Law, Criminal Justice and Public Safety Newsletter

President Releases FY 2019 Budget Request for the Department of Justice

The president’s budget proposal was released on Feb. 12, 2018. While administration requests are not expected to hold through the congressional appropriations process, the proposal is widely viewed to be a statement on the administration’s priorities. For the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), those priorities include combating the opioid epidemic, supporting victims of crime, and supporting efforts to reduce violent crime and improve public safety.

Specifically, the president’s budget seeks to transfer the Community Oriented Policing Services office (COPS) to OJP and contains $58 million in Second Chance Act funding, which helps states implement prisoner re-entry programming. The budget request also includes an additional $69.5 million for a total of $402 million for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program, which helps states address gaps in their criminal justice systems to increase public safety and reduce crime. In January, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) joined roughly 1,000 other national, state, and local organizations and signed a letter that expressed support for the Byrne/JAG program. The letter was signed by organizations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia representing a broad cross-section of the nation’s criminal and juvenile justice systems.

For specific budget proposals not mentioned here, please contact NCSL staff Susan Frederick (susan.frederick@ncsl.org) or Lucia Bragg (lucia.bragg@ncsl.org).

Department of Justice Signals Stricter Federal Marijuana Law Enforcement with New Guidance

On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new guidance rescinding the previous administration’s “Cole memo” that had relaxed federal marijuana law enforcement. The guidance restores federal prosecutors’ discretion to prosecute violations of federal marijuana law in states where it has been legalized for medicinal or recreational use, or where it’s used in cannabidiol products.

Previously, the Cole memo had given states flexibility on enforcement in this area. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in eight states and D.C., and for medical use in 29 states and D.C. Language preventing DOJ from using federal funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws, which has existed in appropriations legislation since the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, passed in 2014 but was removed from the most recent budget package. Senator Patrick Leahy (Vt.) has pledged to push for the inclusion of the same language in future appropriations bills. Recently, NCSL issued a letter to the full Senate urging support of Leahy’s amendment as budget negotiations unfold.

For additional information surrounding federal and state marijuana issues, listen to our latest NCSL's Great American States podcast. For information regarding marijuana legalization in the states, read NCSL’s Marijuana Deep Dive.

NCSL at the National Homeland Security Consortium’s 2018 Meeting

NCSL staff attended the meeting of the National Homeland Security Consortium (NHSC) in January. NHSC is a coalition of state and local associations that advises the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on matters of counterterrorism and emergency management. The meeting covered a range of homeland security priorities for the new year, including:

  • An update from DHS, and statement of top priorities: immigration, border security, counter-terrorism, avian security and disasters.
  • Lessons learned from the record-setting 2017 response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Noting that 2017 became the costliest year ever for disasters, FEMA outlined the agency’s priorities moving forward: 1) instill culture of preparedness; 2) readiness for catastrophic disasters; and 3) reduce complexity of FEMA recovery programs.
  • An update from the National Fusion Center Network, covering findings and recommendations from the House Homeland Security Committee report on the National Fusion Center Network. Areas of focus included federal funding and research; fusion center analysis; fusion center outreach; access to federal information and systems; and challenges faced.
  • A briefing from FBI representatives on active shooter incidents and a briefing from DHS on vehicle ramming incidents. 

Texas Court Issues Historic Bail Ruling and NCSL’s Work on Pretrial Issues

Referred to as a “historic bail ruling” on Valentine’s Day, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals mostly upheld a Texas federal district court judge’s rulings that Harris County’s bail system violated both procedural due process and equal protection. The Harris County jail, located in downtown Houston, is one of the largest jails in the United States. The lawsuit was initially brought by three defendants detained in the jail on misdemeanor charges. The defendants alleged they were detained because they were too poor to pay for their release. In her decision last year, Chief U.S. District Judge for the southern district of Texas, Lee H. Rosenthal, agreed and found the county’s bail practices unconstitutional and unfair to misdemeanor indigent defendants whose inability to pay bail was tantamount to an “automatic order of detention.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed, noting that “indigent misdemeanor arrestees are unable to pay secured bail, and, as a result, sustain an absolute deprivation of their most basic liberty interests—freedom from incarceration.” Even as the case goes back to the district court to craft a new remedy, her ruling is receiving a lot of attention as bail reform efforts are underway in many states.

In January, NCSL began tracking pending state pretrial legislation in all 50 states, with newly introduced bills and updates provided weekly.  In addition, state legislative enactments on pretrial policy from 2017 are now available in NSCL’s pretrial policy enactment database.  Both databases offer various search capabilities, including by topic, state, and keyword. NCSL partners with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to track state pretrial policy legislation.

NCSL Releases New Report: Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy

NCSL has released a new report, Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy. Developed by a bipartisan 15-member group of legislators from around the country, the report identifies policy-making strategies that are rooted in research, reflect bipartisan values, and help states invest in proven methods to put justice-involved youth back on the right track, while also keeping communities safe.

Detailed examples of key issues and approaches are discussed including racial and ethnic disparities, mechanisms that avoid unnecessary involvement of youth in the justice system and evidence based interventions that are known to reduce recidivism.

Upcoming Supreme Court Webinar

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) is hosting a SLLC Supreme Court Midterm webinar on March 15 at 1 p.m. EST. States and local governments anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair. In this case the court may allow states and local governments to require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. Since last fall the court has also agreed to rule on the third travel ban, another partisan gerrymandering case, and several First Amendment free speech cases. The court has already decided two cases where the District of Columbia was a party. Discuss these and other cases of interest to states and local governments with Loren L. AliKhan, Acting Solicitor General of the District of Columbia, who argued one of the cases involving D.C., Charles Rothfeld, Mayer Brown, who wrote the SLLC amicus brief in one of the free speech cases, and Kenneth Jost, author of Supreme Court Yearbook and Jost on Justice.

Attendees can register here.

Additional Resources

From the NCSL Blog