Federal Legislation – From March Madness to April Action

Darryl Nirenberg
Partner
Eva Rigamonti
Associate
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.

Capitol Beat – Hitting the Ground Running

Aaron Read and Randy Perry
Legislative Advocates
Aaron Read & Associates, LLC

Governor Jerry Brown, who has always taken a more conservative approach to spending, is using much of this year’s surplus to stash away billions of dollars in reserves, both because of the recession that he believes is looming and due to the prospect of the Republican Congress cutting social services in the wake of its vote for a tax cut last month that could swell the federal deficit by $1.4 trillion over a decade.

The budget plan gives a $5 billion jolt to the state’s rainy day fund, which means that fund would hold 10% of California’s General Fund revenue, estimated to give the state $13.5 billion to use in a fiscal emergency by June 30, 2019.

Relating to public safety, included in the past few budgets has been funding for various “transition, education and workforce” programs for inmates leaving state prison due to the AB 109 realignment and Propositions 47 and 57. With this being Governor Brown’s last budget, his administration is very focused this year on prisoner rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. The budget addresses the following local public safety issues.

The Community Corrections Performance Incentive Grant

The Community Corrections Performance Incentive Grant, Chapter 608, Statutes of 2009 (SB 678), was created to provide incentives for counties to reduce the number of felony probationers sent to state prison. The budget includes $106.4 million to continue this successful program.

Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS)

The budget includes $29 million in the General Fund for county probation departments to supervise the temporary increase in the average daily population of offenders on PRCS as a result of the implementation of Proposition 57.

Proposition 47 Savings

Voters passed Proposition 47 in November 2014, which requires misdemeanor rather than felony sentencing for certain property and drug crimes, and permits inmates previously sentenced for these reclassified crimes to petition for resentencing. The Department of Finance currently estimates net savings of $64.4 million for Proposition 47 when comparing 2017–18 to 2013–14, an increase of $18.8 million over the estimated savings in 2016–17. Ongoing savings are currently estimated to be approximately $69 million. These funds will be allocated according to the formula outlined in the initiative.

Transition From State Custody to Local Systems

As a result of various criminal justice reforms over the years, it has become increasingly important to improve the transition of inmates from state custody to local supervision. The administration has found that the existing handoff between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and probation departments is in need of improvement, and plans to strengthen local partnerships to enhance the process for release. By improving information transfer and sharing of resources to assist with a more seamless transition of offenders to the local system, the state can increase success of transition and reduce the likelihood of offenders returning to custody. To this end, CDCR has undertaken several initiatives in cooperation with counties, such as:

  • Pre-release video conferencing allows a probation officer to schedule a video teleconference appointment with an offender prior to release to PRCS. This will increase communication between offenders and their probation officers, allowing for more effective pre-release planning and dialogue related to housing and treatment program placement.
  • In December 2017, CDCR led web-based training for approximately 600 county probation staff to promote a better understanding of its release process and protocols for determining PRCS eligibility.
  • CDCR, in collaboration with the Receiver’s Office and the Chief Probation Officers of California, has developed a protocol for the release of offenders who are medically compromised and in need of specialized community care upon release. The protocols include communication requirements and expedited timeframes between internal and external stakeholders who are impacted by the release of medically compromised inmates. CDCR is also working on a protocol for the release of inmates with serious mental illness.
  • In October 2017, CDCR finished automation of the pre-release information to expedite the process and provide associated data to appropriate staff in real-time. The pre-release information includes offender data such as in-prison behavior and programming, residence and employment plans, reporting requirements, caseworker evaluations, and medical and psychiatric needs.

Since these efforts are in the early stages of implementation, the administration will continue working with the Chief Probation Officers of California to discuss and evaluate their impacts on the handoff process.

Success for offenders comes from continuing partnerships with stakeholders at the local level on diversion, mental health, job readiness and workforce development, substance use disorder treatment, and health care programs that focus more on rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Initiatives undertaken by the administration, such as implementation of the Affordable Care Act and workforce investments, give the state an opportunity to provide offenders with services necessary to end the cycle of crime and become self-sufficient and productive members of society.

Department of Justice

The administration will continue working with the Attorney General’s Office on a funding proposal expected in the spring to implement Chapter 541, Statutes of 2017 (SB 384), which will replace the existing lifetime sex offender registration system with a tiered registration system beginning January 1, 2021. Among other things, the Department of Justice will need to prepare information technology planning documents, update the California Sexual Assault Registry and add staff to support new tiering, exclusion and termination requests associated with SB 384, which are expected to cost millions of dollars annually.