May 2021 POAM Washington Report
In March 2021, the U.S. House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 (HR 1280), essentially the same bill it passed last year and failed to move in the Senate. The bill would ban chokeholds and alter so-called qualified immunity for law enforcement, a legal precedent that gives government officials, including police officers, protections against lawsuits.
Among other things, the bill would also create a national database of police misconduct and require federal law enforcement officials to use body and dash cameras. The elimination of qualified immunity for police officers would make it easier to pursue claims against officers. The wide-ranging legislation would also ban no-knock warrants in certain cases, mandate data collection on police encounters, prohibit racial and religious profiling, and redirect funding to community-based policing programs. The 220-212 vote, mostly along party lines, faces major challenges in the Senate and is unlikely to survive in its current form.
Throughout the House’s consideration of the legislation, POAM expressed strong opposition to selected provisions, including the elimination of qualified immunity. The POAM’s objections, along with other law enforcement organizations have slowed the bill’s progress in the U.S. Senate and has raised major concerns among many Senators. The bill would effectively eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity and many experts predict that this bill would have far-reaching changes to policing, as well as to the stability of the law enforcement workforce in America. As written, the bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate unless major changes are made.
CBO Says Bill Would Cost Millions
Congressional economists have estimated that the House passed, George Floyd Justice in Policing (HR 1280) would cost police departments around the country hundreds of millions of dollars to report law enforcement data to federal officials. Under the bill, about 18,000 law enforcement agencies would see costs increase by “several hundred million dollars annually,” the highly respected Congressional Budget Office (CBO) wrote to lawmakers. The measure would require state, local, and tribal police to report demographic data to the Justice Department for actions ranging from traffic stops to the use of deadly force.
The CBO said the exact price tag is subject to uncertainty because federal officials haven’t issued regulations on the bill’s reporting requirements. Police departments “would incur costs for training and for data collection, management, and reporting,” the CBO wrote. “Using information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement associations nationwide, CBO expects that more than 6,000 agencies would either need to upgrade or to invest in new technology to comply with the new reporting requirements.”
President Signs COVID Relief Bill
President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package into law on March 11th to implement one of the largest stimulus measures in U.S. history. The bill, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (HR 1319), authorizes the third round of one-time stimulus payments up to $1,400 for most Americans; extends additional unemployment support to millions still out of work, and makes major changes to the tax code to benefit families with children. It also sets aside new federal money to help schools reopen, aid cities and states facing budget shortfalls, and assist in the distribution of coronavirus vaccine doses.
The aid package includes billions in aid to the state, local, and Tribal governments as well as U.S. territories to help address budget and revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic and assist in covering the continuing costs of responding to COVID-19. Throughout the process, POAM worked with other law enforcement organizations to ensure that direct aid to state and local governments was included in the American Rescue Plan and ensure that police officer would be eligible for hazard pay. More recently, at the White House Jen Psaki, President Biden’s Press Secretary specifically called out police officers being eligible for premium pay under the act.
Last week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the launch of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, established in the bill to provide $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments. Treasury also released details on the ways funds can be used to respond to acute pandemic-response needs, fill revenue shortfalls among state and local governments, and support the communities and populations hardest hit by the COVID19 crisis.
Eligible state, territorial, metropolitan city, county, and Tribal governments will be able to access funding directly from the Treasury Department in the coming days to assist communities as they recover from the pandemic. This state and local aid provided through the legislation can only be used for specific purposes including providing premium pay to essential workers (police officers). The bill stipulates funding cannot be used to replace revenues lost due to a tax cut or tax rebates provided to citizens during the pandemic nor can they be used to fund public pensions.
Specific Language from U.S. Treasury Directive (5/10/21)
Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have borne and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service during the pandemic.
Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Bills Supporting Law Enforcement
Over “Police Week,” the Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a package of bills supporting law enforcement officers and their families. The package includes three bills aimed at improving access to financial support for officers permanently disabled in the line of duty, expanding mental health outlets for law enforcement, and promoting justice for officers lost while serving abroad. All were approved by voice vote without objection. Detailed information on each bill is below.
Protecting America’s First Responders Act (S. 1511)
This bill would ensure that officers who are permanently unable to secure meaningful gainful employment following a catastrophic injury in the line of duty remain eligible for federal benefits. It would also expand the Justice Department’s ability to more efficiently secure records needed to swiftly evaluate disability claims.
Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act (S. 921)
This bill clarifies that federal officers and employees serving overseas are protected and that crimes against them may be tried in a U.S. court of law. The bill is named for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, who were attacked by drug cartels while working in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act (S. 3434)
This bill seeks to address the mental stresses incurred by law enforcement by encouraging the adoption of peer counseling programs and protecting the privacy of federal officers who participate.
Protect and Serve Act of 2021 Introduced
Representatives John Rutherford (R-FL) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) reintroduced the bipartisan Protect and Serve Act of 2021 (HR 3079), which would create federal penalties for individuals who deliberately target law enforcement officers with violence. It was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Thomas R. Tillis (R-NC) as S. 774. In 2018, this same legislation passed the House on a 382-35 vote. The legislation would create a new federal offense for those who deliberately target law enforcement officers with violence and is a direct response to the increased number of law enforcement officers who have been targeted for attack.
Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act, sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and in the House by Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), would make it easier for public safety officers disabled in the line of duty to qualify for the Public Safety Officer’s Benefits (PSOB) Program’s disability benefits. It would also ensure that beneficiaries receive the highest award amount possible, and it will make certain that all children of public safety officers disabled or killed in the line of duty are able to benefit from the Public Safety Officers’ Education Assistance program.