State and Local Law Enforcement Funded by Federal “Minibus” Bill

By Blair Tinkle, General Counsel and Congressional Liaison

Blair Tinkle, General Counsel to the Association and Congressional Liaison

In mid-November 2011, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed H.R. 2112, an appropriations bill that contained three of the 12 annual appropriations bills. It was therefore referred to as a “minibus” as opposed to the usual “omnibus” bills that are so often associated with appropriations. The bill passed the House on a 298-121 vote, passed the Senate with a 70-30 vote and created funding levels for fiscal year 2012 for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). On Nov. 18, 2011 President Obama signed the bill into law [P.L. 112-55].

The bill funded several programs of interest to law enforcement and although some agencies, such as HUD, saw a 10 percent decrease in funding from fiscal year 2011, law enforcement took less drastic cuts and in some instances, increases. Under State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance, which includes Byrne/JAG competitive grants, the John R. Justice loan repayment program, and border protection monies among other programs, the level of funding in fiscal year 2011 was $1.120 billion. The minibus bill increased that figure to $1.162 billion.

Taking modest cuts were programs under Juvenile Justice and Violence Against Women with the former going from $276 million in fiscal year 2011 to $263 million in fiscal year 2012. The latter was lowered from $419 million to $413 million in those same years. Taking the largest cut in funding from last fiscal year to this one is the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which provides grants to police departments and information on law enforcement best practices. COPS was previously funded at $496 million and the minibus bill saw a drop in funding levels for the program to $199 million in 2012.

For a more detailed breakdown of spending levels for law enforcement in the minibus appropriations law, a report was prepared by the National Criminal Justice Association. It can be obtained by contacting NAAG staff at btinkle@naag.org.

Sign of the Times

As President Obama was in Indonesia when the “minibus” bill passed both the House and Senate and needed to be signed immediately to avoid a government shutdown, it was signed by autopen. This marked the second time this president has signed a bill electronically, the first being in 2011 while travelling in Deauville, France when he extended the Patriot Act and was also the first time in history a president signed a bill by autopen.

The practice has been criticized by some as violative of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 7 stating that if a president approves a bill, “he shall sign it.” But a 2005 opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ) stated that the president “need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves…The President may sign a bill within the meaning of (the Constitution) by directing a subordinate to affix the President’s signature to such a bill, for example by autopen.”

Prior to the 2005 DOJ opinion, bills were flown to the president for signature, but the opinion cites expedience and expense among reasons for the change in protocol. President Bush never exercised his authority under the opinion.

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