Springfield State Journal Register

June 30, 2006

House approves increase in justice assistance grant


WASHINGTON - Days after the cousin of a prominent gang leader was arrested on drug and weapons charges in La Salle, the House Thursday approved a funding bill that would provide a 45 percent increase for a grant program that county sheriffs in Illinois say is critical for fighting drug trafficking.

In his budget request to Congress earlier this year, President Bush proposed eliminating the program, which had Illinois law enforcement officials worried. Illinois received $14.3 million in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants funding this year. The grants, named for a slain New York City police officer, are used to assist multijurisdictional drug-fighting efforts.

“The Byrne grant certainly is critical to the operation of our local drug task force that operates here in La Salle and Bureau counties,” said La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton in a conference call Thursday with reporters. He was joined by Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, and other local sheriffs.

The House included $608 million for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program as part of a $60 billion funding bill for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State and several independent agencies, such as NASA. The full bill was approved 393-23. Earlier this week, the House approved an amendment adding $50 million above what the House Appropriations Committee had included.

The $608 million approved by the House is a 45 percent increase from the current level of $416 million, Weller said.

The House bill “clearly provides for more resources to be put on the ground throughout Illinois,” Weller told reporters.

The Senate hasn’t yet passed its version of the funding bill for fiscal 2007, which begins Oct. 1. If the amounts differ, a compromise must be worked out in House-Senate conference.