January POAM Washington Update
The 114th Congress was officially sworn in on Tuesday, January 6, 2015. Both House and Senate Leadership will now begin work on shaping their priorities and goals for 2015 which will likely include an agenda addressing issues ranging from trade deals to tax reform. As the 114th Congress begins its work, we anticipate even more legislative activity to report and look forward to keeping you updated on those developments.
Congressional Leadership Changes
In the 114th Congress, the Senate now consists of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and 2 Independents. The new Republican majority means new Leadership positions and Committee Chairmanships. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which is of major importance to the law enforcement community, is now being chaired by Senator Chuck Grassley (R) from Iowa, with former Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) serving as Ranking Member.
The Michigan Delegation welcomed newly elected Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI-4), Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI-8), Rep. Dave Trott (R-MI-11), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI-14). Representatives Bishop and Trott will serve on the House Judiciary Committee.
Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) indicates he plans to reintroduce legislation for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program this session. The program expired in 2012 after Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) blocked it on constitutional grounds. By providing matching federal funding to police departments, the program seeks to ensure that officers have adequate access to body armor.
Nominations for Offices in the Department of Justice
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the end of January or in early February, 2015.
President Obama also recently nominated Sally Yates for the position of Deputy Attorney General. Yates currently serves as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia and appears to have bipartisan support in the Senate.
Department of Justice Funding in the “Cromnibus” Spending Package
The end of the legislative schedule was marked by debate over the government funding for Fiscal Year 2015. In the end, Congress passed the “Cromnibus” bill, which combined an omnibus spending package funding the government through September 15, 2015 with a short-term Continuing Resolution for the Department of Homeland Security through February 27, 2015.
The “Cromnibus” legislation included $185 million for State Criminal Alien Assistance Programs (SCAAP), which represented a drop of $5 million from FY2014. The Byrne/JAG Program and Second Chance Act Program, which supports effective prisoner reentry, received level funding from FY2014 with $376 million and $68 million respectively. The bill also included $41 million for the Justice Department to help law enforcement address the backlog of an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits.
National Push for Expanded Hate Crimes Legislation
Sources indicate that national advocacy groups have been organizing an effort to broaden national hate crimes legislation to include the deliberate targeting of law enforcement officers. Roughly 19% of law enforcement deaths by gunfire in 2014 were caused by ambush killings, which this legislation would seek to deter.
Michigan Delegation Highlighted Updates:
Representative Tim Walberg’s legislation to rename a U.S. Post Office in downtown Jackson as the “Officer James Bonneau Memorial Post Office,” was signed into law by President Obama. Officer James Bonneau was killed in 2010 while on duty as he and a fellow public safety officer followed up on a domestic disturbance complaint. The legislation passed the House on July 14, 2014 and received final Congressional approval in the Senate on December 8.
Representative Mike Bishop issued a statement honoring National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, saying that, “these brave men and women deserve our deepest respect for their unwavering service … On behalf of Michigan’s Eighth District, we honor and thank our heroes in law enforcement for all that they do to keep us safe.”