Hill Updates

Congress Approves Fiscal Year 2017 Spending Package

(May 4, 2017) – Congress has approved H.R. 244, an omnibus spending bill to fund programs and activities of the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year.  As CFSI reported earlier this week, the bill funds the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs at the same levels as Fiscal Year 2016.  The bill also provided modest increases in funding for the Urban Search and Rescue Response System and the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program.  

The House approved the omnibus spending measure on Wednesday, May 3rd, clearing the way for the Senate’s approval of the bill on Thursday, May 4th.  The full text of H.R. 244 can be viewed here.

House Judiciary Committee Approves The Honoring Hometown Heroes Act

(May 4, 2017) – On May 3, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 1892, the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act, by voice vote.  The legislation, which was introduced by Congressman John Larson (CT-1), amends the U.S. Flag Code, affirming the ability of state governors, as well as the mayor of the District of Columbia, to order the lowering of the United States flag to half-staff in the event of the death of a first responder in the line- of- duty.  

In 2013, CFSI’s National Advisory Committee approved a resolution calling on CFSI to support the legislation.  Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate later this month.

Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Spending Bill Released

(May 1, 2017) – In the early morning hours of Monday, May 1st, Congressional leaders introduced H.R. 244, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, a $1.07 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year.  Currently, the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution, which expires on Friday, May 5th.  Congress will need to approve the omnibus spending measure before the Friday deadline to avoid a government shutdown.  

Included in the spending package is funding for several programs of significance to the nation’s fire and emergency services.  The Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs are funded at $690 million, split evenly between the two programs.  The State Homeland Security Grant Program is funded at $467 million.  This is the same funding level Congress approved for these three programs in Fiscal Year 2016.  Additionally, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) is funded at $44 million, the same level as the previous fiscal year.  

Several programs receive a slight increase in funding under the measure.  The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) is funded at $605 million, an increase of $5 million compared to Fiscal Year 2016.  The bill also provides $38,200,000 for the Urban Search and Rescue Response System (USAR), an increase of $3.1 million.  The Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program is funded at $15 million, an increase of $2 million from Fiscal Year 2016.  

“These figures contained in the omnibus measure affirm the importance of maintaining communications with our elected leaders,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  “Our hope is that the House and Senate will move swiftly on final passage so that these funds can be appropriated to the aforementioned programs that continue providing support to our nation’s fire departments.  We appreciate the commitment the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as well as the leadership of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, have given to our nation’s first responders and we look forward to working with them as the complete work on funding the federal government for the current fiscal year and we turn our focus to the Fiscal Year 2018 spending bills.”  

The House could potentially vote on the omnibus spending package as earlier as Wednesday, May 3rd.  If approved, the measure would then be sent to the Senate.  CFSI will continue to provide updates throughout the appropriations process.

CFSI Releases 2017 Legislative Outlook

(March 23, 2017) – The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) has released a Legislative Outlook for the First Session of the 115th Congress.  In 2017, Congress will consider a number of critically important issues to the nation’s fire and emergency services. Their actions will have a direct impact on the fire service’s ability to prepare for, respond to, prevent, and mitigate incidents both large and small: natural and man-made, local and national in scope.  The CFSI Legislative Outlook is intended to be a resource for members of the fire service, detailing some of critical issues Congress will be considering.  

“On April 5th and 6th, nearly 2,000 fire service leaders will be in Washington, DC attending the 2017 National Fire and Emergency Services Symposium and Dinner.  As part of the event, they will be on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress to discuss a number of critical issues,” said Bill Webb, CFSI’s Executive Director.  “We hope this document will not only prove to be a valuable resource for them while they prepare for their trip to our nation’s capital, but also for the members of Congress they will be meeting with.”  

The 2017 CFSI Legislative Outlook can be found at CFSI’s website, as well as a list of current legislation pending before Congress.  

Congressmen Reichert and Larson Introduce the Volunteer Emergency Responder Incentive Protection Act in the House

(March 17, 2017) – On Wednesday, March 15th, Congressman David Reichert (WA-8) and Congressman John Larson (CT-1) introduced H.R. 1550, the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act, in the House.  The legislation would exempt from federal income tax any property tax benefit, and up to $600 per year of any other type of benefit, that a state or local unit of government provides to volunteer emergency responders as a recruitment or retention incentive.  The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved similar legislation during the 114th Congress, but it failed to advance through both chambers before the end of the legislative session.  

Without the services of volunteer fire service personnel, many communities could not provide emergency services protection, while others would need to raise taxes to pay salaries and benefits for full or part-time staff.  To bolster recruitment and retention, many volunteer fire departments now provide a number of incentives, including non-monetary gifts, reductions in property taxes or other fees, per-call payments, stipends, and retirement benefits. Volunteer benefits are typically small, but demonstrate community support.

As volunteer incentives have become more prevalent, the Internal Revenue Service has made ensuring that benefits are properly reported and taxed a priority.  Complying with IRS reporting requirements can often be burdensome for some volunteer fire departments, many of which are located in small communities that may not employ full-time administrative staff.  The Volunteer Incentive Protection Act would allow local agencies to provide nominal benefits without having to worry about being audited by the IRS. It would also enhance the incentive value of the benefits by allowing volunteer firefighters  to keep the entire amount.

H.R. 1550 has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.  

Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act Reintroduced in the House and Senate

(March 17, 2017) – On Thursday, March 9th, Senator Susan Collins (ME) and Senator Tom Carper (DE) introduced S. 602, the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act. Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23) and Congressman Jim Langevin (RI-2) introduced identical legislation, H.R. 1481, in the House. The bill creates a tax incentive for building owners to retrofit properties with automatic fire sprinkler systems.

First introduced following the deadly Station Nightclub fire in West Warwick, RI in 2003, the legislation creates a tax incentive for property owners to retrofit existing buildings with automatic sprinkler systems.  Specifically, the bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to include automated fire sprinkler system retrofits as a section 179 property.  This would allow small and medium-sized businesses to deduct the cost of retrofitting a building with an automatic sprinkler system.  Additionally, the bill would classify automated fire sprinkler system retrofits in high-rise buildings as a 15-year property for purposes of depreciation.  Currently, the depreciation schedule for a fire sprinkler retrofit is 39-years in a commercial building and 27 ½- years in a residential building.  

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2015, there were 1,345,500 fires reported in the United States, leading to 3,280 civilian fire deaths, 15,700 civilian injuries, and $14.3 billion in property damage.  Studies by NFPA have concluded that buildings outfitted with sprinklers reduce the death rate per fire by at least 57% and decrease the property damage by up to 68%.

S. 602 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.  H.R. 1481 has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.