In November, U.S. House Leadership unveiled their proposal to overhaul the U.S. tax code, a major legislative priority for Congressional Leaders and the White House. The House Ways and Means Committee voted to advance this tax reform bill and House Leadership will aim to bring the legislation to a full Chamber vote in mid-November. Additionally, the Senate Finance Committee unveiled its version of their tax plan. Time is short and there are only about 15 Congressional work days remaining until the stopgap funding measure expires on December 9th and 20 days until Congressional leaders’ target adjournment of December 15th for the holidays.
President Trump Declares Opioid Crisis Public Health Emergency
In October, President Trump declared a public health emergency to deal with the ongoing opioid epidemic. The President signed a memorandum calling on Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan to declare an emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act waiving certain regulations and allowing states greater leeway in how they use federal funds to combat the epidemic.
• The emergency lasts 90 days and can be renewed indefinitely.
• The declaration allows for temporary appointments of specialists to crisis areas under federal grants, but it doesn’t create additional funding.
• The action allows for shifting of resources within HIV/AIDS programs to help people eligible for those programs receive substance abuse treatment, given the connection between HIV transmission and substance abuse.
• The Department of Labor will be able to give emergency grants to states for workers displaced by the opioid crisis if funds are available.
• National Dislocated Worker Grants (DWGs), formerly known as National Emergency Grants (NEGs), are discretionary grants awarded by the Secretary of Labor, under Section 170 of WIOA. DWGs provide resources to states and other eligible applicants to respond to large, unexpected layoff events causing significant job losses.
• The declaration will expand access to telemedicine, including remote prescribing of medication commonly used for substance abuse or other mental health treatment
Senators Introduce Bipartisan Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform
A bipartisan group of Senators reintroduced S.1917 the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 that will aim to recalibrate prisons sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and target violent career criminals. The legislation is led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) Cory Booker (D-NJ) Tim Scott (R-SC) Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums and provides judges with greater discretion when determining sentences. As part of the bill, courts must first review eligible inmate’s cases, including their criminal histories and conduct while incarcerated before determining whether a sentence reduction is appropriate.
The bill will also aim to preserve cooperation incentives to help law enforcement in tracking down kingpins and stiffens penalties for individuals convicted of serious violent felonies. In addition, the bill establishes recidivism reduction programs to help prepare low-risk inmates to successfully re-enter society.
House Committee Approves Bipartisan Bill to Improve Mental Health Services for Law Enforcement
In October, the House Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote H.R. 2228 The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017 introduced by Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN.). The bill aims to direct the Department of Justice along with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to develop resources to equip local law enforcement agencies to address mental health challenges faced by officers.
The bill also makes grants available to initiate peer mentoring pilot programs, develop training for mental health providers specific to law enforcement mental health needs, and support law enforcement officers by studying the effectiveness of crisis hotlines and annual mental health checks.
Attorney General Sessions Announces Director of Asset Forfeiture Accountability
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, directing him to hire a Director of Asset Forfeiture Accountability. In this role, the Director will review and coordinate all aspects of the Department’s Asset Forfeiture Program, and work with the Department of Justice to ensure compline, review complaints and advance the integrity and efficiency of the program.
Attorney General Sessions announces Department of Justice Initiatives to Reduce Violent Crime:
Attorney General Jeff Session announced several Department of Justice actions and initiatives to reduce violent crime in America. First, the DOJ will add additional Assistant United States Attorney positions to focus on violent crime and will allocate 40 prosecutors to approximately 20 United States Attorney’s Offices. In addition, the Department will be awarding approximately $98 million in FY 2017 COPS Hiring Grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
The Department will also announce the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force’s (OCDETF) National Gang Strategic Initiative which promotes creative enforcement strategies and best practices that will assist in developing investigations of violent criminal groups and gangs into enterprise-level OCDETF prosecutions. Lastly, the Department has provided grant funding to support a comprehensive approach to identifying the most violent offenders in a jurisdiction, using new technologies such as gunshot detection systems combined with gun crime intelligence from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), eTrace, and investigative efforts.
Selected Michigan Delegation Updates
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is leading legislative efforts with Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) to dramatically increase and make permanent the funding for community-based mental health and addiction services, including 24 hour emergency psychiatric care. This will reduce the burden on law enforcement and our local jails. To date, 8 states have received full funding. She also has asked for full funding for the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration program to support law enforcement officers, state and local governments, and mental health professionals in responding to mental health crises. As Congress debates the 2017-18 budget, she continues to prioritize funding for law enforcement including COPS and Byrne-JAG.
Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI-06) testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee as part of a bipartisan “Member Day” on the opioid crisis. The bipartisan Member Day allowed representatives both on and off the Committee to testify about the opioid epidemic, share local and personal stories, and highlight potential legislative solutions.