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

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENTS OF COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (Senate - October 15, 2007)

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Mr. SALAZAR. Madam President, I rise this afternoon to raise my voice in strong support of H.R. 3093, the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act of 2007. I wish to thank and congratulate Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby, Chairman Byrd and Ranking Member Cochran for their strong leadership on this bill.

As a former attorney general for Colorado, I am particularly proud of the investment that this bill will make in the local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies across our country, the more than 800,000 officers who patrol America's streets and put their lives on the line every day to help make our communities safe and secure. They are truly the frontlines of America's homeland security.

In my 6 years as attorney general of Colorado, and in the last 2 1/2 years as a Senator, I have traveled thousands of miles through my State to visit with county sheriffs, police chiefs, and law enforcement officers working in our small towns, rural counties, and big cities. They are public servants through and through. They know that security is the foundation of a free society. They know that to enjoy our liberties and a prosperous economy, Americans must live in a society governed by the rule of law, free from the threat of violence and secure in their place of residence.

It is the voices of these men and women in uniform across our country, America's peace officers, that should help guide our law enforcement efforts in this country. They should help us make sure we are prepared to meet the emergency we will confront and that will help us address the domestic security priorities we face in the Nation. We should therefore take notice when sheriffs and police officers tell us they do not have the resources they need to combat the scourge of meth that is devastating so many communities across our Nation.

Meth is tearing families apart and financing an underground economy in abandoned farm buildings, fire traps, and houses that are shrouded with plastic. When police go to raid a lab, they never know what they are going to find; whether it is going to be a drug armed to the teeth, whether it is going to be chemicals that are ready to burn and to explode or drug users who are in desperate need of medical attention.

In my State, on a raid on a meth lab in Aurora, CO, this past summer, police found a 2-year-old boy lying in the basement next to a highly toxic cocktail of chemicals. The police rescued him. But what his parents were doing or thinking one can only imagine. Stories such as this story have been too common across our country.

We should also take notice when people such as the U.S. attorney in Colorado, Troy Eid, tell us we do not have enough Federal law enforcement officers to serve Native American communities in southwestern Colorado. Last year, we had a total of five Bureau of Indian Affairs officers policing 600,000 acres in one corner of my State. This is astonishing--five Bureau of Indian Affairs officers policing 600,000 acres.

Criminals, in fact, were calling in false crime reports on one side of the reservation, drawing police away from their target they were aiming to hit on the other side of the reservation.

With this shortage of law enforcement, the murder rate on the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute reservations in Southwestern Colorado has climbed to almost 20 percent of the national average. We need to take notice when people such as recently retired Sheriff Liggett, of Mineral County, CO, tell us our communications equipment in rural communities is woefully inadequate.

I have known Sheriff Liggett for many years. On snowy nights, Sheriff Liggett would call ahead and make sure that I and other travelers made it safely over Slumgullion Pass or Wolf Creek Pass on our way to our destinations.

That is the way things are done in rural Colorado. Sheriff Liggett knows very well the boundaries of his department's communications coverage and the risks that the limitations of that coverage pose to residents and travelers.

The Mineral County Sheriff's Department, similar to so many rural sheriffs' departments, need broader communications coverage and a better ability to talk across agencies and jurisdictions in case an emergency arises.

In late 1990, we made some progress in helping bring safety and security to American's communities. The Federal Government, seeing the homicide rate on the rise, responded to the public's call for a crackdown on crime by making smarter investment in law enforcement and crime prevention. These investments paid off, with violent crime in the United States dropping by nearly 40 percent from the record highs of the early 1990s.

Unfortunately, these investments have lagged in recent years, and the administration has tried to cut key programs at the very moment, at the very moment that our law enforcement officers are facing a set of growing challenges from homeland security and emergency preparedness to combating meth, to all of the other issues that the 800,000 men and women who keep the security in our country face every day.

I know this administration has been focused on Iraq and that this has consumed a massive proportion of Federal spending; almost $750 billion in the last 4 1/2 years. But this focus on Iraq and our security objectives abroad should not come at the expense of American security right here at home in our United States.

Too many Americans live with fear of drug-related violence in their communities. Too many Americans have seen meth destroy the lives of a family member or of a neighbor. Too many Americans worry that when a disaster strikes, the way it did with Katrina, help will come but help will not come quickly enough.

This bill, which the chairperson from Maryland and Ranking Member Shelby have put together, resets our priorities to where they should be, on the safety and security of America's families. For that I thank and applaud the leadership of Senator Mikulski.

The Appropriations Committee has reported a bill that restores critical investments on law enforcement that this President had proposed to cut. I wish to briefly talk about a few of those provisions that will benefit the peace officers of my State of Colorado.

