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Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I rise to speak about the underlying bill, and I will just take a few minutes to do so.

Today, the Senate is debating a bill that ensures our homes and communities are safe, it keeps us a world leader in scientific research, it promotes economic development across the Nation, and it funds our national census. I am here today because I strongly support the bill and I wanted to commend Chairman MIKULSKI for her work, as well as the ranking member.

It reflects many of our Nation's top domestic priorities: putting more police on our streets through the COPS program, ensuring the FBI has the tools it needs to fight domestic terrorism, providing the DEA with resources to win the war on drugs, and protecting our children from sexual predators. I am proud to say there is much in this bill to celebrate. And it comes not a day too soon.

Last week the FBI released its latest report on crime in America. The news was not good: crime is up for the second year in a row.

It is no coincidence that this rise in crime follows years of repeated cuts to the COPS program by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress.

In 1994, COPS put more than 100,000 new officers on the streets. According to the Government Accountability Office, every dollar spent on COPS stopped 30 crimes from happening--every dollar stopped 30 of our neighbors, friends and family from being victimized. In my opinion, that is a dollar very well spent.

Take a look at this chart. The red line indicates the number of homicides per 100,000 citizens. The blue line indicates the number of police officers. Every time the number of police officers on patrol decreased, the number of homicides increased. This is simple commonsense: more police means less crime. Yet the Bush administration chose to kill funding for the very program that is responsible for hiring more police officers to protect our communities. And predictably, as this chart clearly illustrates, the results have been disastrous.

It is time to reverse that course. This bill provides $2.7 billion for State and local law enforcement--$1.6 billion more than the President's request. With this money, our police will be able to prevent gang violence, to combat drug crimes, and to catch child predators. This bill also adds 100 FBI agents whose specific purpose is fighting the rising threat of violent crime. It lifts a hiring freeze on DEA agents and puts 200 new agents on the beat.

But, while this bill does a lot to ensure the safety of our communities, there is still work to be done. That is why I am pleased that Chairman Mikulski and the ranking member supported our amendment, an amendment that doubles the funding for juvenile mentoring programs. They care about that effort.

It is no secret that juvenile crime--particularly juvenile gang activity--is a serious problem in this country. That is why Senator Feinstein and I worked so hard to pass the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act of 2007. One of the biggest problems contributing to gang activity and gang crime is a lack of direction and lack of supervision in the lives of teens.

Nor is it a secret that providing good role models and more structure in the lives of teens has a significant impact in reducing gang activity and violence. That is why we need to beef up our juvenile mentoring programs.

The Juvenile Mentoring Program was established in 1992 with the specific goals of reducing juvenile delinquency and gang participation, improving academic performance and reducing school drop out rates. Programs funded under the Juvenile Mentoring Program initiative link at-risk children, particularly those living in high-crime areas and those struggling in school, with responsible, working adults. These children receive the structure and support that is otherwise missing in their lives. They learn about the dangers of drug use, the perils of gang involvement, and the importance of staying in school. In other words, programs like these provide children with the tools they need to avoid the pitfalls of gangs and violence, to rise above the situation they were born into, and to make a better life. I can think of no other program more deserving of increased funds and commend my colleagues for recognizing this need and passing my amendment.

I want to mention the one difference I have with this bill, one that has to do with a policy known around here as the Tiahrt Amendment.

No matter how many great programs we fund in this bill, no matter that we doubled funding for the Juvenile Mentoring Program, we will never successfully stop violence unless we work to combat the illegal use of guns. Gun violence is one of the most serious problems facing our Nation. Every day on average, 81 more Americans will be shot dead--many of them innocent victims, including children. This is unacceptable. But, it is even more unacceptable for us, as legislators, to allow it to continue.

But that is exactly what a provision in this bill does with its Tiahrt provision. This provision could prevent the sharing of gun trace data among law enforcement agencies. It will prevent the ATF from providing trustworthy national data about the flow of crime guns. It will make it harder to figure out where illegal gun activity is most prevalent and what we can do to stop it. Without this data, our state and local law enforcement will have a much harder time combating violence in our communities and making us safe.

It should be a priority for all of us to better understand gun crime, so we can better prevent it. But with the Tiahrt provision, data that is essential to understanding gun trafficking and violence will be concealed from law enforcement, concealed from lawmakers, and concealed from the public. There is simply no way to make good policy without having good information, good data to base it on.

When convicts get released from prison, we keep their fingerprints on file. But when a gun gets confiscated, information about it gets treated like a State secret. Police can share fingerprint data across state lines, because criminals move across State lines. But under this bill, gun data has to be kept within a small geographic area.

I am very disappointed that this language has been included in the bill. But, it is a battle I will seek to fight with others on another day. And, be assured, I will.

As I said before, there is much for us to celebrate in this bill. And there is more to celebrate having accepted my amendment to double the funding for Juvenile Mentoring programs.

I look forward to supporting the Appropriations bill and I urge my colleagues to do the same.


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