Federal Legislation – Amid Uncertainty, PORAC Goes to Washington

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

As fears over the coronavirus grew, and only hours before congressional offices largely closed their doors to outside visitors, the PORAC Executive Committee spent two days in Washington, D.C., speaking to lawmakers and policymakers about the needs of law enforcement officers across the state of California. March 11–12, PORAC Executive Committee members met with 24 offices from the California delegation to the United States House of Representatives, the offices of both California senators, three different Senate and House committees, members of the Attorney General’s Office, Assistant Attorney General Katie Sullivan, and Phil Keith, director of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and chair of the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. Throughout these meetings, PORAC relentlessly advocated for the issues and needs of the California law enforcement community.

During PORAC’s time in Washington, several issues took precedence over others. Among these were:

  • Federal funding for grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, such as the COPS program, Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne JAG) and High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program
  • Protecting the retirements of law enforcement officers and all public employees by reforming the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) through support of House Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal’s (D-MA-1) H.R. 4540, the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act, and S. 521/H.R. 141, the Social Security Fairness Act
  • Preventing violence against police officers by promoting Representative Lou Correa’s (D-CA-16) H.R. 5251, the Improving Community Safety Task Force Act, and S. 1480/H.R. 5395, the Back the Blue Act
  • Improving mental health care for law enforcement officers and communities through Representative Josh Harder’s (D-CA-10) H.R. 2696, the Supporting the Health and Safety of Law Enforcement Act, and S. 2746/H.R. 3735, the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act
  • Supporting the families of fallen law enforcement officers through H.R. 2697, the Corporal Ronil Singh and Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, a bill from Representative Harder to provide Pell Grants to the spouses of fallen officers

In meetings with members of Congress, congressional staff and Trump administration officials, PORAC Executive Committee members made a compelling case for the prioritization of these issues and delivered important information on the challenges facing law enforcement officers across California. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Congress as the coronavirus situation escalates into a pandemic, PORAC will continue this advocacy in Washington until the needs of law enforcement are met.  

Federal Legislation – A Return to Normalcy?

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

After a tumultuous and controversial start to the new decade, things in Washington have quieted down and taken a turn back toward the routine — if anything in President Donald Trump’s Washington can be considered routine. The impeachment trial in the Senate concluded with a whimper rather than a bang, and President Trump carried out two of the longest-standing traditions of the presidency: delivering a State of the Union address and releasing his budget recommendations. Each of these have potential ramifications for law enforcement agencies in California and across the nation.

Impeachment Acquittal

It is worth reviewing the final days of the Senate’s impeachment trial, which, after several weeks, wound its way to the all-but-preordained conclusion. On February 5, just a day after the president’s State of the Union address, the Senate voted to acquit President Trump. On the first article of impeachment, the charge that the president had abused his power in conditionally withholding military aid from Ukraine, the president was acquitted on a 52–48 vote. In the only surprise of the day, Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah joined with Senate Democrats to vote to convict. On the second impeachment article, the charge that the president had obstructed the congressional investigation, the president was acquitted on a 53–47 party-line vote. As the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to convict and remove a president, neither vote came close.

President Trump Promotes Law Enforcement in State of the Union

On February 4, the day before his Senate acquittal, President Trump went before nearly the entire Congress (several representatives declined to attend) to tout what he called “the great American comeback.” The president’s speech touched on many of his perceived accomplishments while laying out a continued vision for the country and implicitly making a case for his own re-election.

As he discussed his vision for the United States, he stressed the importance of his push to “keep Americans safe.” The president stated that “supporting the men and women of law enforcement at every level” is absolutely integral to his vision of a safe and secure America. He went on to claim that his administration has made progress on that goal, citing the arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers of 120,000 individuals charged with “nearly 10,000 burglaries, 5,000 sexual assaults, 45,000 violent assaults and 2,000 murders.” The president then went on to slam the state of California for, in his words, passing “an outrageous law declaring their whole state to be a sanctuary for criminal illegal immigrants…with catastrophic results.” In response, President Trump promoted a bill from Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) that would allow victims of crimes carried out by undocumented immigrants to sue so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.

The president also highlighted his administration’s efforts to combat human trafficking, noting that over the last three years, ICE has arrested over 5,000 alleged human traffickers and that he has signed nine pieces of legislation to combat the crime. Just days before the State of the Union, the president put additional force behind his words by signing an executive order on “Combating Human Trafficking and Online Child Exploitation in the United States.” The order establishes a new federal position that will focus solely on combating trafficking.

President Kicks Off 2021 Budget Process

Only a week after the president’s State of the Union, the White House released President Trump’s proposed budget, an event that signals the beginning of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations process. The budget featured a wide array of proposed cuts, including reductions in funding for the Department of Justice-administered grants that state and local law enforcement agencies rely on. In total, the president’s proposed budget for FY reduces DOJ funding as a whole by $730 million.

