n May 17, the U.S. House of Representatives finally adopted the $2.8 trillion fiscal year 2007 budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 376). Conservative and moderate Republicans had been negotiating for weeks over new budget rules and domestic spending limits. The U.S. Senate passed its version of the budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 83) on March 15.
The budget resolution serves as a fiscal blueprint that sets broad goals and specific spending levels for the coming fiscal year. It does not fund the federal government, but guides the actions of appropriators who come up with the final funding levels each year. Budget resolutions outline multiyear spending and revenue goals and make deficit projections. The resolution does not require the president's signature.
When the resolution was considered by the House Budget Committee, lawmakers recommended that $900 million in funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program be restored. This funding level represents a $484 million increase over current funding levels and a $900 million increase over the Bush administration's proposed budget, which slated the program for elimination.
This funding level is similar to the Senate version of the budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 83), which was approved on March 15. During consideration on the Senate floor, Senators approved an amendment offered by Senator Mark Dayton (D-Minnesota) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) that would restore $900 million in funding to the Byrne JAG Program. This amendment was strongly supported by the IACP.
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 critical homeland security funding, including restoring funding to the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP) to last year's level ($400 million).
The president has proposed eliminating the program. It also would increase funding for the State Homeland Security Grant program (SHSG) to $700 million, an increase of $150 million over last's years funding.
It is important to note that these funding increases are nonbinding. The Senate and the House have now gone on record supporting the increased funding levels, but their support does not guarantee that appropriators will follow the recommendations. It is also unlikely that the House and Senate will seek to reconcile their competing versions. Instead, each body will use its version of the budget resolution to guide the annual appropriations process.
Senate Committee Concludes FEMA Should Be Abolished and Replaced
After a seven-month investigation, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee concluded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be abolished and replaced due to its poor response during Hurricane Katrina.
The committee recommends the creation of a new National Preparedness and Response Authority, housed in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) but capable of reporting directly to the president during a crisis. The proposed structure would again combine emergency preparedness and response functions, which were separated by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last year during a reorganization of the agency.
Senior members of the House Homeland Security Committee have introduced a bill (H.R. 5351) that would largely implement the Senate committee's recommendations. It would turn FEMA into a new Directorate of Emergency Management but keep it within DHS. The bill's sponsor, Representative Dave Reichert (R-Washington), said that while FEMA clearly needs improvement, removing it from DHS would just cause more problems. The Bush administration also supports keeping FEMA in DHS. The Homeland Security Committee approved the bill on May 17.
Some lawmakers believe that FEMA or any successor agency should be removed from the Department of Homeland Security.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Virginia) have introduced a bill (H.R. 5316) that would remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security and make it an independent Cabinet-level agency under the control of the White House. The bill is supported by the Transportation Committee's ranking member, James Oberstar (D-Minnesota), and other powerful lawmakers. The committee approved the bill on May 17.
House leaders have not yet expressed a preference for either bill, and indicated that neither is likely to come to the floor before the Memorial Day recess.
Senate Passes Sex Offender Legislation
On May 4, the Senate passed a bill (S. 1086) to strengthen federal registration requirements for convicted sex offenders, make failing to register a federal crime, and create a national sex offender registry.
The bill would create a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for failure to register or keep information current, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. It also would require sex offenders to register their whereabouts every month in person, rather than by mail as is currently allowed by many states.
It would also broaden registration requirements for convicted sex offenders to include juveniles convicted of sex crimes and those convicted of misdemeanor sex offenses against minors. The bill also would increase mandatory minimum sentences for people who commit violent and sexual crimes against children. Under the legislation, a convicted sex offender would receive 30 years to life for a crime that resulted in death, 20 years to life for a kidnapping, a maiming, or a crime that results in serious bodily injury, and 10 years to life for a crime involving a dangerous weapon.
The bill would also create a national sex offender database. It would require each state to maintain one sex offender registry Web site that, as much as possible, is integrated and shares information with the sites maintained by the other states. The sites would have to be maintained and promptly checked for errors. ■