The US House of Representatives last night, July 13, voted to establish a national system to alert and coordinate federal, state and local responses to active shooter incidents despite the opposition of Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and 167 other Republicans.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) broke ranks with his colleagues and party and voted for the bill.
The bill creates a federal coordinator for an Active Shooter Alert Communications Network similar to the Amber Alert System for missing children. The coordinator will work with federal, state and local governments to operate the network and establish procedures to respond to active shooters. The Government Accountability Office will monitor progress on the system.
“This vital legislation that we’re doing today will quickly warn communities when a gunman opens fire: a common-sense, life-saving measure widely supported by law enforcement,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech.
The bill passed in response to a spate of mass shootings including the one on May 24 at Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed following a botched, uncoordinated law enforcement response. It was introduced in February by Rep. David Cicilline (D-1-RI).
Initially, the bill failed in the House in June when congressional supporters were unable to gain a two-thirds vote of the entire chamber to suspend the usual House rules and vote for passage. Yesterday’s vote required a simple majority.
As of this writing, none of Southwest Florida’s representatives had issued statements on any platform explaining their votes.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Two recent votes by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) belie his purported support for the nation’s law enforcement officers.
Donalds voted against both creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6 and against supplemental appropriations to improve Capitol security.
On May 12, Donalds joined other members of Congress to acknowledge National Police Week and honor the men and women of law enforcement.
Recalling a time when he was robbed at gunpoint at the age of 16 and the police responded to his call, Donalds made a 2-minute, 19-second floor speech acknowledging the importance of their role in society.
“The police are the ones in our communities. They patrol the streets. They try to keep our neighborhoods safe. They are the ones who put their lives on the line every single day, who may not go home. They are the ones who are the pillars of every community in our great country,” he said.
“So on National Police Week, the number one thing we need to learn not just on this specific week, but in every week, is that we need to show them the necessary honor and respect that they deserve.”
Donalds then had the opportunity to demonstrate that honor and respect with two subsequent votes.
The first was a vote to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, an attack by what Donalds called at the time “lawless vigilantes” engaged in “thuggery.” He later characterized the rioters as “a bunch of lunatics.”
While some Republican members of Congress downplayed the severity of the attack, an anonymous letter by Capitol Police officers was sent to House members stating that “It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect, would downplay the events of January 6th. Member safety was dependent upon the heroic actions of USCP [US Capitol Police]. It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that ‘It wasn’t that bad,’” the letter stated. “That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members.”
Though allegedly supported by 40 members of the Capitol Police, their support could not be independently verified. The Capitol Police disavowed the letter as an official communication.
Nonetheless, on Wednesday, May 19, the House voted by 252 to 175 to establish the commission.
Donalds, however, voted against the bill. (Also voting against it were Southwest Florida’s two other representatives, Reps. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.).
Yesterday, May 20, Donalds had another opportunity to show his support for law enforcement by voting for a $1.9 billion bill to improve security around the Capitol. The vote on that was 213 to 212.
Donalds voted against that bill too, along with the rest of the Southwest Florida delegation.
Commentary: Putting the money where your mouth is
“Mr. Speaker,” Donalds said in his May 12 floor statement, “we have all seen the videos that get thrown in front of us. We have seen the handful of acts that all Americans find distasteful”—his reference, apparently, to the wholesale assault on the Capitol in which he was speaking and the attempt to kill the lawmakers inside and lynch the Vice President of the United States.
He continued: “But the uniform, that badge, the officers that serve every day, they serve our communities with honor and with distinction. So it is really my pleasure and my honor to honor all those officers, including the ones in this very Capitol, who protect us every single day.”
Apparently Donalds’ rhetorical support did not extend enough to honor them by investigating the past attack upon them and giving them the resources and funding they need to prevent a similar attack again.
Nonetheless, the men and women of law enforcement continue protect Donalds, his fellow lawmakers and the public in general from the “thugs” and “lunatics”—Donalds’ terms—who remain at large.
Both bills have now gone to the Senate where they face uncertain futures.
Last week Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took a break from his verbal attacks on President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats to actually pay attention to his district.
The attention came in the form of his first legislative proposal, a re-tread of a bill introduced in the previous Congress by his predecessor Francis Rooney, to ensure that the government keeps monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) even in the event of a government shutdown.