First, I am pleased the bill we are considering today includes $1.4 billion for State and Local Law Enforcement

Assistance, including $660 million for the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants and $190 million for Byrne discretionary grants.

This program, which the President had--beyond my understanding--proposed to eliminate, provides grants to State and local governments for law enforcement, for prosecution and court programs, for prevention and community education programs, drug treatment, and community corrections programs. These are the kinds of programs that the men and women in law enforcement in this country know do, in fact, work to make our communities safe.

Secondly, this bill includes $550 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services, known as COPS. These funds go to tribal, State, and local law enforcement agencies for community policing initiatives which put law enforcement professionals on the streets with a beat so they can build relationships with the people they serve and they protect.

By earning the trust of the members of their communities and making these individuals stakeholders in their own safety, community policing makes law enforcement safer and more efficient. Some of the COPS Program funds that are set forth in this bill will go directly to the drug task forces that have been operational and effective in my State of Colorado. They include: The San Luis Valley Drug Task Force, my native valley; they include the 22nd Judicial District Drug Task Force, the North Metro Task Force, the Delta/Montrose Drug Task Force, the Eagle County Drug Task Force, the Greater Routt and Moffatt Narcotics Enforcement Team, the Weld County Drug Task Force.

Rest assured that from my point of view as a former attorney general of the State of Colorado, I know these task forces are at the point of the spear in combating the scourge of drugs in my State of Colorado, and these important funds will allow us to keep up that fight.

Finally, I am pleased this bill provides $5.6 billion for the Bureau of Prisons to help curb the staff shortages, construction needs and operations budgets for the Federal prison system.

The correctional officers who handle some of the most dangerous criminals in America will tell you the funding levels over the past few years have been inadequate.

At the Supermax Prison in Florence, CO, which houses inmates such as Ted Kaczynski, al-Qaida terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, and the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, at that Supermax facility, where we house the most dangerous of the most dangerous of America's enemies, funding cuts have left them short staffed and short on beds.

At the prison that houses terrorists, gang leaders and the most violent members of society, this is a dangerous game that we cannot afford, and this legislation moves forward in a way to address those shortfalls.

I am not going to take time to go through all the other good that is included in this bill, but I would mention very briefly the $340 million this bill provides to the juvenile justice program and the investment this bill makes in all our Federal law enforcement agencies such as the DEA, the FBI, and the ATF.

When you look at these investments, you begin to understand how important this bill is to our Nation's law enforcement authority. Anyone who has worked or who works in law enforcement today and who takes the time to look at this bill, will understand this is a strong statement of support for peace officers and for protecting our public across the country. That is why I am perplexed that there is a veto threat by the President on this bill.

There should not be that veto threat because this is a bill that takes a strong position to secure Americans here in the homeland. I hope that as this bill makes it through the Congressional process and to the President's desk, President Bush will decide he is going to stand up for the Nation's law enforcement and for the security here in the homeland and will, in fact, sign this bill.

I end where I began. This is a very good bipartisan product that Senator Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby have put together for the consideration of this Chamber. I am proud to be a supporter of this bill. I urge my colleagues to support it.

Ms. MIKULSKI. Will the Senator from Colorado yield for a question?

Mr. SALAZAR. I will.

Ms. MIKULSKI. I thank the Senator for his comments about our bill that were so complimentary and for speaking out. As a former attorney general of the State of Colorado, who is essentially the top cop in Colorado, knows one of the hallmarks of good law enforcement is strong law enforcement opportunities, along with prevention in terms of intervening with our young people. But is the Senator aware why this bill is under a veto threat?

Mr. SALAZAR. I have understood that the President has said he doesn't like the funding levels in this bill which I interpret to mean that he doesn't support funding of these very important programs.

Ms. MIKULSKI. The Senator is exactly right. We face a veto threat not because we have done bad legislation but because we have done good funding.

Is the Senator aware that the legislation called for the elimination of the COPS Program?

Mr. SALAZAR. Madam President, I am aware that the President has called for elimination of the COPS Program. I am also aware that when I speak to the law enforcement community throughout the country and throughout my State, sheriffs and chiefs of police across the board say the COPS Program is, in fact, working, and when we see what happened with the dip in violent crime in the 1990s, it occurred precisely because we had programs such as the COPS Program which were very effective.

Ms. MIKULSKI. So then it is the belief of the Senator that our addition of over $500 million to guard the streets and neighborhoods and communities of America will be well spent?

Mr. SALAZAR. I can think of no more important priority for all of us. As we deal with issues of crime and violence and the rule of law in places far away such as Iraq and Afghanistan, it ought to be an important priority, a high priority for us to make sure we are enforcing the rule of law and providing security for Americans at home; that we take care of the homeland first.

I strongly agree with the Senator from Maryland that, in fact, this bill moves us in that direction.

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