05.06.15

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Senate Passage of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015

This week, the Senate is poised to pass the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015.  The law enforcement community is unified in its support of this program because it quite simply saves lives.  To date, this program has provided more than 13,000 state and local law enforcement agencies with nearly 1.2 million bulletproof vests, including nearly 4,400 to officers in Vermont. 

Senator Graham and I have been working to address any and all concerns that certain Republican Senators have raised about the bill.  We are prepared, for example, to accept an amendment from Senator Lee that would reduce the authorization level from $30 million annually to $25 million.  Unfortunately, I learned yesterday that a single Republican Senator continues to maintain a hold on this bill, continuing a pattern from the last Congress of unwarranted obstructionism.  I have been in contact with a number of law enforcement groups representing officers around the country, and I know that they are all incredibly disappointed that this bill continues to be blocked.

The Bulletproof Vest Partnership has helped to establish protective vests as standard equipment for law enforcement agencies across the country.  Yet for far too many jurisdictions – especially rural and smaller agencies – vests still cost too much and wear out too soon.  We know that bulletproof vests will not save every officer, but they have already saved the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers since 1987.  I have met with police officers who are alive today because of vests purchased through this program, and they will attest to the fact that this program saves lives.  These vests also are a comfort for families, to know that their loved ones have them.

While I will keep fighting for passage of this bulletproof vests legislation, we must also make sure that our work to make our communities safer for all continues.  Over the past few years, the Senate has come together to protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence by reauthorizing and reinvigorating the Violence Against Women Act.  We have worked to protect racial and religious minorities and the LGBT community when we passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  We came together to pass the Innocence Protection Act and the Drug Free Communities Act.  And just a few months ago, we came together to enact the Death in Custody Act to bring needed transparency to every death that occurs in police custody, and we need to do more to prevent such tragedies. 

In the coming weeks, I hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee will turn its attention to the bipartisan effort to end mass incarceration.  I am working with Chairman Grassley on the importance of legal representation for those accused of misdemeanor offenses.  Chairman Grassley is working with Senator Whitehouse and others to improve our juvenile justice system.  Senator Rand Paul and I are working to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences.  I also support the work of Senators Durbin and Lee who are seeking to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes.  We have an historic opportunity to restore the faith that Americans should have in the justice system.  If we work together, I know we can make meaningful improvements so that our entire justice system lives up to its name. 

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