CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, the House will consider the House Amendment to S. 2577, the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016, under suspension of the rules. S. 2577 was introduced on February 24, 2016 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee ordered the bill to be reported, with amendments, on May 12, 2016. S. 2577 passed the Senate by unanimous consent on June 16, 2016. The bill was referred in the House to the Committee on the Judiciary, in addition to the Committee on Financial Services.
S. 2577 authorizes the appropriation over the 2017-2021 period, mostly for grant programs administered by the Department of Justice to assist victims of crime and to enhance the analysis of DNA samples relating to criminal investigations. In addition, the bill would require the Department of Justice and the Government Accountability Office to prepare reports on certain criminal justice issues.
Specifically, the bill increases access to restitution to federal crimes victims and reauthorizes programs used to notify crime victims that they have the right to be heard in court, with legal assistance. In addition, S. 2577 further reduces the rape kit backlog and provides resources for forensic labs, while protecting the innocent by improving access to post-conviction DNA testing.
The administration of criminal justice programs is improved by increasing accountability for federal funds, requiring the Justice Department to assist state and local governments to improve their indigent defense systems, and ensures the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
The primary difference between the House amendment and S. 2577 is the House Amendment amends current authorization levels for the programs and grants covered by this Act while the Senate amendment just changed the authorization period.
Justice for All became law in 2004 and increased the national commitment to forensic technology to help fight crime, including the establishment of safeguards to prevent wrongful convictions and enhancing protections for victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes.
In 2015, there were 149 people exonerated last year, largely due to forensic evidence. This was the highest number on record. There have been 337 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States since 1989. Twenty of them were sentenced to death.
The first person exonerated from a death row crime by DNA evidence was a man named Kirk Bloodsworth. Recently out of the Marines, Kirst was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death for a heinous crime he did not commit. The Kirk Bloodsworth Post Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program provides grants to states for testing in cases where someone has been convicted, but where significant DNA evidence was not tested.
Though experts estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in police and crime lab storage facilities throughout the country, there is no comprehensive, national data on the nature and scope of the rape kit backlog. Few state governments and no federal agencies track this data, and across cities and counties, there are vast differences in the way law enforcement officials track and report rape kit data, if at all. Justice for All grants have provided law enforcement agencies with resources to address this backlog.
According to the bill’s sponsor, “The Justice for All Act has increased law enforcement resources, protected the innocent from wrongful convictions, and helped deliver justice for victims across the country. Reauthorizing this important piece of legislation will continue to provide victims with the support necessary to restore their lives, and continue to give law enforcement the tools to put more criminals behind bars.”
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing S. 2577, as passed by the Senate, would cost $418, or $121 million annually, over the 2017-2021 period. While an updated CBO score for the House Amendment is not publicly available, CBO has indicated enacting the House Amendment to S. 2577 would cost $291.9 million over five years, or $58.38 million average per year. This is consistent with the current appropriated level.
For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-1828.