Donalds’ Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1954) would, according to its official language, “amend the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to clarify that during a lapse in appropriations certain services relating to the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecasting System are excepted services under the Anti-Deficiency Act.”
The need for the legislation became apparent during former President Donald Trump’s 35-day shutdown of the government from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 in a battle with Congress over funding his border wall. Following 2018’s severe red tide off the Florida Gulf coast, Rooney tried to build a coordinated response to future HABs.
In June 2019 he introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (HR 3297) so that monitoring of HABs would not be interrupted. That bill gained 16 cosponsors, 12 Democrats and four Republicans. However, it never made it out of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Donalds’ bill was introduced with six cosponsors. Four are Republicans: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.), Bill Posey (R-8-Fla.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-16-Ohio), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.); and two Democrats: Reps. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.). Tlaib, a member of the liberal Democratic “squad,” also cosponsored Rooney’s bill.
Like its predecessor, Donalds’ bill has been referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology as well as the Committee on Natural Resources.
Analysis:What to watch
Voters should watch to see if Donalds can move this bill out of its committees and onto the floor during the current session. While Rooney sat on the Science Committee, Donalds is not on either of the committees of jurisdiction, so his climb is steeper.
This will be especially interesting to see given his attacks on Pelosi. In the previous Congress, Pelosi advanced Rooney’s legislation on offshore oil drilling to full House consideration. She might not be equally inclined to move this legislation this time.
The need for this legislation is less urgent than it was under President Donald Trump, who thought little of shutting down the government as a negotiating tactic (or in a temper tantrum). With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress and a sane president in the White House, the probability of a government shutdown, at least over the next four years, is far lower than in the past.
From a substantive standpoint, of far greater importance to Southwest Florida is another measure introduced by Rooney: amending the Stafford Act to include HABs.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act defines which natural disasters are subject to federal emergency treatment. Algal blooms are not included. If Southwest Florida suffers another Big Bloom summer like 2018’s, the area’s governments, merchants and residents would be eligible for federal emergency funds and support if the Stafford Act is amended. Rooney tried to make this change with his Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act but it remained undone during his tenure. For Donalds, however, this kind of legislation might clash with his small-government, you’re-on-your-own ideology.
From a political standpoint, Donalds’ new HAB legislation may help close a gap that was threatening to widen into a vulnerability: his almost complete disinterest in the district and its needs. He received some minor, uncritical coverage of his bill in the local media, which was no doubt helpful to him in changing this perception.
On the record
Since our last Donalds Dossier, in major legislation Donalds toed the Republican Party line. He has:
Voted against the American Rescue Plan, after denouncing it on the floor and fighting it in committee. It passed 220 to 211 and has been signed into law.
Voted against the Bipartisan Background Checks Act to ensure background checks for firearms transfers between individuals. It passed by a vote of 227 to 203. (Donalds was fully endorsed by the National Rifle Association during his primary campaign.)
In other action by a Southwest Florida representative, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a vehement ever-Trumper and extreme conservative who represents the area from Punta Gorda to Venice and east to Okeechobee, chose to oppose honoring those who protected him during the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the Capitol building.
Steube’s action came after Pelosi proposed awarding three Congressional Gold Medals, Congress’ highest civilian honor, to the Capitol Police and the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police. The third medal, along with a plaque listing all the agencies that protected the Capitol that day, will be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.
Pelosi’s sponsorship of the legislation was a rare move in the chamber, signifying its solemnity.
“January 6th was one of the darkest and deadliest days in American history,” Pelosi said in a speech on the floor. “The waging of a violent insurrection against the United States Capitol and against our very democracy on that day was a profound horror that nearly defies comprehension. That day, the country witnessed the gleeful desecration of our Temple of Democracy.”
While Jan. 6 was a day of “horror and heartbreak,” she said, “because of these courageous men and women, it was also a moment of extraordinary heroism. That day the United States Capitol Police force put themselves between us and the violence. They risked their safety and their lives for others with the utmost selflessness, and they did so because they were patriots – the type of Americans who heard the call to serve and answered it – putting country above self.”
