POAM Federal Update

Read the latest federal update news from this month’s Washington, D.C. report.

This report was created by Emily Tranter, Lead Lobbyist for Policy and Government Relations, Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P.

Federal Policing Reform Bills

Both chambers of Congress held votes during the week of June 22 on legislative proposals to reform federal policing policies. House Democrats and Senate Republicans have offered competing proposals regarding the policing reform.

The House passed its bill (H.R. 7120) or the “Justice in Policing Act” on June 25, 236-181. The House bill is a broad proposal that combines provisions from several previously introduced bills with new proposals. The main provisions in the bill would make it easier to sue police for alleged rights violations, establish a national police misconduct database, prohibit chokeholds, and curtail transfers of military equipment to police departments. 

In the Senate, The “JUSTICE Act” (S. 3985) represents a counterproposal to the House package and would provide more than $1 billion in emergency funding over five years for various efforts to change policing policy in the U.S.

Under the Senate proposal, state and local governments would have to implement chokehold bans and retain disciplinary records or they would lose federal funding. The measure also would require reporting on officers’ use of force and no-knock warrants, provide grants for body cameras, and modify law enforcement hiring practices. Lynching would be made a federal crime. There appears to be bipartisan agreement on provisions such as banning the use of chokeholds in most circumstances, but lawmakers remain at odds over other proposals, including eliminating “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers.

A procedural vote held June 24 on the Senate bill did not reach the 60 votes needed to advance, as all but three members of the Democratic caucus voted against the motion. A legislative path forward to conference is unclear without Senate action. President Donald Trump threatened to veto the House bill if it passed the Senate.

House Appropriators Set July Markup Schedule

House appropriators held their fiscal year 2021 markups in a two-week sprint starting July 6, as members attempt to do their jobs under far-from-normal circumstances due to the coronavirus. Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) had told members to keep their schedules clear in early July so the committee could quickly mark up their bills.

The Commerce-Justice-Science bill was marked-up in its subcommittee on July 8. The next step for the bill will be the full House Appropriations Committee, which is expected to take place in mid-July. The bill funds DOJ at $33.2 billion, an increase of $972.5 million above the FY 2020 discretionary enacted level. This includes funding for the following:

  • Byrne JAG
  • $525 Million for Byrne-JAG 
    • Requires at least 25 percent of a recipient’s Byrne JAG formula funds to be spent in specified ways aimed at improving police practices.
  • Additional Justice Grant Programs including:
    • $525 million for Violence Against Women Act programs
    • $251.5 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program
    • $142 million for DNA Initiative Grants
    • $49 million for Grants to Reduce the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog
    • $140 million for STOP School Violence Act programs
    • $95 million for Victims of Trafficking grants
    • $100 million for Second Chance Act programs
    • $94.5 million for Missing and Exploited Children programs

The bill also provides the following selected budget lines related to policy reform:

  • 400 million for grants to carry out police reform initiatives, including:
  • $77.5 million for Police-Community Relations Grant programs
  • $8 million for Hate Crime Prevention and Prosecution Grants
  • $5 million for a new National Task Force on Law Enforcement Oversight
  • $4 million for Civilian Review Boards
  • Requires state and local law enforcement agencies to begin or complete the process of obtaining accreditation from a certified law enforcement accreditation organization, as a precondition for receiving any fiscal year 2021 Justice Department funds.

The Appropriations bills as outlined above is unlikely to pass the full Congress in its current form, as the Senate will need to negotiate and approve with their version. Senate appropriators, meanwhile, can’t move ahead on spending bills because of a disagreement over what kind of amendments are considered appropriate. The coronavirus in particular is a sticking point. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said the impasse in his committee will likely mean a continuing resolution from September into late November or early December will be needed. “We’re headed strongly in that direction, “Chairman Shelby said, adding that right now there are no plans for markups of legislation. Chairman Shelby said if some Democratic demands can be addressed in the next virus relief package, expected to be negotiated this month, that could allow his committee to move forward on some spending bills.

House Passes $3 Trillion HEROES Act Stimulus Bill

The House passed a $3 trillion Democratic economic stimulus bill on Friday that Senate leadership and President Trump have already rejected, making it less likely to trigger bipartisan negotiations over this bill. The measure, which passed 208-199, would give cash-strapped states and local governments more than $1 trillion while providing most Americans with a new round of $1,200 checks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it should be the basis of talks with the Republican-controlled Senate and White House, which have called for a “pause” to allow earlier coronavirus recovery spending to work.

President Trump and Republican congressional leaders have acknowledged that some sort of further economic stimulus will likely be necessary as the economy continues to shed jobs. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits since March now exceeds 36 million. “Phase four is going to happen but it’s going to happen in a much better way for the American people,” the President indicated in June.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said he anticipates another bill eventually. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that negotiations could take place for another round of coronavirus stimulus funding before August. A main focus of the Senate in any further legislation regarding coronavirus relief is liability reform to give businesses protection from virus-related lawsuits, and that bill could be combined with some limited economic aid.

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