Bill bolsters borders, first responders

Senate Democrats are moving ahead with their own plans to enhance homeland security at the nation's borders and target more money for first responders.

They introduced legislation Jan. 9 — the Justice Enhancement and Domestic Security Act of 2003 — that would authorize $12 billion over three years for public safety officers and border security.

The legislation calls for money to hire additional Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel at the nation's borders and $250 million in technology for improving border security. It also includes more money for community policing — putting more police officers on the beat in the nation's cities, towns and neighborhoods.

"This bill represents an important next step in the continuing efforts by Senate Democrats to enhance homeland security and to enact tough, yet balanced, reforms to our criminal justice system," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.

A separate bill, first introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) last year and reintroduced on Jan. 7, would provide $3.5 billion directly to local police, fire and emergency responders.

The legislation allocates funding through the new Homeland Security Department to communities across the United States to help improve emergency response and public safety at the local level.

"This is my first order of business because America's first responders should be first on our domestic security agenda," Clinton said in a statement.

In December 2002, the Bush administration decided to delay $1.5 billion in law enforcement and antiterrorism assistance allocated by Congress to local police departments because of a stalemate over the fiscal 2003 budget.

The budget freeze continues as Congress tries to work out plans to create a giant funding bill for fiscal 2003 that would keep the government operating at current levels. In the meantime, state and local governments are waiting for money to bolster security, and federal agencies are waiting for money, too, to enhance information security systems.

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