When the time came for a vote last Wednesday, March 17, Steube and 11 of his Republican colleagues didn’t agree. Instead, Steube blamed Pelosi for the insurrection and attack, saying in a statement:
“The unprecedented leadership failures of Speaker Pelosi, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief and the Sergeant at Arms put their officers, Members of Congress and the public at risk on January 6. They had the opportunity to call in the National Guard days before and refused to do so for ‘optics.’ There is no reason that Congress should now award the highest civilian medal to leaders who failed in protecting the Capitol, which led to their resignation and the shooting of an unarmed woman, just so Speaker Pelosi can check the box and say she supports law enforcement a week after Pelosi-led Democrats attacked the police by ending their qualified immunity and taking away their protective equipment.”
Rep. Greg Steube
Despite voting against the gold medals Steube maintained that he’s a “staunch defender” of law enforcement and opposed any movements to defund the police.
When the roll was called, the bill, HR 1085, passed by an overwhelming vote of 413 to 12, that included the Republican leadership.
In addition to Steube, the other nay votes were: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.), Michael Cloud (R-27-Texas), Andrew Clyde (R-9-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fa.), Louis Gohmert (R-1-Texas), Bob Good (R-5-Va.), Lance Gooden (R-5-Texas), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), Andy Harris (R-1-Md.), Thomas Massie (R-4-Ky.), John Rose (R-6-Tenn.).
Steube’s vote in this matter is outrageous, disgusting and shameful. His rationale is absurd. His indifference to the deaths of the officer who lost his life, Brian Sicknick, and those who took their own lives subsequently is despicable. He has forfeited any legitimate claim—or future claim—to be a defender of law enforcement. He and his colleagues deserve to be called “the dirty dozen” for rejecting this recognition for the police officers who stood their ground against the most repulsive attack on the American government in history.
Collier County, Florida residents now have a new weapon against voter intimidation.
Yesterday, Oct. 27, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office announced that callers can send photos and videos to 911 dispatchers when they call.
This means that any instances of physical voter intimidation or suppression can be recorded on mobile devices and sent live to police as they are happening.
Collier County is the first county in Florida to have the capability. It is part of a national effort to upgrade the 911 system to give it new capabilities in line with advances in personal technology.
“We have always told our community, ‘See it, say it’,” Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk stated in a Facebook post announcing the new capability. “Now we can tell them, ‘See it, say it, send it.’ The more information first responders have, the quicker they can help, and a picture is worth 1,000 words.”
Rambosk, whose law enforcement background is in communications, has worked to keep Collier County policing on the cutting edge of technology. In 2014, Collier County was the first agency in Florida to enable 911 callers to send text messages to dispatchers.
“We are always looking at technology to identify ways we can enhance public safety here in Collier County,” Rambosk stated.
The new cloud-based technology enhances law enforcement and emergency management capabilities in a wide variety of circumstances, including disaster and crime response, missing person searches and accident assistance.
While there have been no reported instances of physical intimidation of voters in Collier County so far this year, there was an incident in Lee County on Oct. 22, when Trump supporters approached a polling place in trucks in a threatening manner.
With the new capability, voters in Collier County can call 911 or the Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number (239) 252-9300 and send photos and/or videos to dispatchers, who will forward those videos and images to first responders.
Engineers and technologists have been trying to upgrade the 911 system since the advent of cell phones and wireless technology. Nationally, there is a program called Next Generation 911 to get new capabilities implemented across the country. The chief capability being sought is enabling dispatchers to determine a caller’s location from his or her cell phone but that has not been achieved yet. (For a 2016 slide presentation on Next Generation 911’s capabilities and challenges, see “Next Generation 911 and FirstNet: A Natural Partnership.”)
In Florida, funding for Next Generation 911 was supported by a fee added to every mobile phone bill. However, during his administration Gov. Rick Scott (R) determined that the fee was a tax and eliminated it, setting back state efforts to advance 911 capabilities.
Of Southwest Florida’s representatives, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was absent and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against it.
HR 7120 makes a variety of reforms to police practices in the wake of the death of George Floyd. These include increasing accountability for police misconduct; making police data more accessible and transparent and eliminating discriminatory police practices. Police will have lower thresholds for misconduct, less qualified immunity and a national registry will track complaints and records of police misconduct.
During the debate on HR 7120, Steube, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, spoke against the measure, saying “this is nothing more than an outburst of political emotion and a willingness to take advantage of civil unrest.” He argued that the bill “promotes anarchy and puts our law enforcement officers’ lives on the line.” (Steube’s full statement is below.)
