet connection and power; therefore, if any component fails, the party needing assistance will not get it.
The aforementioned pieces of legislation were the meat and potatoes of our dialogues. However, by attending your next chapter meeting, you can receive more of the details from your local executive director.
Be safe and have fun.