House Republicans try to block 911 system funding for cities that reduce police budgets

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The effort failed when the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted down a GOP amendment that would have cut funding.

House Republicans tried unsuccessfully on Monday to penalize communities that reduce police funding by taking away money in President Joe Biden's proposed $3.5 trillion Build Back Better investment package intended for upgrading local 911 services.

They then claimed that by opposing the proposed amendment, Democrats were refusing to support law enforcement.

The attempt came during a markup of the Energy and Commerce Committee's portion of the investment package. The legislation includes $10 billion, to be spent over five years, for community grants to implement, operate, and maintain the Next Generation 911 system.

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) offered an amendment that would have denied funds to entities that have "made any efforts or taken action (including voting on ordinances, budgets, legislation, or resolutions) to defund or eliminate law enforcement." It was defeated on a party-line vote of 25 yeas to 32 nays.

"I was proud to offer an amendment to withhold funding for 911 service upgrades from any jurisdiction that voted to defund police #BackTheBlue," Johnson tweeted on Monday night.

"Clearly, historically high crime rates aren't enough to convince Democrats to support our police. Not one Democrat voted for @RepBillJohnson's amendment," Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee charged. "Democrats still want to #DefundThePolice."

"Democrats just voted to give tax dollars for 911 services to cities that want to defund the police officers that would respond to those calls. Absolutely outrageous! #BackTheBlue," agreed the House Republican Policy Committee.

According to the National 911 Program's website, the Next Generation 911 effort is aimed at upgrading local 911 services from their original analog systems to digital or Internet Protocol-based. This will mean a faster system that can accept photos, videos, and text messages.

Though 911 is used for a variety of emergency response services, including ambulances and fire and rescue departments, some GOP lawmakers on the committee suggested that there was no point in improving systems for places that reduce their police spending.

"If this entity, whether it's a city or a state, decides to take actions to defund or eliminate police department, why would they need this 911 funding if they're going to eliminate law enforcement?" asked Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko.

"Why would entities that vote to defund the police be rewarded with funding to upgrade their 911 infrastructure?" argued Pennsylvania Rep. John Joyce. "NG911 is important, but it is an oxymoron to supply this to cities who defund the police."

Republicans have inaccurately suggested that defunding the police amounts to eliminating law enforcement completely.

According to a May report by the Brookings Institution, advocates of the idea seek "to demilitarize police departments and reallocate funding to trained mental health workers and social workers to reduce unnecessary violent encounters between police and citizens."

Contrary to GOP claims, few communities or Democratic lawmakers have backed the idea.

While House Republicans have attacked efforts to reduce funds for the police, they also unanimously voted against Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which sent $350 billion in emergency funds to cash-strapped state, local, territorial, and tribal governments, including for law enforcement.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.