Diaz-Balart also denounced the measure, tweeting that: “Meaningful & real police reform will require work & negotiation from both sides of the aisle. The bill presented today by House Leadership is yet another messaging tactic that actually puts our police officers & community at risk & fails to include any bipartisan provisions.” He added that senators were willing to amend their Republican bill to accommodate Democratic changes but Democratic senators were unwilling to allow it to come to a vote.
The House bill will now go to the Senate, where Senate Republicans drafted their own reform bill. However, Republicans needed 60 votes to proceed with debate on that bill and lost a procedural vote by 55 to 45 votes, effectively killing it.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that the Republican bill “was so deeply flawed that it was not fixable, even if they let us have a few amendments, and McConnell did not promise that we would get amendments. No Democrat was going to vote for it.”
Analysts do not expect HR 7120 to make any progress in the Senate, leaving police reform uncertain and deadlocked in Congress, with both sides blaming the other for the lack of movement.
Full statement of Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) on HR 7120.
“Thank you Mr. Speaker.
Today, I rise in opposition to this bill and House Democrats’ completely partisan attempt at actual law enforcement reform. They call it the ‘Justice’ in Policing Act, but this legislation would not achieve justice for anyone.
Instead, it would promote anarchy and put our law enforcement officers’ lives at risk. It would end legal protection for our officers who actually follow their training and protocol. It would take essential weapons and protective equipment away from police. In a time like today, where law enforcement officers are ambushed and targeted just because of their profession we are going to take away their ability to receive protective equipment.
So not only do the Democrats want to take away an officer’s legal protection if they follow their training and protocol, then they want to take away their protective vests, protective shields and protective vehicles they get in Military transfers that physically protect our officers from bullets. None of which have anything to do with George Floyd’s death. How does this make any sense? I can tell you it doesn’t make much sense to the mass majority of Americans who trust that someone will be there when they call 9-1-1.
This legislation comes from the same party who has been calling to defund the police. Members of this very body have called to defund our police officers and our police departments. I have to ask my colleagues how they think that would help?
Defunding the police won’t solve any problems and only poses an extraordinary risk to our citizens who depend on society’s most basic governmental service of protecting life and property. This is nothing more than an outburst of political emotion and a willingness to take advantage of civil unrest.
And civil unrest – this civil unrest – is not constructive, it is anarchy. It also does not take into account the hundreds of thousands of good police officers risking everything to keep us safe. Officers Julian Keen, Jr. from my State of Florida. Unfortunately, you’ll never hear about the tragic death of this black officer in the mainstream media. It doesn’t fit the left’s narrative so they will ignore it. However, in Florida we will never forget Officer Keen, who was laid to rest this week, and the positive influence he had on our community. And after the criminal who killed him found out that he was a police officer in plain clothes, pulled out a gun and killed him.
So, it begs the question: who is really responsible for the flaws in law enforcement protocols?
All of these departments with all of these problems and issues are all run by Democratic commissions, and Democratic city councils. This is not a federal issue, this is a Minneapolis police issue or an Atlanta police issue, or a Ferguson issue, or a Chicago issue, where just this past weekend, they had one of the most violent weekends over Father’s day weekend. This is an issue with democratic leadership in these cities who have failed to keep up with standards training and protocol, some of these departments have training standards dating back to the 80s. Why, you ask?Because their democratic leadership has failed to make necessary reforms in their departments. And now it’s the federal government’s role to ‘police’ local police departments run by a Democratic city council or commission? Will those commissions and leaders ever be held accountable?
Everyone in this chamber wants justice for George Floyd and his family. And they will get that, in a court of law, where justice belongs. If the Democratic majority truly wants to reform our police departments and If they truly want to fix the problems, then the focus should be on the agencies with the problems and their leadership. Not passing a progressive messaging bill in an election year that you know has no chance at becoming law.
This legislation doesn’t get justice for anyone. Instead, it fails to address the real underlying problems while attempting to vilify our law enforcement officers. It won’t go anywhere in the Senate and it certainly won’t go to the President’s desk. So, let’s call it what it is: a political messaging bill. The longer we spend on this, the more time we waste in working on tangible solutions. Time to put politics aside and work on real solutions where the problems actually are located.