By Dennis McGrann, POAM Lobbyist, Washington, D.C.
Congress adjourned for the 2008 election season on October 3rd, 2008 only returning for a “lame duck” session in mid-November after the historic passage of the largest government financial rescue package in United States history, The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424). The first attempt at passing the bill failed the House on September 29, 2008 by a vote of 228-205. Congressional leaders then scrambled to rework the legislation to gain the needed bipartisan support to pass the bill. The final bill was passed by both the House and Senate and signed by President Bush on October 3, 2008.
The National Election was held on Tuesday, November 4th. All current Congress members were re-elected, except Congressman Walberg who was defeated by Mark Schauer, Democrat from Howell, MI and Congressman Knollenberg who was defeated by Gary Peters, Democrat originally from Pontiac, MI. The new Congress will officially be sworn in January 6th, beginning the 111th Congress.
Before Congress adjourned they considered several funding initiatives. The Fiscal Year 2009 Continuing Resolution (CR), which was signed into law September 30, 2008 (P.L. 110-329) provided a funding source at or below Fiscal year 2008 levels through March 6th, 2009 for the federal agencies funded by nine unfinished Fiscal Year 2009 spending bills. This legislation also included the text of three of the three remaining FY2009 appropriations bills which fund the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, and for military construction.
Also before the Congressional break, the House and Senate both considered additional Economic Stimulus packages. On September 26th, on a vote of 264-158 the House passed a $60.8 billion package (H.R. 7110) designed to fund short term infrastructure projects, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid. The same week the Senate voted 52-42 against proceeding to a vote on their own $56.2 billion version of the stimulus bill (S. 3604). Unfortunately, the Senate version of the bill, which included $490 million in funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program was defeated. The House-passed version did not include funding for Byrne funding in the pending measure.
During the “lame duck “session, which began November 17th, The Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (S. 3689) was introduced to the Senate. This bill, with the vision of making supplemental appropriations for job creation and preservation, infrastructure investment, and economic and energy assistance for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009 included monetary allotment for state and local law enforcement assistance including salaries, expenses, and community oriented policing services.
One other significant piece of law enforcement legislation that has recently been introduced is The Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Improvements Act of 2008 (S.3524). This legislation was introduced by Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and includes several positive provisions which could stand to benefit local law enforcement. The legislation, which was not acted upon by the Senate before they adjourned, aims to improve homeland security by increasing the authority of the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistant Secretary for State and Local Law Enforcement and restoring full funding to the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program and authorizing $500 million per year for the program.
In other pertinent law enforcement news, there has been much speculation surrounding the status of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruling that might have impacted law enforcement officers. The ruling would have implemented a new regulation which would tie eligible retirement age for state and local government employees to personal age rather than years of service. The IRS published the rule on May 22, 2007 as apart of the 2007 “final regulations”. If implemented on its original January, 2009 start date, some have suggested that the rule would have negatively affected public employees who have served 20-25 years and would typically and historically have been eligible for retirement benefits after that time served. Under the pending ruling, the new “normal retirement age” would be 50 regardless of years of service. However, on Friday, October 10th, the IRS issued a notice stating that they have extended the date by which governmental or public employee retirement plans would fall under this ruling. The new date is January 1, 2011, which gives ample time for review of the potential impacts of the ruling. The Washington office of POAM, along with its fellow law enforcement community stakeholders from across the country, have been working to insure the delay of the implementation of this ruling. We will continue to work towards permanently removing the provision and will keep you updated on any developments.
The Public Safety Officers Family Health Benefit Act (H.R.2391), gains momentum and support. This federal bill will provide access to health care benefits for the family of public safety officers that lose their lives in the line of duty. This bill would allow an individual who is a family member of the public safely officer killed in the line of duty to enroll in a federal employee health benefit plan for themselves or their family. H.R.2391 was originally introduced by Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) and is currently in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
There has been several grants awarded nationwide improving law enforcement interoperability. Communities such as Genesee County, The City of Flints, and the City and County of Saginaw, MI have received such Department of Justice Grants.
Senator Patrick Leathy (D-VT) and Congressman Peter Visclosky (DIN) championed the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 2008, which passed in the House on September 26th and the Senate on September 30th. This life saving grant program helps law enforcement agencies purchase bulletproof vests by amending the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to extend through FY2012 the grant program for armor vests for law enforcement officers.
On November 15th, The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began transitions to a National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) message for State and local law enforcement officers (LEOs) flying armed while on official business. This change is being instituted in order to provide a more secure means of confirming the identity of the LEOs, since a letter can be easily counterfeited.
The Washington, DC office of POAM will be closely following these issues and any other legislation that is pertinent to the Police Officers Association of Michigan. If you have any questions or need additional information please do not hesitate to contact us at (202) 544-9840.