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.