November 2020 Federal Update

Members of Congress began returning to Washington during the second week of November, poised to take up a number of critical issues and with hopes of competing for a productive post-election lame-duck session, prior to a scheduled December 18th adjournment. Immediately Congress must contend with a December 11th government funding deadline, failing action, will require a nationwide federal government shut down. In addition, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both expressed the desire to pass new economic and health-care relief measures to address the surging coronavirus pandemic — something Congress has not been able to do since the spring. But it is uncertain whether they will be able to find common ground in the weeks ahead: McConnell has voiced support for a narrow bill, while Pelosi continues to insist on a broader and bolder relief package. Lame-duck sessions of Congress can be ceremonial affairs, particularly as one presidential administration begins its exit and a new one prepares to take control. But this transition is already shaping up to be much different, with the country facing severe economic uncertainty and the coronavirus pandemic entering a deadly new phase.

FY 2021 Spending Package

Congress faces a December 11th deadline to pass fiscal year ’21 spending bill to avoid a shutdown. While a lame-duck funding deal is ambitious, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has said appropriators have agreed to try to finish an omnibus spending package by that deadline, rather than kicking the can with another continuing resolution. House appropriators marked up all 12 of their fiscal 2021 spending bills, and the House passed ten of the measures. Senate appropriators released their FY 2021 spending bills on November 11th, delays a result of Republican objections to Democrats’ plans to offer amendments on the coronavirus response and policing reform (among other items). On the release of the Senate bills, Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) stated “these bills are the product of bipartisan cooperation among members of the committee. Time after time, we have demonstrated our willingness to work together and get the job done. We have before us the opportunity to deliver for the American people once again.”

COVID Stimulus Package

Pressure has increased on lawmakers to move forward with a COVID stimulus package with the U.S. economic recovery losing momentum amid a spike in coronavirus cases that could leave the nation’s health care system stressed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KT) recently stated that reaching a deal on a stimulus bill would be “Job 1” when lawmakers return for the lame-duck Congressional session after the elections. The chance of a stimulus deal may be rising, but it is unlikely to result in as large a package as Democrats and President Trump were discussing before the election. It is uncertain whether the work on spending legislation will collide with negotiations over economic relief measures, which could be attached to the spending bill or move separately. Lawmakers in both parties widely agree on the need for more spending on health-care systems, vaccines, schools, and small businesses, and McConnell and Pelosi have indicated support for sending out a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individuals. McConnell also indicated support shortly after the election for sending additional aid to cities and states, something that has been a central Democratic demand and a high priority for many national police organizations. But McConnell and Pelosi have been far apart on the overall price tag of any economic relief legislation, with McConnell arguing this past week that a jobs report showing unemployment had dropped to 6.9 percent supported his push for a narrower relief bill — a position Pelosi rejected.

DOJ Announces Police Department Certification Standards

Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced new DOJ “Standards for Certification” for law enforcement agencies nationwide. The “standards” are part of the implementation of President Trump’s Executive Order – “Safe Policing for Safe Communities.” The President’s Order #13929 requires that all state, local, and university law enforcement agencies be certified by independent credentialing agencies. In Michigan, the DOJ designated credentialing agencies are the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission, and the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

The Order requires that all state, local, and university law enforcement agencies be certified by independent credentialing agencies. It requires agencies to meet two standards in order to be successfully credentialed: 1) that the agency’s use of force policies prohibit chokeholds, except in situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law; and 2) that the agency’s use of force policies adhere to all applicable federal, state, and local laws.

Over the next 90 days, at least 3,000 law enforcement agencies will be certified by independent credentialing agencies. These agencies will conduct independent reviews of law enforcement policies and procedures, which in turn according to DOJ, will ensure accountability, enhance citizen confidence and trust in law enforcement, and help correct internal issues before they result in injury to the public or to law enforcement officers. DOJ will withhold federal grant money from police departments than don’t try to meet certification standards on the use of force.

Judge Halts Law Enforcement Commission

In October, a federal judge found that the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by appointing only law enforcement officials as Commissioners and by holding closed meetings without advance public notice. The Judge ordered the Commission to halt its work until it comes into compliance with FACA. The Presidential Commission, established by President Trump, was slated to spend a year researching and analyzing important current issues facing law enforcement and the criminal justice system in an effort to improve policing and the administration of justice across the United States. In kicking-off, the Commission, Attorney General Bill Barr said “There is no more noble and important profession than law enforcement. A free and safe society requires a trusted and capable police force to safeguard our rights to life and liberty, but as criminal threats and social conditions have changed the responsibilities and roles of police officers, there is a need for a modern study of how law enforcement can best protect and serve American communities.” The Commission was in the final stages of preparing its report to Attorney General Barr, due at the end of the month. The Judge stated that no recommendations can be submitted until the Commission resolves the legal violations.

Huizenga Introduces Hero’s Act of 2020

Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-2nd) has introduced the “Hero’s Act of 2020” to provide support for police officers and other first responders during the coronavirus pandemic. This bill excludes from gross income, for income tax purposes, wages, and other income up to $50,000 of qualified first responders for the period beginning on February 15, 2020, and ending on June 15, 2020. A qualified first responder is any individual (1) who is a physician, nurse, pharmacist, law enforcement officer, corrections officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic who provides services in a county with at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019); or (2) who provides services in a licensed medical or care facility located in such county. The Department of the Treasury may extend the exclusion for an additional three-month period beyond June 15, 2020, if Treasury determines that the COVID-19 emergency is likely to be ongoing during the extended period. Congressman Huizenga stated, “thank you to the incredible men and women who serve West Michigan. We stand with you and appreciate your professionalism, your courage, and your dedication to our community.”

Protect & Serve Act Introduced

On September 17th, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Senate version of the Protect and Serve Act (S. 4605), which would provide for new criminal penalties for deliberate, violent targeted attacks on police officers. This bill and its House companion, HR 1325, respond to a serious and growing trend of armed attacks on law enforcement officers across the country. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) reports, 87 officers were shot and 14 died in ambushes or premeditated, calculated assaults in 2019. Supporters have been working to establish stricter penalties for those who harm law enforcement officers and sponsors have indicated that increased penalties provided under this bill, will make important differences in the attitudes of criminals and ensure protection for officers and the communities they serve. The bill currently has 55 cosponsors in the House and 16 in the Senate and more information on both bills can be found at www.congress.gov.

Election Notes

U.S. Senate Democrats had a disappointing election night failing to achieve a number of predicted wins. The makeup of the Senate next year is uncertain, due to high volumes of mail-in ballots and the fact that both of Georgia’s races will go to a runoff on January 5th. Georgia Senators David Perdue (R) and Kelly Loeffler (R) failed to win their races outright and will be forced into the January runoffs. Democrats would have to win both seats to achieve a Senate majority with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaker vote.

In the U.S. House, Republicans also exceeded expectations under the leadership of their Campaign Committee Chair, Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer (R-6th). While Republicans didn’t win back the majority, they did topple at least six Democratic incumbents and expect more in the remaining races to be decided. In Michigan, all U.S. House Members seeking re-election won their races. Forecasters had been predicting nationally that Democrats would pick up anywhere from five to 20 seats.

For More Information

POAM will continue to share related legislative information about this November 2020 federal update through our online platforms, including our website, social media, mobile app, and monthly newsletter.