Federal Legislation – Wave of Violence Reignites Debate on Guns

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

As members of Congress returned to their districts for the August congressional recess and presidential candidates flocked to the Iowa State Fair, the country was shaken by a series of attacks. Gun violence directed toward civilians and law enforcement alike swept the country in July and August, bringing tragedy to communities and families while upending a political world that had gone dormant during the recess.

Debates over gun violence erupted and mixed with mourning across the country. Victims, politicians and ordinary people across America joined in a national discussion of what federal lawmakers can and should do to stem the tide of mass shootings, massacres and attacks on police. Very little consensus exists, other than that something must be done to prevent the next tragedy, and Washington must be a part of the solution.

Tragedies in Gilroy, El Paso
and Dayton

In the span of one week in late July and early August, mass shootings in three states — Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio — left 36 people dead, including two of the alleged perpetrators. In each incident, a man armed with a semi-automatic, military-style rifle opened fire on vulnerable crowds without warning, shooting indiscriminately at innocents.

In each case, law enforcement was on the scene in seconds or minutes, engaging the shooter and preventing further loss of life.

These shootings sparked calls for stricter restrictions on who is allowed to purchase and possess a firearm, as well as the types of assault weapons used in all three shootings. In addition, the shootings focused attention on the growing specter of white supremacist domestic terrorism. The perpetrator in El Paso explicitly couched his attack in the language of racism, and there appears to be links to white supremacist ideology in the Gilroy shooter’s motivations as well.

In response, Attorney General William Barr made it clear that the Department of Justice was committed to working with law enforcement officers, the first level of defense, to fight this evolving threat. However, some politicians, such as South Bend, Indiana, Mayor and Democratic candidate for president Pete Buttigieg, went further, calling for an initiative to begin dealing with domestic terror groups the way the U.S. deals with foreign terror groups.

Shootout in Philadelphia

On August 14, a shooting of a different kind occurred, as law enforcement officers in the city of Philadelphia were fired on by a heavily armed gunman when attempting to serve a warrant. Hundreds of shots were fired in the ensuing eight-hour standoff, and six police officers were injured, although all have since been released from the hospital. The suspect, 36-year-old Maurice Hill, eventually surrendered and was taken into custody. As a convicted felon, Hill should not have been allowed to be in possession of the firearms he used during his attack.

The attack has triggered a discussion on the topic of gun reform, specifically on how a convicted felon like Hill was able to obtain a weapon, but also on the broader issue of violence against police. Halting the recent outburst of anti-police violence is one of PORAC’s top priorities, and we are working to address this subject in Washington.

Then-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross later said it was “nothing short of a miracle” that multiple officers weren’t killed in the incident. Philadelphia’s mayor, Jim Kenney, echoed this sentiment and voiced support for reform, stating that law enforcement officers “deserve to be protected and they don’t deserve to be shot at by a guy for hours with an unlimited supply of weapons.”

Federal Action on Guns?

The rash of violence led to nearly unanimous calls for some degree of action to remove weapons from the hands of those most likely to commit violent acts. Many came from presidential candidates, eager to establish themselves as engaged on the issue. Others came from leaders in the affected communities, such as the previously mentioned mayor of Philadelphia, who lamented the challenges law enforcement endures in the face of widely available firearms. Members of the public made up the majority of the calls to action, as polls show support for gun control rising to previously unthinkable levels. For instance, according to a Fox News poll conducted after the spate of shootings, support for certain gun control measures is up to nine out of 10 Americans.

Additionally, many responses came from members of Congress. But, as in most cases when an issue comes to the attention of Congress, opinions differed, diverged and splintered along partisan and ideological lines. However, despite serious differences, a number of different proposals stood out and have garnered some amount of support.

  • Red Flag Laws — Some Republicans have coalesced around a set of proposals that would encourage states to pass red flag laws: laws which would allow courts, when petitioned by family members or law enforcement, to temporarily ban individuals who pose a significant risk to themselves or others from
    possessing firearms. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) is among those spearheading a bipartisan push, and appears to have some support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.), as well as President Donald Trump. A recent Fox News poll showed that 81% of the public supports similar measures. While many Democrats also support these laws, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) called settling for red flag laws a “tepid” response to gun violence that would not go far enough.
  • Universal Background Checks — Instead, Senator Schumer indicated Democratic support for red flag laws in conjunction with laws to establish universal background checks and close loopholes that allow buyers to remain unscreened when purchasing firearms from another private individual. A universal background checks bill, H.R. 8, passed in the House in February with some limited bipartisan support. While many Senate Republicans have resisted the measure, Senator Pat Toomey (R–Pa.) is working with Senator Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) to introduce a Senate version of a universal background check law. Additionally, President Trump has indicated his support for stronger background check laws and has claimed that Senate Republicans share his views. The Fox News poll mentioned above found that 90% of Americans support a background check for all gun sales.
  • A Ban on Assault Weapons — The most controversial proposal, which is also the least likely to be enacted into law, is to bring back the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. The proposed bill, H.R. 1296, has significant Democratic support in the House, and a renewal of the ban is also supported by Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. However, that same House bill has no Republican cosponsors, has been opposed by Senator McConnell in the past and is extremely unlikely to move forward. Notably, the same Fox News poll that found a staggering rate of support for background checks and red flag measures found that 67% of Americans support a ban.

At the time this issue went to print, Majority Leader McConnell had steadfastly refused to pull the Senate back from recess to consider gun control legislation, despite calls to do so from many Democrats. However, McConnell has vowed to put the issue at the forefront of the agenda when the Senate returns in September and focus on two gun control measures in particular: the red flag law legislation and a bill for universal background checks.

But, as the last several years and failed attempts at reform have proved, there are no sure things when it comes to gun control in Congress.

