WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden on Thursday is scheduled to sign three pieces of bipartisan legislation into law that support law enforcement, U.S. federal officers and other first responders.
Biden will give remarks during a White House ceremony and sign each into law: S. 1511, the "Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021, S. 1502, the "Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support Counseling Act or the COPS Counseling Act," and S. 921, the "Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act."
Mobile app users, click here to watch the remarks and signing live.
The White House ceremony in the State Dining Room is scheduled to begin at 9:45 a.m. ET.
FILE - President Joe Biden delivers remarks on ending the war in Afghanistan, on Aug. 31, 2021, in front of the Cross Hall of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
The "Protecting America’s First Responders Act of 2021" was unanimously passed in the Senate and led by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. It aims to better ensure that law enforcement and first responders who are disabled in the line of duty have prompt access to benefits.
Under the current program, disability or death benefits are provided in the form of a one-time lump-sum payment, which is adjusted yearly based on the consumer price index, according to a statement from Grassley’s office. Benefits may also be issued to a surviving spouse or children in the form of monthly education assistance.
The new legislation requires the benefit award amount to be based on the date of the adjudication, rather than the date of the injury, to account for increases in the cost of living that may occur during lengthy processing periods.
It was co-sponsored by more than a dozen Republican and Democratic senators.
Biden will also sign the "Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act," which aims to encourage the adoption of law enforcement peer counseling programs across the U.S. and protect the privacy of federal officers as they seek mental health support.
The COPS bill, authored by Grassley and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, would provide confidentiality to federal law enforcement officers who use peer counseling services, while excepting admissions of criminal conduct or threats of serious physical harm. It would also encourage first responder agencies to adopt peer counseling programs by requiring the DOJ to make best practices publicly available on its website and to provide a list of training programs for individuals to become peer support mentors.
A statement from Masto’s office noted that 73% of law enforcement officer respondents of a recent survey said peer support programs were the most helpful mental health resource. But the survey also found that confidentiality concerns prevented many officers from accessing peer support teams.
The final piece of legislation Biden is scheduled to sign into law, the "Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act," aims to ensure individuals who have killed or attempted to kill U.S. federal officers and employees serving abroad can be brought to justice and prosecuted in the U.S.
The bill is named for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, who were attacked by Mexican drug cartels in San Luis Potosi, Mexico on Feb. 15, 2011.
Zapata died from his injuries, and although his murderers were apprehended, a federal appeals court in 2020 dismissed the murder convictions on the basis that the district court did not have jurisdiction over the crimes committed against law enforcement stationed overseas, according to a statement from Grassley’s office, who voted in favor of the legislation.
"Federal officers lost while serving our nation abroad should be entitled to the same justice that they’d receive while serving our nation at home," Grassley said. "This bill clarifies that those who do harm to our federal public servants will face the consequences in an American court of law, regardless of where their crimes occurs."
The legislation was led by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Coons, D-Del., and also co-sponsored by four other Democratic and Republican senators.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.