By Gene Voegtlin, IACP Legislative Counsel
On Thursday, July 8, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved the IACP-supported Consensus Plan (www.projectconsesus.org), which seeks to eliminate radio interference in the 800-megahertz band.
Simply put, the Consensus Plan seeks to eliminate 800-megahertz interference by realigning the current jumbled licensing of 800-megahertz systems into two distinct blocks: one block for public safety and private wireless systems, and one block for wireless carriers such as cellular service providers. Creating these separate contiguous blocks for public safety and wireless carrier systems means that interference will be virtually eliminated.
In order to create these separate blocks, it is necessary for the wireless carrier Nextel to abandon some of its current spectrum in the 800-megahertz range and receive in exchange a separate block of spectrum for its commercial use. Nextel must also set aside $2.5 billion to make the switch. These funds can be used to cover the costs incurred by public safety agencies as a result of implementing the Consensus Plan.
The Consensus Plan, which was developed by IACP, along with the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major County Sheriffs' Association, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs, has received broad support from the public safety community and other affected organizations.
For more than two years the IACP, led by its Communication and Technology Committee Chairman Harlin McEwen, has worked for FCC approval of the plan. The FCC's action is an important step toward resolving the 800-megahertz interference problem, and the IACP is gratified by the FCC's decision.
But in spite of the FCC's action the issue is still not settled. Other wireless telecommunications companies have already publicly stated their intention to mount a legal challenge the FCC decision. Observers expect these companies to claim that the FCC violated federal law by providing Nextel with new spectrum without first holding a public auction.
The IACP will continue its efforts in support of the Consensus Plan.
Senate Approves H.R. 218; President Announces Intention to Sign
On Wednesday, July 7, the U.S. Senate approved, by unanimous consent, H.R. 218, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. This action clears the legislation for the president's signature and the bill's enactment into law. President Bush has already stated that he will approve this legislation.
H.R. 218 would authorize off-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the nation regardless of state or local firearms restrictions.
The IACP strongly opposed this legislation because of concerns related to officer and citizen safety, use-of-force and firearm training standards, officer identification and eligibility issues, supervision of retired police, liability concerns, and a fundamental belief that states and localities should determine who is eligible to carry firearms in their jurisdictions.
House Passes Homeland Security Appropriations Bill
In late June, the House passed the fiscal year 2005 homeland security appropriations bill (HR 4567). Under the bill, police and fire departments would face significant cuts in federal homeland security grants, while aviation security would get a major boost. The issue of how much money is enough for first responders and aviation security is likely to dominate the summer debate over homeland security spending.
During consideration of the bill, the House defeated an amendment that would have changed the formula by which grants are distributed to first responders. Currently, each state receives at least a minimum share of the grants. States like New York that have a higher risk of terrorist attacks want funds distributed according to the threat of terrorism.
The House also defeated an amendment that would have transferred $450 million from other programs to the urban security grant program.
The Senate version of the bill (S 2537), as passed by the Appropriations Committee, is very similar to the one passed by the House. Both would provide a total of $33.1 billion for the Homeland Security Department.
The debate in both chambers has centered on how much money there should be for first responder grants, and where that money should go. Specifically, the bills would provide $4.1 billion for a wide range of emergency management, firefighter, and terrorism preparedness grants, including the following:
- $1.25 billion for Office of Domestic Preparedness formula grants, a decrease of $450 million (26 percent) from fiscal year 2004
- $1.0 billion for grants to high-threat, high-density urban areas, $100 million of which is reserved for rail security, up 38 percent from last year, when the program received $866 million
As they did last year, Democrats protested the cuts for first responders.
The IACP is concerned about the cuts to these crucial grant programs for the law enforcement community. We will continue to work to ensure that these programs are sufficiently funded. ■