Federal Legislation – Congress Barrels Forward with Spending Bills

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

As lawmakers prepare to return to their districts for the August recess and, in many states, local election season slated to begin soon afterward, June and July are critical months for the development of federal policy. With deadlines looming, both real and perceived, Congress must fund the federal government for fiscal year (FY) 2020, while also raising the limit on the amount of debt the federal government may incur, and considering pressing policy issues. As a result of this urgency, several PORAC-supported bills important to law enforcement are moving quickly through Congress, while federal funding that plays an indispensable role in keeping communities across the country safe is up for renewal.

Federal Funding Update

While the Golden State Warriors were locked in a battle for their fourth championship in five years, the U.S. House of Representatives moved forward at full throttle, working toward the passage of a series of bills to fund the federal government in FY2020.

On May 22, the House Appropriations Committee passed the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) funding bill for FY2020. The CJS bill appropriates funds for the Commerce Department, NASA, the National Science Foundation and, most importantly for law enforcement, the Department of Justice. The Committee maintained the PORAC-endorsed funding levels that had previously been approved by the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee. Among the funding included in the budget is:

  • $530.25 million for Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (compared to $497 million in FY19)
  • $323 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program (compared to $303.5 million in FY19)
  • $581.5 million to fund the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
  • $100 million to support survivors of human trafficking
  • $2.357 billion for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to fund additional anti-opioid and gang efforts
  • $501 million in assistance to state and local governments for grants authorized by the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, as well as other opioid-related activities

The bill has been packaged with funding for the departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and other programs and sent to the House floor as H.R. 3055. It is scheduled for a vote the week of June 17. Should the bill pass, as is expected, it will continue on to the Senate, where the levels of funding must be agreed to by the Senate Appropriations Committee and subsequently the full Senate. If it clears these hurdles, any differences with the House-passed bill must be reconciled, the unified bill passed by both chambers, and sent to the desk of President Donald Trump for his signature.

There are numerous discrepancies between the House CJS bill and the president’s budget proposal. It seems unlikely that the House funding bill will be signed into law in its current form. If no agreement is reached by September 30 (the end of FY2019), Congress will be forced to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) while negotiations continue.1

No matter the course negotiations take, PORAC is committed to working with Congress and the administration to ensure that state and local law enforcement grant programs are fully funded and that law enforcement officers across California have the federal help they need to succeed.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Two
PORAC-Supported Bills

Although much of the focus in the House Judiciary Committee has been on investigating President Trump and his administration, two PORAC-supported bills were approved and reported to the House floor on June 12.

H.R. 1327, the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, sponsored by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D–N.Y.), will extend the authorization for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund through 2090.

The fund was established in 2001 to aid and compensate the victims of the 9/11 attacks, including many law enforcement officers. H.R. 1327 will ensure these funds do not dry up, and the first responders who performed heroically on 9/11 will continue to receive the compensation they deserve. Maintaining funding for first responders and their families is vital, and PORAC applauds the members of the House Judiciary Committee for prioritizing those affected by those tragic attacks. H.R. 1327 will now move to the House floor for a full vote. An identical bill, S. 546, is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) and is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House Judiciary Committee also approved H.R. 2368, the Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act, introduced by Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R–Pa.).

H.R. 2368, also endorsed by PORAC, would provide a range of support for law enforcement officers and their families as they deal with the daily stress of police work. The bill would improve and expand police officer family services, stress reduction initiatives, suicide prevention programs and various other mental health services. Identical legislation, S. 998, sponsored by Senator Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), has already passed the Senate. If and when H.R. 2368 is taken up and approved by the House, it will be well on its way to becoming law. We will keep you apprised of developments.

Federal Legislation – Law Enforcement Sees Wins in Congress

Darryl Nirenberg
Josh Oppenheimer
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.

Federal Legislation – From March Madness to April Action

Darryl Nirenberg
Eva Rigamonti
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.

Federal Legislation – Legislators, Supreme Court Focus on Law Enforcement

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

Law enforcement initiatives have once again become the talk of Washington. Both the House and Senate have passed (or are actively reviewing) legislation to address prison reform and law enforcement grant funding. The Supreme Court has also jumped into the fray, restricting police authority to conduct warrantless searches of rental cars and vehicles in driveways. 

PORAC-Endorsed Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act (H.R. 3249) Passes Congress

On June 6, Congress passed the Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act (H.R. 3249). The bill creates a grant program at the Department of Justice to help law enforcement combat gang violence and other violent crimes, and directs that funds issued through this program be community-controlled to address local issues.

The act was introduced by Representative Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) in the House and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the Senate. At the time this publication went to print, it was expected that President Trump would sign the legislation into law. PORAC actively supported the bill.

Prison Reform: House Passes FIRST STEP Act; Presidential Pardons Back in the Spotlight

On May 22, the House passed the FIRST STEP Act (S. 2795/H.R. 5682), which would authorize funding for prison-based training programs intended to help rehabilitate prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes. The bill quickly sailed through the House, passing by a vote of 360–59. Its fate in the Senate, though, remains uncertain. The Senate is sharply divided on the issue of prison reform, and some reporters have declared the bill to be “dead on arrival.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) contends that the bill is too forgiving of convicted felons, particularly those who have smuggled or sold heroin, opioids or other illegal drugs. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats — including Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — argue that the bill, by not including changes to sentencing, does not go far enough in providing for comprehensive criminal justice reform. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who also favors a comprehensive reform package, has said his committee will not vote on legislation that does not holistically address the criminal justice system.

Driving this newfound eagerness to tackle prison reform is President Trump. After the House passed the FIRST STEP Act, the president held a summit at the White House and urged a number of senators to sit down at the negotiating table with him. President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner also is pushing for the bill’s passage.

