Val Demings tries new route to get anti-terrorism money for Orlando - Florida Politics

Val Demings tries new route to get anti-terrorism money for Orlando

Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings has attached an amendment to a Homeland Security bill hoping for another route to get anti-terrorism money for Orlando and other cities left out of a federal grants program.

On Wednesday Demings got the amendment into House Resolution 2825, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2017, during a U.S. House Homeland Security Committee hearing, to create a new avenue for anti-terrorism grants to at-risk cities.

Such money has been distributed to cities the department ranks as having the highest risks for terrorism, providing multi-million grants for law enforcement to beef up anti-terrorism capabilities. Orlando received such grants several times through 2014, but hasn’t qualified since.

Demings and others in Florida’s congressional delegation have argued that the department’s criteria don’t adequately take into account such things as the many millions of visitors the City Beautiful hosts each year. Congress members from other cities such as San Antonio had joined Demings in previous efforts to get Homeland Security to reassess its criteria.

The new program, outlined in Demings’ amendment, would permit cities and jurisdictions that previously received anti-terrorism grants to apply for new funding under a new program, to sustain counter-terrorism training and equipment. It would be a competitive grant program, and would authorize at least $39 million for the purposes of allowing high-risk urban areas that were previously eligible.

“Earlier this week, we observed the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub attack. The preparation that led to our local first responders’ successful response was created through previous grant investments, particularly the Urban Area Security Initiative,” Demings stated in a news release. “Unfortunately, the old UASI funding that is supporting some capabilities in Orlando will soon expire, and despite the Pulse nightclub attack, Orlando is, once again, an unfunded UASI.

“This legislation would help ensure that Orlando does not lose ground on preparedness,” she continued. “I believe we have no greater obligation than to keep the people that we represent safe from harm.”

She also offered two other amendments that were adopted into the bill by the committee, with the backing of the chair, Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who also backed her grant program amendment.

– Her second amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to perform an independent review of the risk formula and award processes for the urban areas grant program.

– The third would authorize funding for the Transportation Security Administration to continue to staff airport security exit lanes with federal Transportation Security Officers.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.
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