Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
Last month, I had the opportunity to embark on the first of at least two planned federal advocacy trips to Washington, D.C., for 2016. We had an important mission: to convey the perspective of California’s 66,000 PORAC members to those in our nation’s capital who hold the important responsibility of creating the country’s laws. With representatives of PORAC’s Executive Committee and our federal team from Steptoe & Johnson, President Mike Durant and I helped lead the delegation to advocate on your behalf. The “D.C. Fly-in,” as it’s known, is composed of a cross section of our leadership, who speak to our state’s senators, congressional representatives, committee staffs and other specific offices that affect legislation that is important to you.
For the Spring 2016 Fly-in, I joined Executive Committee Members Barry Donelan (Region I), Jacky Parks (Region II), Anthony Sanders (Region III), Laren Leichliter (Region IV), Treasurer Marcelo Blanco and Secretary Jim Ryan (Region I), as well as SPAC Chairman William Cho and Nevada Chapter President Tim Ross, to speak to PORAC’s relevant issues.
The D.C. Fly-in is far from a junket. Just prior to departing, we each received an informational booklet that previewed the intensely scheduled two-day trip and kept us busy on the long plane ride to Washington. The issues at hand would be discussed in over 35 separate meetings. We wasted no time after arriving, dropping our bags at the hotel and then heading directly over to the Steptoe & Johnson offices.
After a quick dinner at their conference room table, a strategic discussion began, with our group talking about each issue’s key points, the status of the related bills in legislative process and personal experiences that would shade the discourse of the days ahead. Facilitated by Darryl Nirenberg, PORAC’s lead counsel in D.C., the group also discussed the state of law enforcement in the United States and California, which established a solid foundation for the planned meetings. Well after 10 p.m., we made our way back to the hotel for what would likely be the only solid night’s rest for the trip.
With a shotgun start, we all gathered for a quasi-group breakfast, courtesy of the Marriott. In pressed coats and ties, we made our way to the Metro Blue Line, destined for the Capitol South station, where the day would really begin. While some might have preferred Uber or a cab to the D.C. subway system, the ride provides a short bonding experience for all. Though details couldn’t do it justice here, dropping 10 cops into a train full of locals at the height of the morning commute makes for cheap comedy and great people watching, and the 40-minute travel time passed in the blink of an eye.
Our first meeting on Tuesday, April 12, rejoined us with PORAC’s boots on the ground, lawyers Jason Abel and Eva Rigamonti, who are Nirenberg’s eyes and ears on peace officer issues. Both are solid, bright, aggressive counselors who would remind you of the stereotypical FTO or seasoned patrol cop. Locked, loaded and ready to go on the topics, the sharpness in which they practice their craft, coupled with their boss’s keen sense of the political landscape, make them — and PORAC — a force to be reckoned with.
After President Durant introduced PORAC, your representatives made short work of a meeting with the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. We made it quite clear where PORAC stands on the need to amend the Social Security Act with the passage of HR 711 (the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015) and HR 973 (the Social Security Fairness Act), as the subcommittee’s staff heard our concerns and encouraged our efforts. PORAC’s experience and our group’s candid perspective on pension reform rounded out the 35-minute meeting, and we were on our way.
Emboldened, we split into four teams, seeking out our next targets and refining the most effective talking points on issues. In meeting with representatives’ offices (whether the members or their staffs), our respective groups expressed PORAC’s appreciation for the continued congressional funding of COPS, Byrne JAG and HIDTA grants; pressed hard for changes to HR 699 (the Email Privacy Act), which would update the outdated ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986); and applauded the renewed focus and attention by lawmakers on the heroin/opioid epidemic crippling this country. Needless to say, PORAC’s views on several sentencing reform and body-worn camera bills were also reinforced in many of the offices that were visited.
In addition to visiting congressional offices, our group had productive and enlightening closed-door meetings with outgoing California Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein. In rare form, both expressed a solid resolve to support continued law enforcement funding and spoke candidly to us about the safety of the country and the reality of what PORAC members mean to the quality of life for California’s residents and visitors. Later in the trip, President Durant and I attended a small fundraising event with Senator Feinstein,
where she unexpectedly opened the gathering with high, vocal praise for the work that PORAC is doing to lead on issues relevant to law enforcement, the benefits of peace officers, and strengthening California’s homeland security by supporting responsible legislation.
Amid two full days of briefings, meetings and debriefings, we all shared information and stories from the offices that we had visited. While not all of the meetings were easy, some of those expected to be tough or contentious went relatively smoothly. And while talk of political campaigns is expressly prohibited under the U.S. Capitol dome, the interaction with the politicians (many of whom came up through the California Legislature) reminded us of why we got behind them. In a few very unique and not surprising instances, we were left shaking our heads but determined to try harder in the fall.
“As goes California, so goes the rest of the United States,” said PORAC President Mike Durant in many of the meetings that made up the Spring Fly-in. We know this to be true, as has been our experience as peace officers and law enforcement professionals in California and Nevada. For this reason, the leadership and representatives of PORAC know and are committed to a consistent presence and national voice for our members.
Staying informed, engaged and an active part of the critical dialogue occurring in the country right now is vital to the future of our members’ benefits and the well-being of their families. The strides we’ve made in this aspect of our organization certainly won’t be lost by inaction.
Take care and stay safe!