Sunday, June 26, 2005

US House: Bipartisan support for de-funding drug task forces

Somehow I'd missed when the U.S. House earlier this month approved a 44% cut to the federal Byrne grant program that finances Texas' system of regional narcotics task forces. As the state of Texas prepares to implement just-passed legislation reining in those rogue agencies, Congress approved dramatically slashing their budget in a bipartisan vote. The failed amendment to reinstate the funds would have paid for the increase in funding by enacting an across-the-board cut in all other discretionary spending by .448%.

Twenty of Texas' 32 Congressional representatives supported cutting the program. In all, 137 Republicans, 114 Democrats and one Independent backed the measure, coming on the heels of a 24% cut enacted last year. Groups across the political spectrum support the reductions. According to the Bowling Green Daily News:
A federal grant program that gave about $7 million to Kentucky law enforcement during the 2005 fiscal year is not dead, as President Bush suggested in his February budget proposal, but it is limping.

Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants – a major source of funding for local drug task force agencies – will be cut to about 56 percent of the $634 million allotted in fiscal year 2005, unless the U.S. Senate decides to restore funding to the previous level.

A proposed amendment along those lines was voted down 175-252 on Tuesday (June 14) in the U.S. House of Representatives, but if the Senate disagrees with the decision, Byrne funding will get another look in a House and Senate conference committee later this year.
That's big news since the House had been the barrier to cutting the Byrne program in the past. In 2003, the US Senate voted on more or less partisan lines to end the Byrne program entirely, but the House didn't concur and the money was added back later in conference committee. Both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison backed that 2003 measure. This time, the legislation headed to the Senate already contains dramatic cuts, so if he can keep his votes who have already gone on record, President Bush's expanded GOP majority in the Senate should ensure the measure's passage.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who voted for the 44% Byrne cut, has also proposed legislation to require states using Byrne money for drug task forces to require corroboration for undercover testimony.

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