Following the House and Senate’s return from a brief July Fourth recess, legislators have continued debate on Fiscal Year 2015 spending bills. Committees in both the House and Senate have held numerous hearings debating pending appropriations bills, including the Commerce-Science-Justice Bill which may come up for a vote on the Senate floor prior to the August recess.
Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Department of Justice Funding Bill
On June 5th, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed legislation providing the Department of Justice with $28 billion in funding, over a quarter of a million dollars more than last year’s appropriations level. According to the Committee, the bill provides $2.3 billion for State and local law enforcement and crime prevention grant programs, including $376 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, $181 million for COPS hiring grants, $430 million for Violence Against Women Act programs, $258 million for juvenile justice and mentoring grants, and $23 million for the Bulletproof Vest Program. Also included in the bill is report language instructing the Department of Justice to determine the costs and feasibility of implementing a national “Blue Alert” communications system. The bill has since moved to the Senate floor where Senate Majority Leaders intend to debate the measure as part of a three-bill package which also includes the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture spending measures.
Supreme Court Rules on Warrant Requirements for Cell Phone Searches
On June 25th, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that law enforcement officers must have a warrant in order to search the cell phones of individuals they arrest. The ruling will likely apply more broadly to also include tablets and laptop computers, as well as searches of homes, businesses and to information held by third parties such as phone companies. In general, courts have traditionally allowed searches without warrants in connection with arrests, stating they are justified by the need to prevent the destruction of evidence and protect law enforcement officers. However, Supreme Court Justices argued that electronic data is essentially harmless, and that the chances of a suspect hiding or destroying evidence through an “encryption” program are unlikely. While the Supreme Court acknowledged the decision would make the lives of law enforcement officers more difficult, Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that technology has also made it easier for law enforcement to obtain warrants electronically and do their jobs more efficiently.
Michigan Delegation Updates:
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) – Earlier this year, in “one of the most significant steps forward in community mental health funding in decades”, President Obama signed Senator Stabenow’s Excellence in Mental Health Act (S.264) into law. The Senator’s bipartisan legislation “expands access to community mental health services and strengthens the quality of care provided for those living with mental illness.” The version of the legislation, included in the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act”, establishes pilot programs in eight states to increase access to community mental health centers and improve the quality of care at those centers. Those programs could then be extended to other states. This legislation helps to close the gaps in the nation’s safety net and reinvest in community-based mental health care. The bill will also increase safety for law enforcement officers and provide more options for officers to use when dealing with citizens with a mental illness. The bill is supported by over 50 mental health organizations, veterans’ organizations and law enforcement organizations.
Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI-07) recently introduced legislation to rename a post office in Jackson, Michigan the “Officer James Bonneau Memorial Post Office Building.” The bill, H.R. 3534, has been cosponsored by most of the Michigan Delegation and would honor a fallen Jackson City Police Officer. On March 9, 2010, Officer Bonneau was killed as he and a fellow public safety officer followed up on a domestic disturbance complaint. Though fatally wounded, he was able to call for help, saving the life of his fellow officer. In 2011, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Badge of Bravery. On May 21st, the legislation was successfully reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and awaits future consideration on the House floor.
Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-MI-10), a long-time advocate on behalf of victims of human trafficking, issued a statement summarizing the progress Congress has made so far to combat the issue and assist victims of trafficking. Earlier this year, the House passed five separate measures aimed at combating domestic and international human trafficking. Additionally, in collaboration with law enforcement agencies, the Department of Homeland Security created a national education campaign, known as the Blue Campaign, that provides information on training and outreach to combat human trafficking.
Congresswoman Miller stated that, “the scourge of the exploitation of our children reaches into every state and community across our nation – including Michigan. With so much at risk, we need to make sure that we are doing everything within our means, across every level of government, within every state and in every community to protect Americans, especially our children, from becoming victims and to provide them the help they need to reclaim their lives when they are rescued from the hands of these criminals.”
The five bills that passed the House aimed at combating human trafficking are as follows: The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (H.R. 3530); The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act (H.R. 3610); The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (H.R. 4058); The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act (H.R. 4225); International Megan’s Law (H.R. 4573).
In early June, Congressman Gary Peters (D-MI-14) recognized the five officers who received the “2014 Michigan Police Officers of the Year” award for their heroic actions, bravery and discipline – Nicholas Smiscik, Mathew Swope and Michael Jacobi, Andrea Carlson and Lindsay Witthuhn. Congressman Benishek (R-MI-01) also included an entry honoring the two officers from his First Congressional District, Deputy Michael Jacobi and Deputy Matthew Swope, who have been honored two years in a row for their dedication to law enforcement and actions of great bravery. For more information regarding Congressional Record entries please go to //www.poam.net/legislative/poam-congressional-record.