The White House has been addressing the issue of prison reform at an individual level by granting pardons to nonviolent criminals. Since assuming office, President Trump has pardoned or commuted the sentences of seven individuals, including former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, former U.S. Navy sailor Kristian Saucier, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, businessman Sholom Rubashkin and political commentator Dinesh D’Souza. President Trump also posthumously pardoned boxer Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champion, after receiving a call from actor Sylvester Stallone. Johnson was convicted in 1913 for violating a Jim Crow–era law that forbade the transportation of a white woman across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”

In addition, the president commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson, who had been serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, after television star Kim Kardashian West visited the White House at the end of May and pushed for Johnson’s release.

President Trump has signaled his willingness to grant pardons and commutations to more individuals. Since his meetings with Stallone and Kardashian West, the president has asked others — including players of the National Football League — for names of those he should pardon.

Senate Cancels Summer Recess to Focus on Nominations and Funding

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced on June 5 that the Senate’s customary four-week-long summer break (known as the August recess) has been canceled. The reason: so that lawmakers can focus on President Trump’s judicial nominations and the federal budget.

There are nearly 150 judicial vacancies across the country, and Senate Democrats have been using a series of delaying tactics to slow down the process of confirming the president’s nominees. McConnell is hoping the extra time in August will allow the Senate to fill many of these vacancies.

The Senate also needs to pass legislation to fund the government — including the Department of Justice (DOJ) — past September 30. PORAC has been actively pressing for full funding of DOJ grant programs. On June 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved this funding, which includes $445 million for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program (compared to $405 million in fiscal year 2018), and $40 million for various Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant programs (compared to $19 million in FY18). The bill also appropriates $30.7 billion to fund the entire Justice Department, $402.5 million more than was appropriated in FY18.

Congress also is working on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes updates to the Electronic Communications Protection Act (ECPA) (which currently allows law enforcement to search a person’s digital records — such as email — without a warrant, provided that the information is older than 180 days). The amendments to ECPA in the NDAA would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant and notify the individual whose records are to be searched. PORAC opposes these proposed changes.

School Safety Continues to
Be a PORAC Priority

As the rash of school shootings unfortunately continues, PORAC is working with members of Congress to best identify solutions to prevent another tragedy. California Representative Stephen Knight (R-Antelope Valley) recently introduced — with PORAC’s support — a bill to train school faculty and staff on how to safely respond to active shooters. The bill also promotes communication between schools and law enforcement personnel in these situations.

PORAC also is focusing on bills that support school resource officers. One of these bills, the School Resource Officer Assessment Act (H.R. 5242), would require the federal government to conduct a survey on how school resource officers are used across public elementary and secondary schools. The bill unanimously passed the House in May, and PORAC sent a letter to Congress expressing its support. The bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

High Court Rules Against Law Enforcement

As the Supreme Court wraps up its 2018 term, it has issued two decisions further restricting a police officer’s ability to search rental cars and vehicles parked in private driveways.

In Byrd v. United States, 584 U.S. ___ (2018), the court held that a person in lawful possession and control of a rental car retains their Fourth Amendment privacy rights in that automobile. In 2014, Terrence Byrd was driving a rental car when he was pulled over by a police officer for a minor traffic infraction. The car had been rented by another individual, who was not in the car at the time it was stopped. The officer searched the vehicle, believing that he did not need Byrd’s consent to search because Byrd was not named on the rental agreement, and subsequently found heroin and illegal body armor. Byrd was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In reversing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision upholding the warrantless search, the Supreme Court unanimously held that drivers of rental cars not listed on the agreement retain their Fourth Amendment reasonable expectation of privacy. Police officers may now need to obtain a warrant in order to search a rental car, even if the driver is not listed on the car’s rental agreement. The case was sent back to the Third Circuit to consider the other arguments presented in the case, including whether probable cause justified the search at all.

In Collins v. Virginia, 584 U.S. ___ (2018), the court held that law enforcement officers must obtain warrants before searching vehicles parked in private driveways. At issue in this case was whether the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception allows an officer without a warrant to enter a home’s “curtilage” (i.e., the area immediately surrounding it) to search a vehicle parked there. The automobile exception allows police to search a car without a warrant if the vehicle is “readily mobile” and there is probable cause to believe it contains evidence of a crime. In an eight-to-one opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court explained that a warrantless search of a vehicle parked within the curtilage of one’s home is not permissible. In other words, law enforcement can no longer rely on the automobile exception when a car is parked in a private driveway. Absent other circumstances, an officer will first need to obtain a warrant.  

Federal Legislation – Congressional Recess Ends; PORAC Meets With Lawmakers

Darryl Nirenberg
Eva Rigamonti
Cameron O’Brien
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

The August congressional recess, the month when lawmakers go home to their districts (and a time to which Washingtonians look forward for 11 months of the year), was not as quiet as anticipated.

In early August, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution imposing additional sanctions on North Korea in response to that country’s growing missile and nuclear weapon program. A mere two days later, North Korea announced, “We will make the U.S. pay by a thousand-fold for all the heinous crimes it commits against the state and people of this country.”

News outlets subsequently reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had determined that North Korea possesses the ability to successfully shrink a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile, a major step in the nuclear missile process. In response to this news and North Korea’s threats, President Donald Trump stated, “They will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power — the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

On the domestic front, the nation was shocked when an August 12 Unite the Right march of white supremacist and other hate groups (neo-Nazis, the KKK) in Charlottesville, Virginia, escalated into riots between these groups and counter-protestors. After the Governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency and the city of Charlottesville declared the march an unlawful assembly, state police and members of the Virginia National Guard surrounded the park where the demonstration was scheduled to take place. Despite these actions, at least one woman was killed and more than 19 others injured when a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of people protesting the white nationalist rally. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice have opened a civil-rights investigation to look into the crash. In addition to the civilian death and injuries, two Virginia State Police officers were killed when the helicopter they were using to monitor the riots crashed.

