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December 01, 2015

President Obama signs omnibus fiscal year 2016 appropriations package

President Obama signed a $1.15 trillion fiscal year 2016 appropriations package Dec. 18 that includes increased funding for several ABA-supported programs, including the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the federal judiciary.

H.R. 2029, which will fund the government through Sept. 30, 2016, is the result of months of negotiations as members weighed numerous controversial riders that, among other things, would have defunded Planned Parenthood, limited environmental and financial regulations, and blocked the entry of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the country.

During the negotiations, ABA President Paulette Brown urged Congress not to incorporate proposals to delay or halt U.S. resettlement of Syrian, Iraqi or Muslim refugees. “The United States has long been a global leader in offering protection to the world’s most vulnerable populations,” Brown wrote to  House and Senate leaders Dec. 11. “Denying protection to Syrian and Iraqi refugees would be contrary to this nation’s foundational values as well as to deeply rooted U.S. and international law principles prohibiting discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, or religion,” she said.

While the final version of the legislation does not include the contentious provisions, the new law does have provisions to lift the ban on crude oil exports and toughen visa requirements. In addition, the negotiators included the provisions of cybersecurity legislation that had been passed by the House and Senate to encourage information sharing (See article, page 5).

Obama had signaled that he would sign the legislation because it appeared to meet three conditions: lifts defense and domestic spending caps; does not include the controversial policy riders; and invests in both national security and economic growth. “The omnibus makes critical investments in education, basic research, and job training that will strengthen the middle class, while giving our men and women in uniform the tools and resources they need to keep us safe,” according to the White House.

Some of the major provisions of interest to the ABA are:

LSC. The LSC will be funded at $385 million – a $10 million increase over fiscal year 2015 appropriations. Of that amount, $352 million is for 134 basic field programs and required audits, $5 million is for the Office of Inspector General, $19 million is for management and grants oversight, $4 million is for client self-help and information technology, $4 million is for the Pro Bono Innovation Fund, and $1 million is for student loan repayment assistance. The legislation continues to restrict the use of funds by LSC grantees for certain activities, including participation in political activities, lobbying, criminal cases, and abortion-related litigation.

Federal Judiciary. The federal judiciary will receive an increase of $80.4 million, bringing the total in discretionary funding for the courts to $6.78 billion. This amount is based on the judiciary’s most recent estimates regarding court funding needs. The new law also extends temporary judgeships for an additional year in nine district courts.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The legislation provides $3.3 billion for the  USPTO, which is the full amount of estimated fiscal year 2016 fee collections for the office. The legislation continues to make available any excess fee collection above the estimated levels and the appropriate amount.

Criminal Justice: The measure contains $480 million for grants administered by the Office on Violence Against Women, the highest funding level ever provided. The funding includes $45 million for legal assistance for victims. The legislation also includes $270 million for juvenile justice programs, $68 million for Second Chance Act grants, $6 million for veterans treatment courts, $125 million for addressing the backlog of DNA testing of sexual assault kits, and $45 million for grants to assist victims of human trafficking. The cap on the Crime Victims Fund is increased to $3.04 billion to help victims of violent crime and their families receive critical care and services and allow states to, among other things, provide victim assistance grants to non-profit organizations for counseling, legal assistance and outreach services.

Immigration. The law increases funding for immigration courts by $76 million for a total of $427 million to provide for 55 additional immigration judge teams. A total of $695 million is provided to house, process and transport up to 58,000 unaccompanied children and families with children. Included in the total $5.832 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement is $1.9 billion to support investigations in several areas, including human trafficking and smuggling, child exploitation, commercial fraud and intellectual property rights enforcement, gangs, cybercrimes and terrorism.

Veterans. Veterans homeless programs are funded at $1.4 billion, and $2.7 billion is included for processing of the backlog of veterans benefits claims.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC receives $1.605 billion, which is $105 million more than the commission was appropriated in fiscal year 2015.

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