Issue: Court Security
Court buildings are obvious targets for domestic and international violence and terrorism, and need to fund increased security precautions.
State court leaders request that Congress ensure that state and territorial courts are included in the planning and disbursement of federal funding related to homeland and court security, urge direct funding to state and territorial courts, and support federal legislative efforts to ensure that state and territorial courts are eligible to apply for security-related federal grants. (CCJ Resolution 12-M-5 and COSCA Resolution 12-B-5)
Responding to a shooting in a Minnesota courthouse in December 2011, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Local Courthouse Safety Act (S. 2076) on 2/7/12. S. 2076 would: 1) clarify that state courts can use funding from the Byrne grant and the State Homeland Security grant programs to improve security at local courthouses, 2) give state courts access to excess security equipment that federal agencies are no longer using, and 3) provide statutory authorization for the Department of Justice’s VALOR Initiative, which provides training and technical assistance to local law enforcement officers, teaching them to anticipate and survive violent encounters.
In the 111th Congress, we were able to obtain legislative language making state courts eligible for the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant and the state homeland security grant program. This language was contained in a DHS reauthorization bill; however, the Senate did not take up this bill.
On 2/7/2012, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Local Courthouse Safety Act (S. 2076, which would make courts eligible for the state homeland security grant program. In addition, the bill will highlight authority for SJI to award funding for court security. In addition, courts would have access to excess federal security equipment. Objections were expressed by committee staff and, presumably, law enforcement to the provisions dealing with Byrne JAG access and State Homeland Security Grant access. In exchange for the removal of these provisions, then U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent a letter stating that state courts are eligible entities to receive funds.
On 5/24/12 the Senate Judiciary approved the amended S. 2076 by voice vote. While the provisions regarding state court access to DHS grants and clarifying Byrne access were dropped, the bill retained the provision to give state courts access to excess security equipment from the GSA, the selling arm of the federal government.
NCSC Government Relations staff worked to identify a House sponsor for a companion bill to S. 2076. The National Court Reporters Association worked with NCSC staff in this respect. Then Representative Sandy Adams (R-FL) introduced the House companion (HR 6185) on 7/25/12. The House passed HR 6185 on 9/11/12.
Senator Franken re-introduced his bill, the Courthouse Safety Act of 2013 (S. 445) on 3/17/13. There is a companion bill in the House (H.R. 953). The bills are the same as S. 2076 approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 112th Congress.
According to Senator Franken’s staff, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) placed a hold on this and other similar legislation. The plan is to continue to recruit co-sponsors for the legislation and move the bill via unanimous consent in the 114th Congress. Senator. Franken is planning to reintroduce this bill in the 114th Congress.
On 3/24/15, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced the Local Courthouse Safety Act of 2015 (H.R. 1566), which mirrors the legislation previously introduced by Senator Franken. At the request of Representative Poe, we have been reaching out to Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee to enlist support. Representative Poe wants to pass this bill via unanimous consent. Time ran out for this bill at the end of the 114th Congress. We are looking to getting this bill re-introduced after the Thanksgiving recess.