May POAM Washington Update
In the past two months, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate worked to pass their respective Fiscal Year 2016 budget resolutions. On March 25, the House passed its budget on a 228-199 vote and the Senate passed its budget on March 26 on a 52-46 vote. The resolutions were sent to a Conference Committee to resolve their differences, with the House passing the conferenced version on April 30 and the Senate adopting it on May 5 on a 51-48 vote. This represents the first time that Congress has passed a budget since 2009. Congress also turned to FY2016 appropriations in the past few weeks. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies and the Subcommittee on Homeland Security are currently holding hearings on the proposed bills for FY2016 appropriations, and discussions overspending will continue in the coming weeks.
National Police Week
From May 11-15, tens of thousands of police officers arrived in Washington D.C. for National Police Week 2015. With attendees from across the country and even the globe, the week featured the 34th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service and the 27th Annual Candlelight Vigil to honor law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty. National Police Week offers the opportunity to unite with law enforcement officers from across the country. Since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy declared May 15, “Peace Officers Memorial Day,” the country has honored those who serve and protect our communities. This year, Grant William Whitaker of the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office and Chad Alan Charles of the Michigan Department of Corrections were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
The Police Officers Association of Michigan was strongly represented in Washington D.C. during National Police Week. A significant number of Michigan Police Officers participated in activities throughout the week and members of POAM’s leadership held meetings on important topics relevant to law enforcement. POAM President James Tignanelli, Vice President David LaMontaine, and Business Agent Dan Kuhn met with Members of the United States Senate, key policymakers, and Members of the Michigan Delegation about issues that affect Police Officers across the state.
Legislative Updates During Police Week
National Police Week also brought the passing of four pieces of legislation that would benefit police officers across the country. Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)’s “Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015” passed the Senate on April 30 and the House on May 12 on voice votes. The bill would establish a “Blue Alert” communications network to improve communication after the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer. It has now been sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN-03)’s “Don’t Tax Our Fallen Public Safety Heroes Act” passed unanimously in the House on May 12 and in the Senate on May 14. This legislation would amend the income tax code to exclude the death benefits paid to families of officers who were killed in the line of duty. It will also be sent to the White House for the President’s signature.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)’s “Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015” was passed by the Senate on a voice vote. The bill would extend the authorization of appropriations for the program through Fiscal Year 2020. Over the past four years, the program has helped provide over $2.2 million toward a 50-50 match for 11,817 vests across Michigan. The bill has now been sent to the House Committee on the Judiciary for consideration.
In addition, Congressman Peter King (R-NY-02)’s “Fallen Heroes Flag Act of 2015” passed in the House of Representatives on a voice vote. The legislation would allow the families of fallen public service workers to receive a flag flown above the Capitol and a certificate signed by the Speaker of the House and their Representative. It will now head to the Senate for consideration.
Senator Gary Peters Calls for Criminal Justice Commission
At Wayne State University Law School, Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) spoke on May 18 about the need for a “National Criminal Justice Commission.” Senator Peters said that a comprehensive assessment is necessary to propose reforms that would address the complex issues facing the nation’s criminal justice system. The last time such a review was completed was 50 years ago during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. Senator Peters believes a new commission would help promote public safety, fairness, and faith in the justice system. The speech highlighted the Senator’s “National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2015,” which was introduced on April 28 with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The legislation would create a 14-member, the bipartisan commission tasked with an 18-month review before proposing recommendations for changes to the system. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has also signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill.
Conference Agreement Resolves Budget Resolution Differences
The House and Senate Conference Agreement calls for $51 billion in budget authority and $56.5 billion in budget outlays for the Fiscal Year 2016 to fund the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. The discretionary portion of the budget was set at $51.2 billion, with outlays of $52 billion. The agreement also called for direct spending to be focused on core responsibilities with a special priority given to activities that are viewed as most essential to the Federal Government. These figures are indicative of spending priorities that Congress has laid out, but upcoming discussions on Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations will offer a better idea of funding levels for the coming year.
Commerce-Justice-Science Bill Moves out of Subcommittee
On Thursday, May 15, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science passed a $51.4 billion spending bill on a voice vote. The legislation represents a $1.3 billion increase in funding and contains an additional $111 million for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s cybercrime and terrorism efforts. It would also pay for 55 additional immigration judges and support staff. The Department of Justice would receive $27.5 billion, which is an increase of $852 million from current levels. The bill will now move to the House Appropriations Committee for a “mark-up” and vote.
Loretta Lynch Confirmed as Attorney General
On Thursday, April 23, Loretta Lynch was confirmed as Attorney General. The final vote for Lynch’s confirmation was 56 to 43 after a cloture vote of 66-34. Lynch’s confirmation was originally held up due to her defense of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration; however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also tied the nomination to a vote on a sex-trafficking bill, which included controversial language that delayed passage of that bill. After weeks of debate, Senators found a compromise that satisfied both parties. In the end, the bill passed on a vote of 99-0 on Wednesday, April 22, freeing up the confirmation vote for Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Department of Justice Announces Body-Worn Camera Funding
On May 1, 2015, the Department of Justice announced a $20 million pilot program that will provide body-worn cameras to police departments across the country. The effort represents the first part of the President’s $75 million commitment to the Body-Worn Camera Partnership Program, which was announced near the end of 2014. The pilot program will provide 50 awards to law enforcement agencies with roughly a third of the grants dedicated to smaller departments. The program will offer 50-50 matching grants and will be administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Mental Health Bill Introduced in the Senate
On April 16, 2015, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) re-introduced the “Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 (CJMHA),” a bill that would reauthorize and improve the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA). A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA-09) on the same day. This legislation would continue support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams; authorize investments in veterans treatment courts; support training programs for state, local, and federal law enforcement, including police academies; and increase focus on corrections-based programs that reduce recidivism and link inmates with treatment options. CJMHA was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and will now move to be considered by the full Senate. Senator Franken introduced a similar bill in 2013; however, it was stalled due to political opposition. Sources indicate that his bill has a better chance of passing this session due to the growing bipartisan support he has received in both chambers of Congress. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has also signed on as a cosponsor of the bill.
Selected Michigan Delegation Highlighted Updates:
Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), in addition to calling for a National Criminal Justice Commission, cosponsored a Senate resolution designating the week of May 10 through May 16, 2015, as “National Police Week.” Senator Peters also introduced the National Criminal Justice Act and co-sponsored the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015. In addition, Senator Peters joined the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus and signed a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding funding for important law enforcement programs such as Byrne-JAG, COPS, RISS, and Bulletproof Vest Funding.
Congressman Fred Upton, (R-MI-06) joined his colleagues at the House Oversight and Investigations in holding a hearing focused on, “Examining the Growing Problems of Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse: State and Local Perspectives.” It was the second in a series of hearings that will examine this crucial issue.
Congressman Mike Bishop (R-MI-08) hosted a criminal justice roundtable on March 30, 2015, with criminal justice professionals and law enforcement officers from across his District and the State of Michigan. The roundtable aimed to facilitate greater communication on issues facing the criminal justice community and ways state and federal leaders can work to reduce crime in Michigan.