DEPARTMENTS OF COMMERCE AND JUSTICE, SCIENCE, AND RELATED AGENCIES FOR FISCAL YEAR 2006--CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - November 15, 2005)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I thank Senator Mikulski.
Mr. President, I know I speak for all Members of the Senate when I say we wholeheartedly support our Nation's law enforcement officers and we want to do every single thing possible to assist their efforts to keep our communities safe. Unfortunately, the Commerce-Justice-Science conference report before this body today does not send this message. In fact, it sends the exact opposite message.
The conference report provides important funding for programs such as the Office on Violence Against Women, the National Science Foundation, and important juvenile justice programs. But I am very troubled by the drastic cuts it makes to an important law enforcement program, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program.
This bill further eviscerates a program that has suffered significant cuts in the last few years, despite providing real results and benefits around the country. The conference report cuts the Byrne Program from the $900 million we passed in the Senate to $416 million, which is a 34-percent cut from the fiscal year 2005 funding level.
Now, in Illinois, these cuts will have an immediate and direct effect because law enforcement has been using Byrne grant funds to fight one of the gravest drug threats facing the Nation today--methamphetamines.
In downstate Illinois, as in other rural communities all across the country, there has been a tremendous surge in the manufacture, trafficking, and use of meth. Illinois State Police encountered 971 meth labs in Illinois in 2003, more than double the number uncovered in 2000.
According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the quantity of meth seized by the Illinois State Police increased nearly tenfold between 1997 and 2003. This surge is placing enormous burdens on smalltown police forces, which are suddenly being confronted with a large drug trade and the ancillary crimes that accompany that trade.
These police departments rely on Byrne grant funding to participate in meth task forces, such as the Metropolitan Enforcement Group or the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group. These task forces allow police in different communities to combine forces to battle a regional problem. There are a total of seven meth task force zones in Illinois, and these task forces have seen real results with Byrne grant funding.
In 2004, the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group accounted for more than 27 percent of the State's reported meth lab seizures.
This group pays 5 of its 12 agents through Byrne grants.
In towns such as Granite City and Alton, cuts in Byrne grant funding will force them to make difficult choices about how to allocate already scarce police resources. Indeed, the chief of police in Granite City told my staff yesterday that cuts in Byrne grant funding will threaten the viability of his meth task force. At a time when meth use is growing, it is inconceivable to me that we would be cutting the resources needed by law enforcement to fight crime and clean up the streets.
This is yet another example of the misplaced priorities of our country. We all know that we are facing a real budget crisis. The deficit is growing, and we need to enforce some fiscal discipline. But I don't believe we should be balancing the budget on the backs of our Nation's law enforcement officers who keep our families and communities safe each and every day.
I am disappointed by this bill. I hope next year we will be able to find the necessary funding that local law enforcement needs. I would ask those who are on the conference and who are looking at this to recognize that it is going to have an impact not just in Illinois but in rural communities all across the country, particularly farming communities in the Midwest that have been devastated by the plague of meth. This has been primarily a program to help prevent it. It is being cut drastically in this bill. It is a bad decision and reflective of misplaced priorities by this Senate.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.