PORAC Back in D.C. This Month to Advocate for Law Enforcement

A number of PORAC members will be in Washington, D.C., this month meeting with lawmakers and government officials to discuss the group’s federal policy priorities. The fly-in comes at a time of heightened activity in the nation’s capital, with debates on health care, the budget and foreign conflicts demanding the attention of Congress.

PORAC plans to remind lawmakers that despite the magnitude of problems on the national and international level, America’s success, stability and safety depends in large part on the well-being of its cities and communities — which, in turn, are able to thrive only when local law enforcement agencies have the support and resources necessary to carry out their duties. This message is particularly important because although the House is scheduled to vote in early September on the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill — the legislation that funds the Department of Justice and many law enforcement programs — it is unclear when the Senate will take up its CJS bill, which many expect may just be rolled into a larger funding package at some point in the fall. More information on PORAC’s fly-in will be provided in next month’s column.

DOJ Announces New Program to Combat Opioid-Related Health Care Fraud

On August 2, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rollout of a pilot program administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that will focus on combating opioid-related health care fraud. The Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit seeks to use data analytics to identify and prosecute individuals participating in such fraudulent activities and, in turn, perpetuating the opioid abuse epidemic that has hurt countless individuals, families and communities across the country.

This is the latest federal effort to combat the opioid crisis rocking the nation. Most recent statistics indicate that drug overdose deaths continue to soar above historic numbers. More Americans under age 50 die from drug overdoses than any other cause. Almost 100 people per day die because of opioid overdoses and/or related complications. Experts estimate the opioid epidemic alone could claim nearly 500,000 people across the country in the next 10 years. To put that in perspective, the projections indicate that over a 10-year period, opioids could kill more people in the United States than HIV/AIDS has killed since the 1980s.

Experts agree that one significant cause of the opioid epidemic has been American physicians’ prescription and pain management practices. For that reason, Attorney General Sessions explained that by analyzing data on opioid prescriptions, the DOJ team will be able to detect certain trends in this area, including “which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.”

This analysis will inform the efforts of 12 selected United States Attorney Offices tasked with investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud. One of the offices chosen to participate in the program is the Eastern District of California, which encompasses Calaveras, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne counties. These prosecutors will work with state and local law enforcement agencies as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services to root out the health care professionals who are contributing to the crisis by enriching themselves at the expense of public health and safety.

Attorney General Sessions stated that although the fight against opioid abuse will require a multifaceted approach of prevention, enforcement and treatment involving the cooperation of various entities, he is “convinced this is a winnable war.”

Soon after Sessions announced the establishment of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, President Trump said that he would be taking steps to officially declare the opioid abuse epidemic a “national emergency.” The move toward this designation aligns with a recommendation from the White House’s Opioid Commission, formed earlier this year and led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which called on Trump to make the national emergency declaration.

National emergency designations related to public health and safety are typically reserved for short-term crises such as natural disasters and contagious disease epidemics, so it is unclear how the designation will support the Trump administration’s anti-opioid abuse effort. At the very least, the national emergency declaration would likely allow for specific funding and regulatory waivers that could enhance and expand addiction prevention and treatment programs.

Sessions Implements Immigration Compliance Requirements for DOJ Grant Recipients

On August 3, the DOJ indicated it was looking at criteria relating to localities’ immigration policies, with regard to whether or not the Department would distribute funding under its new Public Safety Partnership (PSP) program. The PSP program, which was announced in June, is funded through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program (Byrne-JAG) and aims to help local agencies better address violent crime in their communities through training and technical assistance.

To be eligible to receive funding from the PSP program, local jurisdictions need to 1) demonstrate a commitment to reducing violent crime; 2) have sustained levels of violence that exceed that national average; and 3) be ready to receive the DOJ training and technical assistance offered through the program. Twelve jurisdictions received PSP funds during the first round of awards, and the DOJ is currently reviewing applications from a number of jurisdictions that are seeking grants in future rounds.

Two such jurisdictions in California, however, the cities of San Bernardino and Stockton, recently received letters from the DOJ in response to their applications for PSP grant funding, requesting a reply to questions related to their illegal immigration policies.

The letter asks whether the jurisdictions have policies in place that ensure that:

1)  U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel have access to any correctional or detention facility in order to meet with an alien and inquire as to his or her right to be or to remain in the U.S;

2)  The jurisdiction’s correctional and detention facilities provide at least 48 hours’ advance notice, where possible, to DHS regarding the scheduled release of an alien in the jurisdiction’s custody when DHS requests such notice in order to take custody of the alien; and,

3)  The jurisdiction’s correctional and detention facilities will honor a written request from DHS to hold a foreign national for up to 48 hours beyond the scheduled release date in order to permit DHS to take custody of the foreign national.

San Bernardino and Stockton were two of just four jurisdictions nationwide — including Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Baltimore, Maryland — that received such letters. The DOJ is expected to announce the second round of PSP awards later this year.

Federal Legislation – Law Enforcement Issues Front and Center in Washington, D.C.

Darryl Nirenberg
Eva Rigamonti
Cameron O’Brien
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

President Trump Releases FY2018 Budget

On May 23, the Trump administration released its fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget proposal, entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness.” The budget request would provide $27.7 billion for the Department of Justice, a decrease of $1.1 billion compared to the FY2017 funding level. The budget places a strong emphasis on investing in immigration enforcement and combating violent crime.

Notably, the budget would provide $207 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program, an increase of $20.4 million over FY2017. In addition, mandatory funding for the Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) Program is maintained at $72 million (last year’s level) and discretionary funding for the PSOB Disability Benefits and Educational Assistance Programs is increased slightly to $16.3 million. The PSOB programs provide death and education benefits to survivors of fallen law enforcement officers and disability benefits to officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

While PORAC is encouraged by the proposed funding levels for these programs, it remains concerned about suggested cuts to a number of other law enforcement-related accounts. Specifically, PORAC strongly opposes the proposal to cut nearly $80 million from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program — the leading source of federal funding for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention initiatives.

