n March 15, the Senate approved its fiscal 2007 budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 83). During consideration of the nonbinding resolution, senators approved amendments that would increase homeland security funding and funding for first responders.
The resolution serves as a fiscal blueprint that sets broad goals and specific spend ing for the coming fiscal year. It does not fund the federal government but guides the actions of appropriators who come up with the final budget each year. Budget resolutions outline multiyear spending and rev enue goals and make deficit projections. The resolution does not require the president's signature.
Senators approved an amendment offered by Senator Mark Dayton (D-Minnesota) and Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) that would restore funding to the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program. The amendment, which was strongly supported by the IACP, would increase funds to the JAG program to $900 million in fiscal year 2007. This funding level represents a $484 million increase over current funding levels and a $900 million increase over the Bush administrations proposed budget, which slated the program for elimination.
Also approved was an amendment offered by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), who serve as chair and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It would provide an additional $986 million in criti cal homeland security, including restoring funding to the Law Enforcement Terror ism Prevention Program (LETPP) to last year’s level ($400 million). The president has proposed eliminating the program. The amendment also would increase funding for the State Homeland Security Grant (SHSG) program to $700 million, an increase of $150 million over last years funding.
It is important to note that these fund ing increases are nonbinding. Although the Senate has gone on record supporting the increased funding levels, it does not guarantee that appropriators will follow the recommendations. Indeed, the funding levels could be decreased when a House-Senate conference committee determines the final version of the budget resolution.
Congress Reauthorizes Patriot Act Provisions
On March 9, one day before 16 provisions of the Patriot Act were set to expire, President Bush signed a reauthorization bill into law. Congress had passed two short-term extensions to prevent the provisions from expiring while a compromise was worked out between the White House and several senators who blocked the bills pas sage out of concerns for civil liberties.
Under the measure, 14 provisions will be made permanent. The other two, which relate to roving wiretaps and the authority to seize business records with a court order, will be extended through 2009.
The provisions that would be made permanent include those that allow law enforcement authorities to use wiretaps and other surveillance measures to investigate suspected acts of terrorism.
It would also make permanent provisions that allow law enforcement and intelligence officers to share information in matters of national security; extend the duration of wiretaps and search warrants from 90 days to 120 days; and make it easier for authorities to issue pen-register and trap-and-trace orders, which can be used to track telephone calls and Internet communications.
After a bipartisan group of senators blocked the passage of the conference report for the reauthorization bill (H.R. 3199), the members of the House-Senate conference committee revised the conference report to place new safeguards and shorter expiration dates on the acts two most controversial provisions: authorization for roving wiretaps, which allow inves tigators to monitor multiple devices to keep a target from evading detection by switching phones or computers, and obtaining secret warrants for books, records, and other items from businesses, hospitals, and organizations such as libraries.
Specifically, the bill sets a 2009 expiration date for these two controversial provisions, which matches the four-year sunset from the Senate version of the bill. It also includes new safeguards on their use. For example, it requires that the requests for roving wiretaps include descriptions of specific targets in both the application and the court order, if the targets identity is unknown. Such roving wiretaps would also require facts showing that the targets actions might thwart surveillance efforts. The FBI would also have to notify the court of any new device being monitored within 10 days after beginning surveillance.
The second provision would allow federal law enforcement to seek a court order any for tangible thing, such as business, library, or medical records, deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation. The House version had called for 10-year sunsets for these provisions, and the draft conference report that was initially circulated called for seven-year sunsets.
Under the bill, individuals who receive business records requests and national security letters, which are used to demand phone records and other business records without prior approval from a judge, would be allowed to contact an attorney and challenge the orders in court.
In addition, the Justice Department inspector general would perform audits of the use of national security letters and business records requests.
Despite forcing several changes to the initial draft of the conference report, including the shorter sunset periods, the six senators leading the opposition said that those efforts were not enough, and that they wanted the final version to be much closer to the Senate version, which contains more protections of civil liberties.
But four Republican senators who had opposed the conference report negotiated three minor changes with the White House, which allowed the bill to move forward. The changes are modest changes to provisions related to records seizures.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) has introduced a bill (S. 2369) that seeks additional protections for civil liberties. The bill incorporates several provisions from the Senate-passed version of the Patriot Act that did not survive conference.■