The devastating tragedy that occurred in Tucson, Arizona earlier this month left many concerned about their safety at Congressional events. While I have continued to meet with my constituents and feel safe in our dealings, I have heard from some Tennesseans who they are concerned about their own security at official events. In fact, a recent poll commissioned by The Hill showed 91% of voters believe it is important to have security at these events. No one should be afraid to exercise his or her First Amendment rights, particularly members of the public.
At the same time, it is apparent to me that the public does not want another federal program to make them feel safer. Everywhere I go, I am hearing from folks that we need to reduce — not expand — the size of the federal government.
For this reason, I introduced a bill, H.R. 454, which will leave the responsibility for managing Congressional security in the hands of those who know our communities best: our local law enforcement. Instead of federalizing security, we will keep law enforcement responsibilities under local control and ensure it doesn’t become an unfunded mandate.
We know the budgets of our local law enforcement agencies are stretched thin. So I am proposing that if a local law enforcement agency is requested to attend an official public Congressional event, then we should reimburse the agency for any reasonable costs they have incurred. For this purpose, this legislation establishes an account within the U.S. Capitol Police Budget. By providing the option to have law enforcement at these events, it will help alleviate some of the public’s unrest, and assure them it is safe to attend an event where they can gain access to their member of Congress.
As a fiscal conservative, I am committed to ensuring that any new spending here will be offset from other areas of our budget and will shrink the overall size of government as the bill moves ahead in the legislative process. I also believe spending of this sort must be capped, and I have proposed a $10 million annual cap. Additionally, Congressional offices must officially request (by written document) police presence, and the use of law enforcement must be approved prior to the event.
I urge Congress to pass this important security legislation. By allowing security to be a reimbursable expense, I hope local law enforcement and the Capitol Police will work together to keep the public, members of Congress and their staff safe and secure.
Rep. Phil Roe represents Tennessee’s First Congressional District.