The president’s budget is not a binding document. Rather, it is widely viewed by members of Congress as an indicator of the administration’s priorities and represents a starting point for the congressional appropriations process. The House and Senate are now tasked with establishing their own funding levels for federal programs, and PORAC will continue to register its support for critical law enforcement program funding as Congress develops its own budget.

PORAC Supports McNerney’s Law Enforcement Stamp Effort

In late May, Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.-9) announced that he and a number of his Democratic colleagues in the House — including California delegation members Grace Napolitano (32nd District), Mike Thompson (Fifth District) and Salud Carbajal (24th District) — are urging the Postmaster General to establish a postage stamp honoring fallen law enforcement officers and providing support for their families.

“Every day, law enforcement officers across the country put their lives on the line in service to the American people,” said McNerney. “Any officer that gives his or her life in the line of duty is a tragedy for their families and for the community. This stamp would not only pay tribute to these brave men and women, but the proceeds from this purchase would go toward helping their families in these tragic situations.”

Knowing PORAC’s expertise, influence and thoughtful approach to policy in the law enforcement space, McNerney’s office contacted PORAC to inform the organization about his efforts and ask for its support. PORAC was pleased to endorse the Congressman’s proposal and letter of support to the Postmaster General.

Congress Advances Key Law Enforcement Bills

In late May and early June, Congress approved a number of bills regarding law enforcement (all supported by PORAC), one of which was signed into law.

On May 18, the House of Representatives passed the Thin Blue Line Act (H.R. 115) on a 271–143 vote. The bill would amend federal criminal law to trigger death penalty considerations for the killing or attempted killing of a police officer, firefighter or other first responder, and covers federal, state and local officials. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (48th District) is the only co-sponsor from the California delegation. A companion bill, S. 1085, has been introduced in the Senate by Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).

Also on May 18, the House approved the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act (H.R. 1892), with only one lawmaker opposing it. The legislation would authorize state and local officials to order flags flown at half-staff in the event of the death of a first responder who dies while serving in the line of duty. The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate.

Earlier in May, both the House and Senate passed the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act (S. 583), a bipartisan bill that allows Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants to be used for the hiring and training of veterans as career law enforcement officers. Notably, it was co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.). On June 2, President Trump signed S. 583 into law.

DOJ Announces Establishment of National Blue Alert Network

On May 19, the Department of Justice made a long-awaited announcement that it is rolling out the National Blue Alert Network, designed to quickly notify law enforcement agencies and the public about violent offenders who have killed, seriously injured or pose an imminent threat to law enforcement, or when an officer is missing in connection with official duties.

The DOJ, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Homeland Security, was directed to establish the notification and information dissemination system by the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in May 2015. PORAC, the law enforcement community at large and several members of Congress expressed serious concern last year that the network had not been established more than a year and a half after the bill became law. In September 2016, PORAC wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging her to swiftly implement the network.

Similar to AMBER alerts, Blue Alerts can be broadcast on television, radio, highway message signs and wireless devices, and provide details about possible offenders, including physical descriptions and vehicle information.

Supreme Court Rules for Law Enforcement in “Provocation” Case

On May 30, the Supreme Court ruled 8–0 in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez to reject a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based on the “provocation doctrine.” Under that doctrine, a police officer’s use of deadly force may be ruled unlawful if the police officer created the need to use force by acting in an illegal manner.

In the case, two L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies entered a residence in 2010 without a search warrant and witnessed occupant Angel Mendez holding a weapon (which was later learned to be a BB gun). Officers shot Mendez and another occupant multiple times in ostensible self-defense. Mendez, whose leg had to be amputated below the knee, sued the officers, charging them with illegal search and seizure as well as illegal use of force under the Fourth Amendment.

In March 2016, the Ninth Circuit relied on the provocation doctrine and ruled in favor of Mendez, holding that the deputies were “liable for the shooting as a foreseeable consequence of their unconstitutional entry even though the shooting itself was not unconstitutionally excessive force under the Fourth Amendment.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion, asserted that the provocation doctrine “is incompatible with our excessive force jurisprudence” and its “fundamental flaw is that it uses another constitutional violation to manufacture an excessive force claim where one would not otherwise exist.”

Attorney General Becerra Urges DOJ to Rescind New Sentencing Guidelines

On May 22, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined attorneys general from 13 other states and the District of Columbia in urging U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to revoke new instructions recently disseminated by the DOJ regarding its Charging and Sentencing Policy.

In a May 12 memorandum sent to all federal prosecutors, Sessions wrote that under his leadership, a core principle of this policy will be the premise that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious offense, and by definition the most serious offenses are those that trigger mandatory minimum sentences. Per the memorandum, any exception to this policy must be justified in writing by the prosecutor and must be approved by a U.S. attorney or assistant attorney general.

In their letter to Sessions, Becerra and the other state attorneys general argued that “there is a strong bipartisan national consensus that the harsh sentencing practices reflected in the new DOJ policy … do not increase public safety, and that consensus is supported by strong data.” The DOJ has not responded publicly to the letter, and it is unclear if it will have any effect on the Charging and Sentencing Policy moving forward.

Federal Legislation – Policymakers Maintain Robust Law Enforcement Funding

Darryl Nirenberg
Eva Rigamonti
Cameron O’Brien
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Congress, Trump Approve Omnibus with Key Funding

On May 5, President Trump signed into law a $1.1 trillion spending measure that funds the federal government through September 30, the end of fiscal year (FY) 2017. The House and Senate voted to pass the measure just days before federal funding was set to expire.

