Renewed Debate on Gun Control, Terrorism, LGBT Rights
June 16, 2016
In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, renewed debate on issues such as gun control, terrorism, and LGBT rights were on full display in Congress this week. In the upper chamber, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) led a nearly 15-hour filibuster in which he and other Democratic senators implored Republican leaders to hold votes on several key gun-control measures. The nonstop series of impassioned speeches interrupted the Senate’s consideration of legislation that would provide funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies (S 2837).
Senator Murphy – buoyed by several Republicans who signaled that lawmakers should seek a mechanism that would keep firearms out of the hands of suspected terrorists – agreed to end the filibuster after GOP leaders committed to allowing votes on two gun-related amendments. While the final details are still being worked out, it appears that Republicans will schedule votes on a proposal that would allow for expanded background checks. The other amendment, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would bar suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons.
With the amendment agreement in place, the Senate resumed on Thursday consideration of its fiscal year 2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) spending bill. The legislation faces an uncertain future, however, as the White House has threatened to veto the measure due to concerns over funding levels and certain policy riders.
In the lower chamber, GOP leaders scheduled a late-week vote on a repackaged bill (HR 5471) that incorporates the text of three measures that have previously passed the House dealing with policies under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The counterterrorism legislation, which is being brought up anew in response to the Orlando shooting, would, among other things, further empower DHS to train personnel on how to combat terrorism and violent extremism.
The House also is scheduled to wrap up work on its fiscal year 2017 Defense appropriations bill (HR 5293). Like the fiscal year 2017 Senate CJS measure, the White House has concerns with the Defense spending package and has threatened to veto the bill in its current form.
As reported above, the Senate is in the process of debating its CJS spending legislation. Overall, the bill would provide $56.3 billion in fiscal year 2017 funding, or $563 million more than the fiscal year 2016 enacted level.
With regard to funding for state and local law enforcement assistance, the measure would provide nearly $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2017. The proposed funding is roughly $227 million below current spending and $83 million more than President Obama’s budget request.
Of the aforementioned total, $100 million would be provided for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), or a proposed cut of $110 million. It should be noted that the upper chamber typically provides limited funding for SCAAP, with senators dedicating resources to other local justice programs. In contrast, this year’s House CJS spending bill (HR 5393) includes a $64 million increase for SCAAP, which would bring total program spending to $274 million.
The Senate bill also would provide $384 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne-JAG), an $8 million increase. Additionally, the measure includes $215 million, a proposed $3 million boost, for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. Of that total, $187 million would be set aside for COPS hiring grants.
It should be noted that the Senate legislation contains language directing DOJ to ensure that all SCAAP, Byrne-JAG, and COPS program applicants are required to certify that they are in compliance with all applicable federal laws – and that they will continue to remain in compliance throughout the duration of their grant award period. The language is designed to prevent so-called “sanctuary cities” from receiving federal justice grant funding in fiscal year 2017.
The Senate measure also would dedicate $2.95 billion for the Crime Victims Fund (CVF), which is $85 million shy of current spending but $957 million above the Obama administration’s budget request. Consistent with fiscal year 2016, the Senate bill would transfer $379 million from the CVF to the Office on Violence Against Women. Additionally, the legislation would carve out five percent of CVF funds for grants to Indian tribal governments to improve services and justice for victims of crime.
While Senate appropriators estimate that nearly $2.6 billion would be disbursed to States for programs funded under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) statute, the aforementioned tribal carve out – along with several other set-asides – would leave roughly $2.14 billion for VOCA assistance grants. If enacted, fiscal year 2017 VOCA program funding would be roughly 9 percent less than current levels.
Finally, the legislation includes amendment language clarifying that no DOJ funds can be used to prevent any state from implementing its own laws that authorize the use, distribution or cultivation of medical marijuana.
This week, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their respective fiscal year 2017 Interior and Environment spending bills. The House legislation would provide nearly $32.1 billion ($64 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $1 billion less than the administration’s request) in discretionary spending for the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, EPA, and related agencies. The Senate measure would provide just over $32.03 billion ($125 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level).
In a major victory for California’s counties, both bills would provide a total of $480 million to fully fund the federal Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. In addition, both versions of the legislation would provide additional funding for wildland firefighting and suppression, while fully funding the 10-year average. It should be noted that the Senate bill includes a fire-cap adjustment that would allow the Forest Service and the Interior Department to access disaster aid once suppression funds are fully exhausted.
