Issue: Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations
Federal grant funds for the Department of Justice agencies that are important to state court operations are included in these bills.
State courts advocate full funding for those programs created to assist state courts to respond to federal initiatives and implement federal mandates on state courts. Court leaders have also supported adding language that would permit their participation in the planning and funding of other federal programs that affect their workloads.
The Departments of Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriation bills contain programs of interest to state courts. These bills also define eligibility for state and local government entities to apply for these funds. Eligible recipients of funds at the state and local level are usually defined as “states and units of local government,” which sometimes has been interpreted to exclude direct funding for the judicial branch.
The final omnibus appropriations law (PL 113-235) largely followed the outlines of the FY 2014 numbers. Most programs got level funding or slight decreases. The winners included: NICS and NCHIP criminal justice reporting. Programs that continue to struggle are the Juvenile Justice programs. Looking ahead to FY 2016, we anticipate the return of sequestration, which will once again mandate across the board cuts to all discretionary programs.
The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill (H.R. 2578) on 5/20/15. It is a mixed bag with some programs proposed to suffer big cuts and others would get level funding or increases. For example, the bill would eliminate funding for the National Institutes of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and Title 2 of the Juvenile Justice Prevention Act. However, the Byrne JAG program, NICS Improvement and Drug Courts would enjoy increases. The full House approved this bill on 6/4/15.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of H.R. 2578 on 6/11/15. Funding amounts are generally better than the House. For example, Juvenile Justice funding would mostly be restored, Legal Services would get $385M (vs. $300M in House) and $10M would be allocated for Mental Health Courts.
The retirement of Speaker Boehner made it easy for the approval of the Bipartisan Budget Act that increased the spending caps and suspends the sequester for at least 2 years. On 12/18/15, Congress approved an omnibus spending agreement. The news is good for law/justice programs. Programs like VAWA got an increase ($480M) vs. FY 2015 ($430M). The Byrne JAG program got $347M (vs $333M in 2015), Drug Courts got $42M (vs 41M in 2015). On 12/18/15, President Obama signed the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2029) making it PL 114-113.
The FY 2017 budget cycle is underway. Both the House and Senate Appropriations committees have approved their respective CJS spending bills. Thanks to the generous budget deal, spending for law/justice programs is up. For example: Drug courts get $42M, same amount it received last year, Byrne JAG gets $476M, an increase over FY16, Violence Against Women gets $528M, an increase from last year. The compressed schedule could mean that there may be a CR, which means programs get the same funding they received in FY16.
After a year-end CR extended FY 2016 spending levels until April, the 115th Congress will impose its will on the FY 2017 appropriations and as well as for FY 2018.