March POAM Washington Update
As the new 114th Congress kicked off its first session in January, it had to resolve leftover business from the previous year. Full 2015 year funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had not yet been authorized due to a short-term agreement to fund the department through late February. When that deadline approached, a one week extension was passed before a final deal was approved on March 3, 2015. Congress will now turn to considering and debating funding decisions for the next fiscal year which begins on October, 1, 2015.
President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request
This year, President Obama presented his Fiscal Year 2016 budget request to Congress on February 2, 2015. The $4 trillion spending plan was primarily directed toward growing entitlement programs and modifying the “sequester,” which automatically capped spending since it was instituted in 2013. In total, the budget would add $38 billion to defense spending, while increasing non-defense spending by $37 billion.
Under the President’s request, the Department of Justice would receive $28.7 billion in discretionary spending for FY2016. This funding would increase the 2015 level by $1.3 billion. Of that, $97 million would go to local governments for additional training and oversight. The President has indicated that this extra funding is meant to provide body-worn cameras, support community-oriented policing, and increase technical assistance to local police departments. The proposal would also increase Byrne/JAG funding to $388 million from $376 million in FY14. Funding for the Second Chance Act would nearly double from $68 million to $120 million. The State Criminal Alien Assistance Programs (SCAAP) would see level funding at $185 million. In addition, the budget provides $20 million for addressing the backlog of untested rape kits, which would supplement the $40 million included in the FY15 budget.
Homeland Security FY15 Funding Passed
On Tuesday March 3, 2015, Congress agreed to extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security through the end of Fiscal Year 2015. Beginning with a 3-month extension for DHS funding in the “Cromnibus” spending package, Members of the House and Senate struggled to find common ground. As the February, 27, deadline approached, Congressional Leadership was forced to pass a one-week extension due to continued reluctance to pass a spending bill that did not contain riders aimed at reversing the President’s executive orders on immigration policy. These riders were rejected by Senate Democrats, who wanted a clean version of the bill. The Senate passed the clean version of H.R. 240 on February 27, 2015. During the week-long extension, a procedural maneuver allowed the Senate’s clean version to be raised for a vote in the House. It was passed by the House 257 to 167 on March 3, 2015 and signed into law on March 4, 2015. With this funding debate resolved, Congress now turns to discussions about appropriations for Fiscal Year 2016.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
On Friday January 16, 2015, Attorney General Eric Holder announced restrictions on the ability of state and local police to use federal laws for civil asset forfeiture. This move limited the capacity to seize money, vehicles, or other property in the absence of evidence that a crime had occurred. In the past, law enforcement officers were able to confiscate materials and have the federal government “adopt” them. This resulted in local and state police agencies receiving a larger share of proceeds from those seizures. Sources indicate that the move comes in response to concerns over abuse of the tool and the incentives it could create for local agencies. At the same time, others indicate that those specific abuses should be addressed without discarding a critical legal tool against drug trafficking. In late January, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI-07) introduced the FAIR Act (S.255/H.R. 540), which aims to reform the asset forfeiture program. However, there has thus far been no legislation introduced to repeal the regulatory change.
Loretta Lynch Confirmation Hearings
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of Attorney General Candidate Loretta Lynch on February 26, 2015, sending Lynch’s nomination to the Senate for a full vote. Lynch was nominated to replace current Attorney General Eric Holder who will be stepping down as soon as a successor is confirmed. Sources indicate that Lynch’s nomination has been delayed by more than four months due in large part to her support for President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Lynch will require a simple majority of Senators in order to be confirmed and most sources believe that it is likely she will secure the necessary votes for confirmation.
Michigan Delegation Highlighted Updates:
On February 27, 2015, Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) co-sponsored “the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015,” which would amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to extend through Fiscal Year 2020. The bill was assigned to the Judiciary Committee on January 8th and is currently being considered before it makes its way to the Senate floor.
Representative Candice Miller (MI-R-10) recently introduced the “Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Safety Technology Investment Flexibility Act of 2015,” which aims to use vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to increase road safety. The legislation would utilize current surface transportation funding to finance greater investment in vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI-D-14) joined Congresswoman Miller by co-sponsoring the legislation.