Generally speaking, the FY 2017 spending bill, commonly called the omnibus, maintains funding for the federal government — including a number of fundamental federal law enforcement programs. State and local law enforcement programs were cut very slightly. However, funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program is sustained at last year’s level and the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) program received a significant increase in funding. Specifically, the spending package provides:

  • $2.41 billion overall for total state and local law enforcement activities, which is $66.2 million below the comparable FY 2016 level
  • $221.5 million for the COPS Program: within this funding, $137 million is for the hiring of law enforcement, which is the same as the FY 2016 level
  • $376 million for the Byrne-JAG program, which is $29 million above the FY 2016 enacted level
  • $481.5 million for Violence Against Women Prevention and Prosecution programs, which is $1.5 million more than the FY 2016 level
  • $247 million for Juvenile Justice, which is $23.2 million less than the FY 2016 level

During meetings with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., this spring, PORAC strongly advocated for many of these programs and is encouraged that members of Congress heeded law enforcement’s call for continued support for such critical programs.

Comey Ousted, Rosenstein Confirmed as Deputy AG

On May 9, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. At the time this issue went to print, the White House was reportedly interviewing a number of candidates for the position, which is subject to Senate confirmation. In the meantime, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe will serve as Acting FBI Director.

On April 25, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to confirm Rod Rosenstein as the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ) by a vote of 94–6. Notably, Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) opposed the nomination.

Rosenstein was the U.S. Attorney in Maryland for the past 12 years, where he established a record of independence and was well respected by both the Democratic and Republican administrations under which he served. As the second-highest ranking official at the DOJ, Rosenstein may be required to lead investigations from which Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself — including those related to Russian interference with the presidential election.

Many policymakers are watching to see how Rosenstein’s legal style complements — or potentially conflicts with — that of Attorney General Sessions. For instance, Rosenstein views the scourge of opioid abuse as a public health crisis that requires possible treatment and rehabilitation for offenders, while Sessions has expressed a strong preference for a strict enforcement approach, including mandatory minimum sentences, and believes that Americans have developed “too much tolerance for drug use psychologically, politically, [and] morally.” Attorney General Sessions has already begun to push this approach. On May 12, he rolled back an Obama-era policy that directed prosecutors not to apply mandatory minimums to nonviolent offenders, and revived a policy established under President George W. Bush to charge offenders with the “most serious readily provable defense.”

Judge Blocks Executive Order on Sanctuary Cities

On April 25, a federal judge blocked an executive order that aimed to prevent so-called “sanctuary cities” — those municipalities that limit cooperation with federal immigration law enforcement efforts — from receiving federal funds. President Trump signed executive order “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” on January 25, and a number of cities promptly filed lawsuits against the action.

The ruling came just days after Attorney General Sessions sent letters to eight U.S. cities and the California Board of State and Community Corrections threatening to withhold their federal funding if they did not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Sessions’ letters — addressed to the government officials of New York City, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Sacramento — requested that the municipalities provide the DOJ with the proper documentation to verify that they are in compliance with federal immigration information-sharing requirements. Despite the court’s ruling on the executive order, the DOJ is still seeking this information from entities addressed in Sessions’ letters. If these jurisdictions do not submit documentation by June 30, the DOJ has said it will withhold their Byrne-JAG funding.

In meetings with lawmakers, PORAC has expressed serious concern that if local law enforcement agencies are required to perform the duties of federal immigration enforcement officers, their ability to effectively protect the communities they serve could be impeded.

Spotlight on Legislation

Since the start of the 115th Congress in January, PORAC has been actively monitoring legislation that impacts law enforcement and has taken a position on a number of bills. Below are three bills for which PORAC has expressed support.

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (S. 860), introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and co-sponsored by California’s senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein (D): This bill aims to enhance existing juvenile justice laws and programs by improving treatment for juvenile offenders with mental illness and substance abuse issues; encouraging states to identify, report and reduce racial and ethnic disparities for youth who enter the juvenile justice system; supporting alternatives to incarceration, such as problem-solving courts; and strengthening oversight of the federal grant program to hold states accountable for failing to meet grant requirements. S. 860 is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (S. 867/H.R. 2228): This bicameral, bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Representative Susan Brooks (R-Ind.). Senator Feinstein is co-sponsoring the Senate bill, and Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Paul Cook (R-Calif.) are co-sponsors of the House version. The bill would help law enforcement agencies establish or enhance mental health services for their officers. It would make grants available to implement peer-mentoring pilot programs, develop resources for mental health providers based on the specific mental health challenges faced by law enforcement, and study the effectiveness and impact of crisis hotlines and annual mental health checks for officers. Further, it would direct the DOJ, the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to examine how the DOD and VA’s mental health practices and services could be adopted by law enforcement agencies.

While the intersection of mental health and law enforcement has come to the forefront in recent years, the conversation has predominantly focused on the needs of the justice-involved population rather than the officers themselves. Acknowledging and addressing the mental health needs of law enforcement is a worthy goal and investment. S. 867 is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and H.R. 2228 is currently pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (S. 178), introduced by Senator Grassley and co-sponsored by Senator Feinstein: PORAC supported this bill last Congress, and is advocating again for its passage in the 115th Congress. This bill aims to combat the abuse and exploitation of seniors by expanding education, prevention and prosecution tools to reduce crimes against seniors and bring perpetrators to justice. Specifically, the bill would increase training for federal investigators and prosecutors, and equips each judicial district with at least one prosecutor who has expertise with elder abuse cases. Furthermore, the bill would establish an elder justice coordinator within the Federal Trade Commission; improve information-sharing among government agencies and federal, state and local authorities to develop best practices to combat elder financial exploitation; and increase the penalties for perpetrators of such crimes. S. 178 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 23, and is currently awaiting consideration by the full Senate.

Federal Legislation – Championing Public Safety Amid Changes in Washington

Darryl Nirenberg
Eva Rigamonti
Cameron O’Brien
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

PORAC Advocates for Law Enforcement in D.C.

