Local Courthouse Safety Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:  Lamar Smith
Date: Sept. 11, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous materials on H.R. 6185, as amended, currently under consideration.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Texas?

There was no objection.

Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank our Judiciary Committee colleague, Mrs. Adams of Florida, for her work on this issue to make America's courthouses safer. This bipartisan, bicameral bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous consent last May.

Before I yield to her, I do want to urge my colleagues to support this bill and thank Mrs. Adams again for all of her work that brought us to this point we are here today.

Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank my Judiciary Committee colleague, Mrs. Adams of Florida, for her work on this issue to make America's courthouses safer. This bipartisan, bicameral bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous consent last May.

State and local courthouses are the workplace for many people. Judges, secretaries, custodians, clerks and attorneys are there every workday. Police officers, litigants and the public go to these courthouses for many reasons. Many of us are called upon to report there for jury duty.

Often in these courthouses, the stakes, and emotions, are high when defendants confront their accusers and victims confront there perpetrators.

Threats against judges and acts of violence in courthouses and courtrooms are occurring throughout the country with greater frequency than ever before. The number of threats and violent incidents that target the judiciary has increased dramatically in recent years.

At the federal level, the U.S. Marshals Service's Center for Judicial Security reports the number of judicial threat investigations has more than doubled to over 1,200 in the past nine years. At the state and local levels, data collected by the Center for Judicial and Executive Security shows that the number of violent incidents in state courthouses has gone up every decade since 1970.

Since 2010, there has been about one shooting per month at local courthouses across the country. In September 2011, for example a defendant opened fire in the Crawford County Courthouse in Arkansas, killing a judge's secretary.

In December 2011, a defendant retrieved a gun from his car, walked into the Cook County Courthouse in Minnesota and shot the prosecuting attorney, a witness and the bailiff.

So far in 2012, there have been at least five courthouse shootings, including a fatal attack in my home State of Texas.

Security at many local courthouses is lax, particularly in rural and suburban areas where access to equipment, training and resources is especially scarce. Law enforcement officers, court personnel and members of our communities are in harm's way as a result.

One Minnesota judge put it well in a recent correspondence to his colleagues: ``I'm no longer willing to risk my life, the life of court staff, [and] the life of the public who have no choice about going to court.''

This bill accomplishes three objectives. First, the bill gives State and local courthouses direct access to security equipment that the Federal Government no longer uses.

This provision is modeled after a Defense Department program that allows the Pentagon to give its excess equipment to local police and firefighters. This legislation gives State and local authorities access to excess metal detectors, wands and baggage screening machines.

Second, this bill gives States the flexibility they need to make courthouse security improvements, but requires modest matching funds.

The bill does not require any new spending and it does not impose any new mandates. States can use existing federal resources for courthouse security upgrades if they so choose.

Lastly, through existing programs and funding authorizations, training and technical assistance will be provided to local law enforcement officers to teach them how to anticipate and survive violent encounters.

The identical Senate bill has broad bipartisan support and its ten co-sponsors come from both sides of the aisle.

This bill has been endorsed by six organizations, including: the National Sheriffs Association, the National Association for Court Management, the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, the American Judges Association and the National Court Reporters Association.

The Congressional Budget Office scored this bill at zero cost.

This bill is a cost-effective approach to provide safety training and technical assistance to local law enforcement agencies. It improves security at State and local government courthouses, which are most in need of basic safety equipment and training.

Our State and local law enforcement officers need support to ensure the security of our courthouses. This bill does that as it recycles excess Federal security equipment and protects Americans at the same time.

I again thank Mrs. Adams for her work on this issue and I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan, bicameral bill.

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