Of the most importance to state and local law enforcement agencies, the president’s budget would cut funding for Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) programs while also merging the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office with the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). The reduction of Byrne JAG funding from $547.21 million in FY 2020 to $412 million in FY 2021 represents a major cut to the primary source of federal aid to state, local and tribal law enforcement. While the exact impact of the COPS-OJP merger is unknown, it does represent a relatively substantial change. The budget does allocate $99 million for the COPS Hiring Grant program, which provides funding to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to boost their teams.

However, the budget as proposed by the president is unlikely to gain much traction, let alone actually pass as proposed. Almost any proposal from the president is dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled House, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated that the Senate will largely ignore the president’s proposal in favor of the spending-cap deal agreed to with the House last year. Instead, the House and Senate will work to create a package that can pass both chambers before going to the president’s desk. Regardless of the process, PORAC will continue fighting for a budget that provides law enforcement agencies with the funding they need to serve their communities.

Federal Legislation – Happy New Year: Buckle Up for 2020

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

2019 is behind us. Whether it felt more like a decade or more like a week is up for debate. Yet, 2019 may end up being just the warm-up for 2020, which is set to be just as chaotic, if not more so. At the time this issue went to print, Congress was in the process of reaching a funding agreement with only six days to go before a shutdown, and an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate for President Donald Trump appeared destined to be the first order of business once Congress returns for the new year.

In addition to an impeachment trial and the inevitable chaos of a presidential election year, Congress will have to find time to address the many priority issues facing Americans — not the least among them are issues facing law enforcement officers across the country.

By any measurement, 2020 promises to be a wild ride. Buckle up: Here’s Steptoe’s 2020 PORAC federal preview.

Trial of the Century?

At the time this issue went to print, the House of Representatives’ public impeachment hearings had concluded and final articles of impeachment (essentially the charges being brought) were drafted. The House was expected to vote on these articles by Christmas, and many expected the articles to be approved on a party-line vote. With the House having concluded its role, impeachment then falls to the Senate for a trial to be presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

In the Senate, the schedule and process for the impeachment trial will largely be in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). There have been mixed signals about intentions for the trial. President Trump has expressed some desire for a full list of witnesses, while Majority Leader McConnell has conveyed a desire to expedite the process and limit the participation of witnesses. As it stands now, Senator McConnell has cleared the Senate’s January schedule for the trial.

While conviction and removal is a remote possibility, the impeachment trial will grind the Senate to a halt as it proceeds. The impeachment process requires mandatory attendance for all senators, one of the few instances in which senators are required to physically be in the Senate chamber (and without access to their mobile devices!). This may have an outsized effect on several Democratic candidates for president, specifically Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), all of whom will be pulled off the campaign trail in the critical weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Furthermore, no other legislative business can occur while an impeachment trial is underway; the rules require that the trial go six days per week until concluded.

Election Year is Here

As hinted above, the new year is crunch time for Democratic presidential hopefuls. The Iowa caucuses are just a little over a month after New Year’s Day — on Monday, February 3. The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary is Tuesday, February 11. From there, the schedule only accelerates to Nevada, South Carolina and a slew of Super Tuesday states in March.1

In the current RealClearPolitics polling average, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg leads the Democratic field in both Iowa and New Hampshire, followed in each state by Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. Here is where implications from the Senate’s impeachment trial will be most felt, as Warren and Sanders will be set to depart from the campaign trail, while Biden and Buttigieg will be able to continue campaigning in these two critical states.

Of course, the presidential election is not the only election set to occur in 2020. All 435 seats in the House will be up for grabs, as will a third of the Senate. In most election years, congressional action slows to a halt, and there is no indication that 2020 will be any different. Members’ need to campaign frequently and seriously impedes congressional business throughout the year.

Federal Funding in Limbo

Of course, those following the current progress of Congress may be forgiven for shuddering at the idea of an even less functional institution to come. And no issue may illustrate congressional dysfunction better than the seemingly interminable cycle of talks, extensions and gridlock surrounding federal funding for fiscal year (FY) 2020.

Readers of this column may recall that the House first passed the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations package, which includes all federal funding for the Department of Justice and grants for local law enforcement, on June 25. Since then, Congress has avoided a default on the nation’s debt, passed a separate CJS bill out of the Senate, reached a topline agreement on spending and passed two continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government running at FY 2019 levels. Despite these actions, a final appropriations package has not been passed or sent to the president.

However, there is some good news on the funding front. Immediately before this issue went to print, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) announced that congressional leaders had reached a deal in principle on FY 2020 funding levels. While few details are currently known, it is likely that there will be higher levels of funding for law enforcement priorities than there were in FY 2019. Expect a full summary of law enforcement funding in next month’s edition of this column.