In late March, more than a dozen PORAC and PORAN members traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers to discuss legislative priorities in the 115th Congress. In total, the group met with more than 30 lawmakers and their staffs, including U.S. Senators Feinstein (D-Calif.), Harris (D-Calif.), Heller (R-Nev.) and Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), as well as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). PORAC also met with staff from the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students.

PORAC expressed its strong support for the preservation of a number of grant programs administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), including Community Oriented Policing Services grants, Byrne Justice Assistance Grants and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area grants. PORAC was encouraged by the response from lawmakers, who recognized the value of these programs and expressed commitment to their continued funding. The group also discussed the urgent need for 9-1-1 emergency system reform, explaining how the existing infrastructure has not kept pace with modern technologies and is compromising public safety. Additionally, PORAC outlined its concerns with a House-passed bill that would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and suggested changes that the Senate should incorporate when it considers the issue.

It was clear throughout the two days of meetings that lawmakers have come to value PORAC’s input on policy and are very interested in learning about its position on a range of issues.

Trump Takes Action to Combat Opioid Abuse

On March 29, President Trump signed an executive order establishing the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The mission of the initiative is to “study the scope and effectiveness of the federal response to drug addiction and the opioid crisis” and make recommendations for improvement. To lead the commission, President Trump chose New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been working to address the scourge of opioid abuse and heroin use in his state. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will also have a seat on the panel.

The commission is designed to identify and describe existing federal funding used to combat drug addiction and the opioid crisis; assess the availability and accessibility of drug addiction treatment services and overdose reversal throughout the country, and identify underserved areas; report on best practices for addiction prevention, including health-care provider education, evaluation of prescribing practices and effectiveness of state prescription drug monitoring programs; and make recommendations to the president for improving the federal response to drug addiction and the opioid crisis. After 90 days, the commission must submit to President Trump an interim report with its preliminary findings, and a final report must be submitted by October 1.

The commission will receive administrative support from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which will soon be under new leadership. On April 11, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Representative Tom Marino (R-Penn.) to lead the ONDCP as the next so-called “drug czar.” The third-term congressman is a former federal prosecutor and was one of President Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress during the presidential campaign. Last Congress, Congressman Marino introduced the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act (H.R. 3380) to curb drug trafficking across borders, the Senate version of which (S. 1612, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein) was signed into law. He is also opposed to loosening restrictions on marijuana and has advocated for mandatory inpatient substance abuse programs for nonviolent drug offenders.

AG Sessions Signals Shift in Enforcement Priorities

In public remarks and in departmental memos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated that under his leadership the DOJ will prioritize reducing violent crime, with a particular emphasis on dismantling drug cartels and federally prosecuting firearm offenses.

“We’re making sure the federal government focuses our resources and efforts on this surge in violent crime,” Sessions recently told law enforcement personnel in Virginia, highlighting the recent formation of the DOJ Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety to evaluate and improve existing federal efforts. Sessions noted that reducing violent crime depends on confronting the heroin and opioid crisis — and that combating the scourge of illicit drug use depends on securing the nation’s borders and enforcing immigration law. “Illegal drugs are flooding across our southern border and into cities across our country, bringing violence, addiction and misery,” Sessions said. “Criminal enforcement is essential to stop both the transnational cartels that ship drugs into our country, and the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their product.”

Sessions’ stance on enforcing immigration law is much more stringent than his predecessor’s. This is demonstrated not only by his comments above but also by his announcement in mid-April that sanctuary cities (cities that do not permit municipal funds or resources to be used for, or otherwise prohibit local law enforcement’s participation in, the enforcement of federal immigration law) would be ineligible to receive federal funding from the DOJ if they do not change their policies. “Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the street,” Sessions said, adding that “the DOJ will require jurisdictions seeking or applying for DOJ grants to certify compliance with 1373 [laws requiring local agencies to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts] as a condition of receiving those awards.” It is unclear how the DOJ plans to implement this policy and what exactly the impact would be on the affected jurisdictions.

Supreme Court Update

In recent weeks, the Supreme Court rendered decisions in several cases addressing criminal justice issues, two of which are outlined below.

In a 5–3 decision in Moore v. Texas, the Court held that a state court applied the wrong standards to conclude that a Texas death-row inmate was not intellectually disabled and therefore eligible for execution. Specifically, the Court considered whether the use of outdated medical standards to determine if a person is intellectually disabled and ineligible for execution qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In this case, Moore was sentenced to death in 1980, but he argued that he was exempt from execution because he was intellectually disabled. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Moore’s challenge, relying on a set of 1992 standards for evaluating intellectual disability. The Court concluded that the lower court’s reasoning was flawed in many respects, including that it 1) focused too heavily on Moore’s IQ score, 2) did not consider current clinical standards and 3) relied on factors founded in neither medicine nor law. Chief Justice Roberts — along with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas — dissented.

In a 6–2 decision in Manuel v. City of Joilet, the Court analyzed whether Fourth Amendment protections applied to a post-arrest seven-week detention, which allegedly was imposed without probable cause and based on false evidence. Justice Kagan, writing for five other members of the court, concluded that an unlawful “pretrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment not only when it precedes, but also when it follows, the start of legal process in a criminal case.” This conclusion — that the Fourth Amendment governs a claim of unlawful pretrial detention — was the same conclusion reached by 10 other federal appellate courts. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas both agreed with the narrow holding of the case — i.e., that “the protection provided by the Fourth Amendment continues to apply ‘after the start of the legal process.’” They disagreed, however, with the suggestion that “new Fourth Amendment claims continue to accrue as long as pretrial detention lasts.”

