Over the past two months Congress has only been in session for two weeks and during that period they passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) which prevents a government shut down and provides government funding until December 11, 2014. Both the House and Senate are now on recess until after the mid-term elections on November 4th. Both bodies are scheduled to return to Washington for a lame-duck session on November 12th and once back in session they are expected to address a wide range of issues including the budget and tax extenders legislation.
Continuing Resolution (CR) Passes the House and Senate
In September, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR), H.J. Res. 124, authorizing $1.012 trillion to keep the government open through December 11, 2014. In the House, the continuing resolution was passed by 319-108. The Senate passed the CR with a 78-22 vote.
The CR includes an amendment from the House authorizing limited military training and equipment for Syrian rebels. The CR also designates $88 million for efforts to stop the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, provides additional funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs to help process disability claims, and extends the operating authority of the Import-Export Bank through June 2015.
Congressional Push to Review Police Use of Military Weapons
After the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri this summer, some Members of Congress are calling for review of local police forces’ use of military-grade equipment. Several lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have said they will examine Defense Department programs that allow state and local police agencies to receive surplus military equipment, including rifles and armored vehicles. On September 9th, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held the first Congressional hearing on the use of military equipment at the local law enforcement level with testimony from several administration officials.
On the House side, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) is preparing to introduce the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act to “demilitarize” the police. Johnson’s bill would limit the amount of military-grade equipment the Pentagon can transfer to local police departments and require states to track the equipment that police departments do receive. So far Leadership in the House has remained silent on the issue and with very few legislative days remaining before the November elections, it is unlikely lawmakers can pass a bill making changes during this session of Congress.
Changes in the House Appropriations Subcommittee That funds Law Enforcement
Congressman Frank Wolf’s (R-VA) retirement will result in Leadership changes in the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee that handles funding of law enforcement. Currently it is not clear who will take his spot but there are several contenders. The two top contenders are Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Congressman John Culberson (R-TX). Aderholt is currently Chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee and has seniority over Culberson. However, Culberson Chairs the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and also currently sits on the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee as Vice Chair. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) will make a recommendation to the House Republican Steering Committee regarding who should take the position by January.
White House Addresses Cell Phone Cyber Encryption
Michael Daniel, White House cybersecurity czar, briefly commented on cell phone encryption in an October 9th cybersecurity discussion. At the event Daniel’s stated that encryption should allow agencies to access information if a court approved process is followed. The comments follow FBI Director James Comey’s statement from September where he told reporters that the new encryption methods would “allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”
Michigan Delegation Highlighted Updates:
Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) announced that the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program will fund 51 police officers in eight Michigan police departments. The COPS grant will cover the full salary and benefits over three years for officers hired by the departments.
Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI-05) worked with local police departments in the 5th District to give away free gun locks in support of responsible gun ownership.
Congressman Tim Walberg (R-MI-07) authored HR 3534, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 113 West Michigan Avenue in Jackson, Michigan, as the “Officer James Bonneau Memorial Post Office.” The bill passed the House and was referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Officer James Bonneau was killed while on duty in March 2010 as he responded to a domestic disturbance complaint. Although he later succumbed to his injuries, Officer Bonneau was able to take action that saved the life of his fellow officer who had also been shot.
Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-10) helped acquire the Macomb County Sheriff Marine Division new patrol boats through FEMA’s Port Security Grant program. In a statement Congresswoman Miller emphasized the importance of this acquisition for the security of an international boarder and safety of one of the busiest commercial and recreational waterways in the nation.
In early June, Congressman Gary Peters (D-MI-14) formally recognized in the Congressional Record the five officers who received the POAM “2014 Michigan Police Officers of the Year” award for their heroic actions, bravery and discipline – Officer Nicholas Smiscik (Southfield), Deputy Mathew Swope (Traverse City), Deputy Michael Jacobi (Traverse City), Officer Andrea Carlson (Grand Blanc), and Officer Lindsay Witthuhn (Grand Blanc). In addition, Congressman Dan Benishek (R-MI-01) also formally submitted to the Record a statement honoring the two officers from his First Congressional District, Deputy Michael Jacobi (Traverse City) and Deputy Matthew Swope (Traverse City), who have been honored two years in a row for their dedication to law enforcement and actions of great bravery. For more information regarding Congressional Record entries please go to https://www.poam.net/legislative/poam-congressional-record.