PORAC Priorities in 2020

Even as impeachment proceeds, ballots are cast and Washington descends even further into partisan chaos, PORAC will stay laser-focused on the issues that matter most to law enforcement officers in California and across the country. Because Congress works on a schedule where every “Congress” constitutes two years (and every “session” one year), PORAC will work to further the progress made in 2019 during the final year of the 116th Congress (i.e., 2020). In fact, many of our priorities will remain the same:

  • Protecting the retirement of law enforcement officers — PORAC has worked tirelessly to ensure that every law enforcement officer and first responder can retire with the benefits they so richly deserve. To that end, PORAC has supported several bills — including H.R. 141/S. 521, the Social Security Fairness Act and H.R. 4540, the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act — to eliminate or reform the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces the Social Security benefit of workers who receive a public pension. Additionally, PORAC has supported and endorsed H.R. 4527/S. 2552, which would allow retiring first responders to buy into Medicare, and H.R. 1256/S. 531, which permits disabled law enforcement officers to receive retirement benefits in the same manner as if they had not been disabled. Together, these bills are a potent package that will ensure that law enforcement officers are able to retire on their own terms.
  • Ending violence against police — As always, PORAC is dedicated to the safety of every police officer and first responder in California and nationally. Thus, the growing anti-police climate in the U.S. — and the observable uptick in assaults on law enforcement officers that has come with it — is of the gravest concern. As a result, PORAC has taken a lead role in addressing this disturbing trend. Working with Congressmen Lou Correa (D-CA-46) and Josh Harder (D-CA-10), PORAC has promoted H.R. 5251, the Improving Community Safety Task Force Act, which would establish a Department of Justice task force to examine the causes of violence against police and how it can be stopped. In addition, PORAC has supported S. 1480, the Back the Blue Act, which would make the assault of a law enforcement officer a federal crime, and H.R. 99/S. 1508, the Thin Blue Line Act, which would increase the penalties for assaults on a law enforcement officer. PORAC will continue to work toward the passage of all these bills in 2020.
  • Use of force — PORAC opposes any change that will undermine the existing federal standard under which a law enforcement officer may use deadly force. In practice, this means that PORAC will continue to oppose Congressman Ro Khanna’s (D-CA-17) bill: H.R. 4359, the PEACE Act. H.R. 4359 would codify a national use-of-force standard that would only permit a police officer to use deadly force when it is “necessary” and a last resort — not when it is “reasonable” for an officer to use that force. If enacted, this would create 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 opposes this bill and intends to oppose it until
    the very last day of this congressional session.
  • Fighting for federal funding … again — Although no funding for FY 2020 has yet been enacted, it is never too early to get a head start on FY 2021. Unlike other congressional business, which operates on the two-year cycle briefly mentioned above, funding the federal government happens every year. And, as in past years, PORAC will fight to expand and increase the funding available for law enforcement. The FY 2020 funding looks good, but it can always be better, and PORAC will work to ensure that the vital funding law enforcement relies on is maintained and expanded in FY 2021.

In closing, please accept our wishes for the holiday season, and for a happy, healthy and safe new year to you and yours. It is our honor and privilege to serve as PORAC’s representative here in our nation’s capital. We are grateful for the trust you have put in us and for the sacrifices you and your families make to keep our communities safe. We are eager to continue bringing your voice to Washington in 2020.

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 – Chaos on Capitol Hill

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

It’s finally happened. Here in Washington, it’s all anyone can talk about. The headlines have been impossible to escape, and there’s a new development every day. Hot takes have been fired off faster than the presses can print them.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats have pulled the trigger and launched an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Donald Trump.

The inquiry, thus far, has focused narrowly on a phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which President Trump pressed for an investigation into the former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate  Joe Biden. Now, the House will conduct its own investigation into whether the president’s behavior reaches the level of impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors” before deciding whether to send the matter to the Senate for a trial.

While the question of the criminality of the behavior is for the House to investigate and the Senate to decide, there is a separate, equally relevant question: What does this mean for an already dysfunctional Congress and the work it needs to do?

There’s no easy answer. While Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have at least hinted at a desire to keep the wheels of government moving regardless of impeachment, the process will inject a significant amount of instability into what was already a fraught political situation. Important issues such as surprise medical billing and the United States–Mexico–Canada trade deal (commonly referred to as the new NAFTA) negotiated by President Trump were already on tenuous ground; it is hard to see how impeachment improves their prospects.

One deadline, in particular, looms — November 21, when the continuing resolution (CR) passed and signed in September expires and, unless action is taken, the federal government will shut down for the second time this year. While the Senate has been making some progress on its own set of funding bills and the House passed its package in July, there is always the possibility that talks between the Senate, House and President Trump could break down along the same fault lines as they have in the past. An unpredictable impeachment inquiry only adds another unavoidable obstacle.

