CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 1741 on Tuesday, June 9, 2009, under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. H.R. 1741 was introduced on March 26, 2009, by Rep. Cummings (D-MD) and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, which held a mark-up and reported the bill, as amended, by voice vote on May 20, 2009.
H.R. 1741 would authorize $150 million to establish a new federal grant program to make grants for States, tribes, and local governments to provide protection to witnesses in homicides, violent crimes or serious drug offenses. The grants may be used to pay for all or part of the cost of witness protection.
The bill would require States, tribes, and local governments to submit applications for the grants to the Office of Justice Programs. H.R. 1741 would also require the Attorney General to give priority to grant applications in the District of Columbia or in States with an average murder rate of at least 100 annually during the most recent five-year period.
The legislation would require the U.S. Marshals Service to provide technical assistance to State and local governments that received grants under the program. Each grant recipient would be required to make a report to the AG containing information that evaluates each program established with a grant under the bill. H.R. 1741 would also require the AG to develop best practice models to assist states in addressing issues related to the witness protection program.
The bill would authorize $30 million annually through fiscal year 2014 to carry out the bill.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a study conducted by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) found that 36 percent of witnesses in criminal courts in Bronx County, New York, had been directly threatened. The report also indicated that 57 percent of witnesses feared reprisals. CRS goes on to state that witness intimidation and fear of reprisals may lead witnesses to avoid testifying.
In order to protect witnesses in criminal cases, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Marshals Service operates the Witness Security Program. Through the program, The U.S. Marshals Service provides for "the security, health and safety of government witnesses, and their immediate dependents, whose lives are in danger as a result of their testimony against drug traffickers, terrorists, organized crime members and other major criminals." Witnesses in the program and their families generally receive new identities and housing. Since its inception, the U.S. Marshals report that more than 7,500 witnesses and over 9,500 family members have been protected by the program. According to the U.S. Marshals, no Witness Security Program participant, who followed security guidelines, has been harmed while under the active protection the Marshals.
In the 110th Congress, the House passed H.R. 660, the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007, which went on to be signed by the President and became public law 110-177. The legislation authorized $100 million between fiscal year 2008 and Fiscal Year 2012 for State, local, and tribal governments to improve their witness protection programs. While the underlying legislation would provide $30 million to States and localities specifically for protection to witnesses in homicides, violent crimes or serious drug offenses, some Members may be concerned that the funding maybe duplicative. Under current law, States and localities are eligible to receive up to $20 million in DOJ witness protection grants. H.R. 1741 does not include a House Report indicating why the additional funding for State and local witness protection grants is needed.
According to CBO, H.R. 1741 would cost $100 million over five years, and an additional $50 million fiscal year 2014.