Federal Legislation – Trump Praises Law Enforcement as PORAC Heads to Capitol Hill

Darryl Nirenberg
Eva Rigamonti
Cameron O’Brien
Legislative Assistant
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

President Trump Expresses Support for Law Enforcement in Address to Congress

On February 28, President Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress, striking an optimistic, bipartisan tone. In his speech, Trump touted the executive actions he has taken since his inauguration and outlined some broad objectives that he plans to pursue in conjunction with Congress.

As he regularly did throughout the campaign, Trump spoke very highly of law enforcement and reiterated that it has his full support. To create a future where every American child can grow up in a safe community, attend a great school and have access to a high-paying job, Trump noted, “We must work with — not against — the men and women of law enforcement.” Commending the dedication that law enforcement officers across the country demonstrate daily, Trump added that “they are friends and neighbors, they are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — and they leave behind loved ones every day who worry whether or not they’ll come home safe and sound.”

As mentioned in last month’s column, Trump’s pro-law-enforcement rhetoric appears to be at odds with his administration’s reported funding priorities at the Department of Justice, as early statements from the White House have indicated that the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office is under consideration for elimination. Maintaining, and if possible increasing, COPS grant funding is a top priority for PORAC and is one of the key items that the Association’s members discussed with lawmakers during the annual Capitol Hill fly-in.

In addition to supporting those who fight crime, Trump also promised to provide resources for victims of crime — specifically, crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Trump said that he has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office, with the aim of “providing a voice to those who have been ignored.” In the audience as presidential guests were a number of Californians whose lives have been forever altered by crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver attended in honor of their husbands, Placer County Sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, who were murdered in October 2014 by an illegal immigrant with a criminal background and two prior deportations. Detective Davis’ daughter was also a guest, and after calling her father a hero, President Trump said that the entire country was supporting and praying for her. Also in attendance was Jamiel Shaw, whose 17-year-old son Jamiel II was murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member in Los Angeles in 2008. Trump promised these family members that their loved ones would never be forgotten and that he “will never stop fighting for justice.”

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget and the Appropriations Process

Every year, Congress must fund the government through the annual appropriations process. That process is initiated when the president submits a budget to Congress. The president’s budget essentially functions as a recommendation, at which point Congress considers and ultimately passes a budget resolution that sets caps on allowable spending for various federal agencies and programs. Working under these budget caps, the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate begin to formulate 12 spending bills that encompass the entire federal budget.

Members of the Appropriations Committees wield significant influence as to what appears in the 12 spending bills. Prior to committee consideration of the spending bills, appropriators submit their own funding priorities to committee leaders — identifying federal funding and programs that they believe should be maintained, increased, cut back or eliminated altogether. In advance of the deadlines for these member-specific spending submissions, PORAC strongly advocated for the preservation of a number of effective law enforcement programs, especially the COPS Office, in meetings and in correspondence with appropriators.

Under a regular appropriations process, the House Appropriations Committee reports its appropriations bills to the full House for consideration in May and June, while the Senate Appropriations Committee usually begins reporting its appropriations bills in June and begins floor consideration of the bills in June or July. It is difficult to say how the other policy debates in Congress — including on the Affordable Care Act and tax reform — could impact the timing of the appropriations process.

Much of the attention on Capitol Hill has been consumed by the Affordable Care Act deliberations, but budget debates will soon come to the forefront, as government funding for fiscal year (FY) 2017 (which runs through September) is set to expire at the end of April. Republican leaders in Congress had hoped to pass a comprehensive FY2017 appropriations package in December that would have funded the government for the entire fiscal year, but the incoming Trump administration specifically requested that Congress instead pass a stopgap measure that would allow the new president to establish spending priorities. Thus, before adjourning in December, Congress passed a continuing resolution that will fund the government at last year’s levels through April 28, 2017.

Typically, Congress and the White House would work through the federal budgets for each fiscal year in chronological order, but Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently stated that the administration wants to address the FY2018 budget before making final spending decisions in the FY2017 budget. “Once we have a handle on FY18, we can start to backfill ’17,” Spicer said. President Trump presented his preliminary budget to Congress on March 16. It included drastic spending cuts across the federal government, as he has vowed to reduce its size and cost to taxpayers.

Spotlight on Legislation

Since the start of the new Congress in January, PORAC has been actively monitoring legislation that impacts law enforcement and has taken a position on a number of bills. Below is one bill that PORAC has expressed support for, as well as one that the Association opposes.

  • Synthetic Abuse and Labeling of Toxic Substances (SALTS) Act (S. 207): PORAC supports this bill, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), which is intended to make it easier to prosecute the sale and distribution of synthetic drugs. In recent years, some drug manufacturers have been deliberately exploiting weak labeling laws in order to sell products that, while marked “not for human consumption,” are widely recognized as synthetic drugs that often have dangerous side effects that threaten the safety of the user and other members of the community. S. 207 allows for the consideration of additional factors when determining whether a synthetic product is intended for human consumption — including its known use. This legislative change would make such products (and their producers) easier to prosecute, which in turn would help to drastically reduce the public availability of these deadly substances. S. 207 currently has 11 co-sponsors, including California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein.
  • Corey Jones Act (H.R. 158): PORAC opposes this bill, introduced by Representative Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), which would mandate (as a prerequisite for receiving COPS grant funds) that police departments prohibit plainclothes officers from engaging in routine traffic stops in unmarked vehicles. COPS grants are a critically important source of funding for state and local law enforcement agencies, and the ability to dress in plainclothes while conducting routine traffic stops is an important safety strategy. Threatening the inaccessibility of grant funds based on the use of an effective policing tool would be counterproductive to public safety efforts.

PORAC Members Advocate for Law Enforcement in D.C.

In late March, more than a dozen PORAC members traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with nearly 40 lawmakers and discuss the Association’s legislative priorities. Among the issues that PORAC discussed were funding for COPS grants, 9-1-1 emergency system reform and responsibly updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. A detailed recap of PORAC’s fly-in will be included in next month’s issue.