n December 21, the Senate narrowly passed a budget reconciliation bill (S. 1932) by a vote of 51-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the tiebreaking vote. The $39.7 billion budget savings package includes provisions that set a February 17, 2009, deadline for the nation's digital television transition. But the Senate slightly altered the budget bill, so it must return to the House for a final vote. The House will take up the bill after it reconvenes January 31.
The deadline in the final version of the bill largely splits the difference between the House and Senate versions. The House bill had included a December 31, 2008, deadline, while the Senate's deadline was April 7, 2009.
The bill will require television broadcasters to relinquish their analog frequencies by the deadline and switch over to digital signals. A portion of the recaptured spectrum (24 megahertz) will go to public safety groups to enhance radio communications. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will then auction off the remainder of the vacated spectrum, which is expected to garner an estimated $10 billion in revenue for the federal government.
The IACP has long supported legislation that would assign much-needed spectrum to the public safety community so that interoperability between agencies can be achieved. In response to this critical need for additional radio spectrum, in 1997 Congress directed the FCC to make 24 megahertz of spectrum (currently used by television channels 63, 64, 68, and 69) available for use by public safety agencies.
Unfortunately, the legislation was linked to the transition of television stations on those channels from analog to digital signals, and there is currently no specific deadline by which this spectrum will be available for public safety use.
In addition, the bill will direct $1 billion of the revenue from the sale of the spectrum for state and local grants to improve the interoperability of first-responder communications systems. This is what was allocated in the Senate version, and it is $500 million more than the House bill. It will also direct $43.5 million to make upgrades to the nation's 911 emergency phone network. This represents a significant cut from the Senate's proposed funding of $250 million.
In addition, it would allocate $156 million to fund programs aimed at establishing a national alert system for disasters and a tsunami warning system. This is a cut of $94 million from the Senate version.
The bill was considered as part of a deficit-reduction package under a process known as reconciliation, a fast-track procedure used to package and quickly pass tax changes or cuts in entitlement programs.
Congressional committees receive reconciliation instructions to trim certain amounts from their entitlement programs. Once the committees make their recommended cuts, the reconciliation bill is packaged by the Budget Committee and sent directly to the House and Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. There is little opportunity to amend the bill, and it cannot be filibustered in the Senate.
These provisions were included because of the large amount of revenue that will be generated by the sale of the vacated spectrum.
Congress Sends Human Trafficking Bill to President
On December 22, Congress sent President Bush a bill (H.R. 972) to strengthen the nation's current human trafficking law and authorize new funds for investigation and prosecution of domestic trafficking within the United States. The bill will provide $361 million over the next two years to combat human trafficking. This includes funding to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security to combat both domestic and international trafficking.
In addition to reauthorizing appropriations for antitrafficking programs in the United States and abroad, the bill targets specific scenarios where additional initiatives are needed to combat the trafficking problem, such as in peacekeeping missions. For the first time, the law includes provisions geared toward reducing the demand for commercial sex in the United States and preventing human trafficking of U.S. citizens.
The bill incorporates legislation (H.R. 2012) that seeks to decrease the demand for prostitution, which fuels sex trafficking. It creates a $50 million grant program for local law enforcement to establish or strengthen programs to investigate and prosecute acts of severe forms of human trafficking; to investigate and prosecute people who engage in the purchase of commercial sex acts; to educate persons charged with, or convicted of, purchasing or attempting to purchase commercial sex acts; and to educate and train law enforcement personnel in how to establish trust of people subjected to trafficking and encourage cooperation with prosecution efforts.
The bill also provides grants to establish and expand assistance programs for victims of sex trafficking, and authorizes a pilot program to provide shelter, counseling, and assistance in developing living skills for youth victims of trafficking in the United States.
The bill also allows law enforcement to use statutes prohibiting money laundering, racketeering, and civil and criminal forfeiture against traffickers. In addition, the Department of Justice is directed to conduct a biennial analysis of trafficking and commercial sex acts statistics. It also strengthens antitrafficking measures by allowing prosecutors to bring federal contractors and government employees who work overseas, as well as members of their households, back to the United States to face charges of violating human trafficking laws.
Day on the Hill
The IACP will hold its biannual Day on the Hill March 7. The Day on the Hill gives IACP members the opportunity to meet with their representative and express their views on the needs of the law enforcement community and to advance the IACP's legislative agenda. This year's Day on the Hill is scheduled to coincide with the midyear meetings of the IACP Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police and the IACP Legislative Committee. If you are interested in joining us in this important endeavor, please call the IACP legislative staff, or for more information visit the IACP Web site at (www.theiacp.org).■