Federal Legislation – PORAC Goes to Washington

Darryl Nirenberg
Partner
Eva Rigamonti
Associate
Patrick Northrup
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

This October 23–24, the PORAC Executive Board, led by President Brian Marvel and Vice President Damon Kurtz, brought the voice of California law enforcement to Washington, meeting with senators, representatives and committees to convey the needs of peace officers across the state.

In total, PORAC met with 31 different offices from every corner of the state of California, as well as several Senate and House committees that handle the issues that matter to PORAC members. A complete list is below.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R–22)

Rep. Mike Levin (D–49)

Rep. Josh Harder (D–10)

Rep. Paul Cook (R–8)

Rep. Lou Correa (D–46)

Rep. Norma Torres (D–35)

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–15)

Rep. Julia Brownley (D–26)

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D–32)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R–23)

Rep. John Garamendi (D–3)

Rep. Jim Costa (D–16)

Rep. Salud Carbajal (D–24)

Rep. Katie Hill (D–25)

Rep. Ken Calvert (R–42)

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D–9)

Rep. Tom McClintock (R–4)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

Sen. Kamala Harris (D)

Rep. Scott Peters (D–52)

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D–19)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R–1)

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D–11)

Rep. Katie Porter (D–45)

Rep. Ro Khanna (D–17)

Rep. Juan Vargas (D–51)

Senate Finance Committee –
Majority

Senate Finance Committee –
Minority

Senate Judiciary Committee –
Majority

House Committee on Ways
and Means – Majority

House Judiciary Committee –
Minority

Through the course of these meetings, PORAC focused on five key issues that affect the everyday lives of law enforcement officers.

Funding for Federal Law Enforcement Grants

Law enforcement across the country relies on grants from the federal government, administered by the Department of Justice, to keep communities safe. While in Washington, PORAC stressed to members of both parties and both chambers the need to maximize that funding.

Opposing a Change in the
National Use-of-Force
Standard

Currently, under federal law, a police officer is allowed to use deadly force if that force is “reasonable” in light of fear of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another person. H.R. 4359, introduced by Representative Ro Khanna (D–17), would change that standard to only permit a police officer to use deadly force when it is “necessary” and a last resort. This creates a highly subjective hindsight standard for evaluating and holding officers criminally liable for using force when responding to split-second, life-or-death situations.

PORAC has been vocal about its opposition to this bill, which will negatively impact community safety in California by creating a potentially devastating hesitation in officers. During the October fly-in, PORAC directly asked representatives and senators to oppose this legislation and instead work with PORAC to proactively address this complex issue.

Pension Reform Efforts

Workers who split their careers between jobs that require contributions to Social Security and jobs that do not, usually state or local public service jobs like law enforcement, have their Social Security benefit reduced when they reach retirement due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

While there are multiple legislative solutions being discussed, including the PORAC-supported Social Security Fairness Act, much of PORAC’s time was spent discussing H.R. 4540, the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act.

H.R. 4540 seeks to fix the WEP by introducing a new proportional formula designed to ensure public employees receive the benefit to which they are entitled, while also attempting to ensure that no Social Security beneficiary receives an unfair amount of benefit. The bill also includes a provision ensuring that no current or future retiree will be worse off than he or she is presently.

After meeting with the House Committee on Ways and Means, the PORAC Executive Committee voted unanimously to endorse H.R. 4540.

Supporting the Improving Community Safety Task Force Act

Facing a rising tide of violence directed as police, PORAC has worked with Representative Lou Correa (D–46) on the Improving Community Safety Task Force Act. The bill would direct the Department of Justice to convene a task force of law enforcement representatives, community members and policy experts to study incidents where law enforcement officers and other first responders are attacked and incidents involving use of deadly force by law enforcement. This task force would provide recommendations on strategies and policy changes aimed at lessening the frequency of those incidents and enhancing community safety.

The Improving Community Safety Task Force Act will contribute to the safety of law enforcement officers and community members. During the October fly-in, PORAC urged members to cosponsor the legislation.

Protecting the Lives of Peace Officers

In addition to pushing the Improving Community Safety Task Force Act, PORAC has endorsed S. 1480, the Back the Blue Act, in an effort to reduce instances of violence against police.

The Back the Blue Act sends a strong message that there will be no tolerance for any act of violence against a law enforcement officer. It creates a new federal crime for killing, attempting to kill or conspiring to kill a federal judge, federal law enforcement officer, or federally funded public safety officer. Additionally, S. 1480 expands the availability of certain grant funding to improve law enforcement-community relations.

PORAC urged both California senators to cosponsor the legislation while discussing with representatives the possibility for the introduction of an identical bill in the House.

Federal Legislation – PORAC Comes to Washington

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

PORAC came to Washington, D.C., the last week of March to discuss several issues important to law enforcement. Over two days, PORAC met with California Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, 18 California members of Congress, staff members of more than 25 California representatives and staff of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees — the committees that have legislative authority over law enforcement-related matters. A brief description of each issue that PORAC discussed with Congress follows.

Funding for DOJ Grant Programs: During their meetings, PORAC Board members advocated for full funding of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne-JAG) and other funding initiatives. They also urged for the passage of a number of bills aimed at supporting law enforcement and enhancing community safety.

Survivor Benefits: PORAC members advocated for H.R. 1210, the Heroes Lesley Zerebny and Gil Vega First Responders Survivors Support Act of 2019, to increase the death, disability and education benefit amounts under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program. The PSOB Program provides benefits to eligible public safety officers whose injuries (or deaths) were sustained in the line of duty and this bill would modify certain timing and procedural aspects of the program to ensure that beneficiaries (police officers and their survivors) receive the full amounts to which they are entitled. The bill is sponsored by California Representative Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) and cosponsored by six other members of the state delegation.

Measures Reducing Violence Against Police Officers: To address the recent spate of deadly shootings against first responders, PORAC members urged Congress to consider draft legislation that would establish a federal task force to assess the causes, effects and impacts of rising violence against police. During the meetings, members and their staff provided input on ways to strengthen the draft legislation and ideas for how to get the measure passed on a bipartisan basis. PORAC drafted the legislation and is working closely with members of the California delegation to introduce the bill during this Congress.

Social Security Benefits Reform: PORAC spoke to members about the importance of amending the Social Security Act to ensure that police officers are not deprived of full benefits. Currently, two provisions in the Social Security Act penalize workers who split their careers between jobs that contribute to Social Security and jobs that do not (usually public service jobs, like state and local law enforcement) by reducing the Social Security benefits they can collect in retirement. PORAC has been working closely with members of Congress to pass legislation, the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 141), that would fix this issue and ensure that PORAC’s members and other law enforcement officers receive full Social Security benefits.