Jennifer Boyter, IACP Legislative Analyst
In late November, the House and Senate passed the sixth continuing resolution that will keep the government operating through January 31, 2004. Only six of the 13 required spending bills for the fiscal year that began October 1 have been enacted. The seven unfinished bills are part of a massive fiscal 2004 omnibus spending bill (H.R. 2673). This includes the Commerce-Justice-State (C-J-S) appropriations bill, which provides the majority of state and local law enforcement assistance funding.
House members are slated to vote on the measure on December 8, but a Senate vote likely will not occur until January. As a result, most federal agencies will have to operate at fiscal 2003 levels until then.
Republican appropriators filed the huge bill today after reaching agreement on a $4.5 billion set of offsets to finance congressional and administration add-ons. When agencies finally do get their 2004 funding, most domestic ones will have to absorb a 0.59 percent across-the-board cut in their budgets. The rest of the offset, $1.8 billion, would come from trimming unspent funds from a supplemental appropriations bill enacted in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Senate has never considered the C-J-S appropriations bill. Floor consideration was blocked when Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Senate assistant minority leader, gave an almost nine-hour-long floor speech in protest of the Republican's plan to devote 30 hours of floor time to debate President Bush's stalled judicial nominees.
However, lawmakers and the administration have reached a compromise on a controversial policy provision that held up consideration of the C-J-S bill. The bill contains a provision, opposed by the White House but strongly supported in Congress, that would overturn new Federal Communications Commission media ownership rules. President Bush had threatened to veto the measure. The media consolidation issue had stood as one of the last significant obstacles to passage of the omnibus.
In addition, House Republican leaders have added language that would require the almost immediate destruction of records of background checks when gun purchase applications are approved. The IACP opposes the immediate destruction of such records.
Funding levels for state and local law enforcement assistance programs are still unknown. There are many funding differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill.
For example, the Senate version of the bill contains just $558.5 million for the Byrne grant program, with $500 million in formula grants and $88.5 million in discretionary grants. However, of this amount of funding for discretionary grants, almost $87 million is already earmarked for specific projects. The House version provides $115 million in discretionary grants.
Similarly, while the House bill would fund the Local Law Enforcement Block grants at $400 million (with $80 million for the Boys and Girls Club), the Senate bill provides only $150 million, with $80 million for the clubs. This is a significant cut from fiscal 2003, when the program received $295 million.
Both versions contain significant cuts for the COPS program, but the House version contains no funding for hiring. The Senate bill provides $200 million for hiring.
Homeland Security Panel Seeks Changes in First Responder Funding
The House Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness and Response Subcommittee passed a bill (H.R. 3266) to change the way that first responder funds are distributed. The bill would create a new grant program, but not authorize additional funding, to distribute money to first responders based solely on the terrorism threat facing each state and community. It would not affect existing grant programs that fund traditional police department needs, such as the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant or Byrne grants.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Chris Cox (R-California) acknowledged that under the new formula, some states and localities might get less money than they received in the past year, when homeland security grants were distributed based on formulas that guarantee a minimum amount for every state. A formula based only on the threat of terrorism could mean that high-threat areas like New York would get more money while rural areas would get less.
The bill allows both states and eligible regions of states to apply for grant funds. The funds can be used for planning, training, exercises, and equipment; certain personnel costs; and for interoperable communications and emergency operations centers.
In addition, the bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate to develop national standards for first responder equipment, including chemical, biological, and radiological threat detection and analysis equipment; personal protective equipment; and interoperable communications equipment.
It also requires the DHS Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate to develop national standards for first responder training, including training that enables first responders to prepare for and respond to all types of terrorist threats, and familiarizes first responders with the proper use of emergency preparedness and response equipment.
The bill also would require DHS to change its color-coded terrorist alert system so warnings can be issued based on geographical areas and industrial sectors that face specific threats.
Senate, House Committees Consider Highway Reauthorization Bill
On November 12, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill (S. 1072). But the bill did not contain language that guaranteed funding levels for states. Chairman James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) said that it would not be revisited until the bill is on the floor.
After other Senate committees consider the bill, the bill is expected to total $311 billion, considerably more than President Bush's $247 billion request. Approximately $255 billion will be for highway programs.
Congress may have to pass another extension of existing law, which expires Feb. 29.