As expected, both measures include a number of extraneous policy riders that are designed to hamper the White House’s environmental agenda. Among other things, the GOP-drawn legislation would bar the Obama administration from implementing its controversial “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule or from making changes to the definition of “fill material” for permitting purposes under the Clean Water Act.
House appropriators also adopted several additional amendments that are of interest to California’s counties. One amendment, offered by Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), would require BLM to extend the public comment period on its Resource Management Planning proposed rule, commonly known as “BLM Planning 2.0″. Another amendment, which passed along party lines, would allow additional water to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the parched Central Valley. The language – which largely tracks drought-relief legislation that passed the lower chamber in 2015 (HR 2898, Rep. Valadao) – would require the Interior Department to increase Delta water exports under certain conditions. It should be noted that the House’s Energy and Water spending bill includes identical pumping language.
Appropriations: Homeland Security
On June 9, the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved its fiscal year 2017 spending bill. In total, the legislation would provide $41.1 billion in discretionary funding for the DHS activities, which is $100 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $432 million above the president’s request.
Of particular interest to California’s counties, the bill would maintain current funding for a number of state and local grant programs, including firefighter assistance grants, Emergency Management Performance Grants, the State Homeland Security Grant Program, and the Urban Area Security Initiative. In addition, the legislation would fully fund FEMA’s disaster relief account at a level of $7.3 billion and would provide funding to support 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 23,871 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers, the largest staffing totals in history.
Similar to other proposed fiscal year 2017 spending bills, the House DHS measure includes a number of controversial policy riders. For starters, the legislation would block implementation of President Obama’s November 2014 Executive Order on immigration. While funding for the executive action is currently being withheld under a court injunction, the House bill would further bar officials from accessing funds through the duration of ongoing legal proceedings. It should be noted that the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in the coming weeks. The proposed legislation also retains a prohibition on the use of federal funds to transfer or release detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
The full House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to consider the legislation on June 14, but the markup was postponed until June 22. The one-week delay will give lawmakers additional time to determine whether DHS needs additional resources to effectively carry out its mission in the aftermath of the Orlando attack.
House Committee Adopts Child Welfare Reform Bill
Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee adopted by voice vote the Family First Prevention Services Act (HR 5456). Introduced on June 13, the bipartisan, bicameral legislation includes two main sections affecting county child welfare agencies and the children they serve.
Beginning October 1, 2019, the bill would provide a 50 percent federal match for up to 12 months of services to prevent a child from being placed into foster care. In addition, mental health, substance abuse and parenting-skills services would be available to the biological, kin, or adoptive family and the child living with them.
The legislation also includes a number of stringent federal mandates that are designed to reduce the use of group homes and other congregate care settings. While several of the provisions are similar to the Continuum of Care Reforms (CCR) within AB 403 that are being implemented by California’s counties, a number of the federal provisions – which would go into effect on October 1, 2019 – would likely make State and county implementation efforts even more challenging and costly. Those particular concerns have been expressed to members serving on the Ways and Means Committee.
Looking ahead, House floor action on HR 5456 has not yet been scheduled. In the Senate, the timing for similar legislative action within the Senate Finance Committee has not been announced.
CSAC Comments on Draft Bill to Improve Forest Management and Wildfire Budgeting
This week, CSAC sent a letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee providing comments on draft legislation – the Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act – aimed at improving federal forest management and wildfire budgeting. The bipartisan measure was recently unveiled by ENR Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) – along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Jim Risch (R-ID).
Among other things, the proposed legislation would end the practice of “fire borrowing” by allowing the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to access disaster funding once all appropriated fire suppression funding (100 percent of the 10-year average) has been exhausted. In addition, the bill would allow the agencies to invest any excess suppression funds into fuel reduction projects near at-risk communities, high-value watersheds, and areas with a high wildfire hazard potential.
With regard to forest management, the draft bill would streamline the environmental review process by limiting the number of alternatives that must be analyzed for certain projects, including those that: reduce hazardous fuels, install fuel and fire breaks, restore forest health, and protect municipal water supplies and wildlife habitat. The measure also would incentivize collaboration by streamlining process requirements to accelerate implementation of collaboratively developed projects. In addition, it would authorize $500 million over the next seven years to provide assistance to at-risk communities to invest in proven programs that reduce wildfire risk, property loss, and suppression costs.
CSAC believes that the types of reform included in the discussion draft are good policy expansions that should be given serious consideration. However, the association has urged the ENR Committee to do more to address the tree-mortality crisis in California. In addition, CSAC encouraged the Chair and Ranking Member to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, which expired at the end of fiscal year 2015.
On June 23, the ENR Committee will hold a legislative hearing to further discuss the Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act.