Congress is in recess, and will be returning November 12th to finish its business. The IAFC believes that this is an excellent opportunity for first responders to voice their positions on several key issues of interest to the IAFC and the fire service. It urges first responders contact their elected federal legislators within the next two weeks to do so. Critical issues are outlined below outlined below.
To locate legislators, contact the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or information can be found at:
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (FIRE Act)
CURRENT STATUS: The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies bill for FY2003, which funds FEMA. Contained in the bill is a provision to fund the Assistance to Firefighters grant program (FIRE Act) at the level authorized by law of $900 million. This keeps the program separate and does not roll it into the administration’s first responder program designed to go through the states. The House Appropriations Committee has passed its version of FEMA appropriations, which contains $450 million for the FIRE Act. Each house of Congress will have to pass its respective bills which will then go to conference committee to work out the differences. Many on Capitol Hill believe, however, that an omnibus appropriations bill will substitute for all the yet un-passed appropriations bills (11 of 13). We may expect the final amount for the FIRE Act to be between $450 to $900 million for FY2003.
Expand LOD Death Benefit Under PSOB
CURRENT STATUS: HR 5334 by Rep. Etheridge (D-NC) has passed the House Judiciary Committee on Oct. 9. We expect a floor vote in the House. The legislation would allow the families of public safety officers, including fire fighters, to receive benefits for line of duty deaths caused by heart attacks and strokes. Sen. Leahy (D-VT), with Senators Jeffords (I-VT) and Collins (R-ME) as cosponsors, recently introduced S 3114, a companion bill, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee of which Sen. Leahy is chair.
Additional Fire Fighters
CURRENT STATUS: IAFC President Bruegman testified before the full House Science Committee on October 2nd in support of HR 3992, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act (SAFER). The bill is not likely to move out of committee this year. A similar bill is contained in the Senate version of the Department of Homeland Security bill through adoption of an amendment sponsored by Senators Carnahan (D-MO) and Collins (R-ME).
Department of Homeland Security
CURRENT STATUS: The House has passed HR 5005 to create a new Department of Homeland Security. The Senate, however, has stalled the bill largely on personnel policy issues. IAFC is on the record in both the House and Senate in support of moving FEMA to the proposed new department.
700 MHz for Public Safety
CURRENT STATUS: HR 3397 (Harman, Weldon, et al) is a bill to set December 31, 2006 as a date for certain broadcasters to clear TV channels 63, 64, 68 and 69 for use by public safety which the FCC has allocated at the request of Congress. IAFC and International Association of Chiefs of Police were represented by Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials at a hearing on September 25th before the House Commerce Committee in support of HR 3397.
Medicare Ground Ambulance Provider Relief
CURRENT STATUS: The Senate has introduced a Medicare provider relief package (S 3018), which includes relief for urban ambulance service providers and an additional year of relief for rural ambulance services providers. The language of the package calls for three years of relief at an increase of 2% and 5% to the national fee schedule rate for urban and rural ambulance service providers, respectively.
In June of this year, the House passed a Medicare provider relief package that would implement nine regional conversion factors instead of the national conversion during the phase-in of the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. Passage of the Senate bill means that the fire-based ambulance providers will be in a much stronger position to help develop compromise language should the Senate convene a conference committee with the House to resolve the differences between their respective legislation.
When the Second Session of the 107th Congress finally adjourns sine die (“until the next assembly”)- sometime in November or December – all legislation not passed will die and not be carried over to the 108th Congress which will begin its first session in January 2003.