In addition to the looming possibility of a government shutdown given the November 21 deadline, vital funding for state, local, and tribal law enforcement grant programs administered by the U.S. Department of Justice is also at stake. As such, PORAC has nothing but appreciation for California Democratic
Representatives Josh Harder, Grace Napolitano, Mike Thompson, Jimmy Panetta, Jim Costa, TJ Cox, and Anna Eshoo, all of whom signed on to a letter (reprinted at the end of this article) urging congressional leadership to prioritize law enforcement funding and maintain the high levels of funding passed by the House. PORAC applauds these lawmakers for standing up for the funding that helps law enforcement keep our communities safe. 

House Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal Introduces WEP Reform Bill

Despite the uncertainty currently permeating Washington, some legislative business has continued. In a notable example, House Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal (D-Mass.) introduced his long-awaited legislative fix for the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) — H.R. 4540, the Public Servants Fairness and Protection Act — on September 27.

The WEP has long been a target of PORAC and public employee groups across the country. It reduces the Social Security benefit for workers who are receiving a government pension and as such affects most public employees, including teachers and law enforcement officers. While originally envisioned as a way to ensure that government workers did not receive both a pension and a large Social Security benefit, the effect has instead been to deprive state and local government workers, including law enforcement officers, of the benefits they have earned.

The Public Servants Fairness and Protection Act, as introduced by Representative Neal, seeks to fix the current formula. H.R. 4540 replaces WEP with a new formula called the Public Servant Protection (PSP) formula. Rather than the current and rather arbitrary formula, the PSP would base Social Security benefit payments on the percentage of earnings that were covered by Social Security. Additionally, while the PSP itself is delayed in taking effect, H.R. 4540 stipulates that an extra $150 be added to the benefit of every current retiree who is affected by the WEP. Finally, in a key provision, H.R. 4540 guarantees that no current or future retiree will be worse off under the new formula.

H.R. 4540 is not the first WEP reform bill to have been introduced in this session of Congress. In January, Representative Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) introduced H.R. 141, the Social Security Fairness Act. A Senate companion bill, S. 521, was later introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The Social Security Fairness Act would eliminate the WEP entirely rather than make the more technical fixes prescribed by H.R. 4540. PORAC leadership looks forward to discussing each fix to the WEP with members of Congress during its fall advocacy visit to Washington.

PORAC Heads to Washington

At the time this issue went to print, the PORAC Executive Committee was less than a week away from their semiannual fly-in to Capitol Hill. President Brian Marvel, Vice President Damon Kurtz and other PORAC officers are meeting with senators and representatives from the California delegation on a multitude of issues, including, as previously mentioned, WEP reform. In addition, PORAC will be meeting with members of Congress on federal funding, stressing the need for improved relations between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and registering their opposition to the national use-of-force bill, H.R 4359, which was recently introduced by Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). PORAC is excited for the opportunity to bring the issues important to its members to Washington and to advocate on their behalf.

Expect a full report on PORAC’s advocacy in Washington in next month’s issue.

 California Representatives’ Letter to Congressional Leadership on Law Enforcement Funding

As previously mentioned, on September 18, Members of Congress Josh Harder, Mike Thompson, Jim Costa, Anna G. Eshoo, Grace Napolitano, Jimmy Panetta and TJ Cox (all D-Calif.) sent the following letter to House and Senate leaders.

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, and Leader Schumer:

Thank you for your leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. We appreciate the opportunity to work together to support the American people. With the recess behind us, our attention now turns to crafting a compromise on an end of year funding bill to keep the government funded through the 2020 Fiscal Year. While there are many important issues at stake during this effort, our responsibility to ensure robust funding for the state and local law enforcement officers that keep Californians and all Americans safe is paramount.

This critical funding is provided through a number of federal grant programs and direct spending initiatives administered through the Department of Justice (DoJ). In June, the House of Representatives passed a Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations package that expanded funding for law enforcement over FY 2019 levels. The vital appropriations included:

  • $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; and
  • $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.

Not only do these programs equip California law enforcement officers with the resources they need to protect communities across the state, but they also provide the means to effectively combat broader issues facing Californians and all Americans.

As the Senate considers its own spending measures, I urge you to resist cuts to law enforcement programs. Day in and day out the brave men and women of state and local law enforcement in California and across the country risk their lives to fulfill their duty and keep their neighbors safe. We must now fulfill our duty, and ensure they have the critical resources they need to do their jobs safely, efficiently, and humanely.

Thank you for your time and consideration regarding this request.

Federal Legislation – Wave of Violence Reignites Debate on Guns

Darryl Nirenberg
Partner
Eva Rigamonti
Associate
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.