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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., today rolled out legislation that would require the president to disclose the topline annual budget request to Congress from each of the 16 federal agencies conducting intelligence activities. Currently, spending levels for these federal intelligence agencies and activities is classified and hidden from the public.

The Intelligence Budget Transparency Act would require the president’s annual budget request to make public the amount of funding budgeted for intelligence agencies and activities, creating greater transparency and oversight over how much is spent annually by the intelligence community.

By operating secret programs funded by secret budgets, our national intelligence agencies enjoy a blank check as far as the American taxpayers are concerned,” Wyden said. “With little to no public oversight, it is even more important that Americans have at least some sense of whether they’re getting what they paid for. Requiring the disclosure of these budget requests is the first step in achieving greater accountability and transparency of these agencies.”

“Protecting our national security means keeping many things secret from our enemies, but Congress should not be the ones in the dark. Just as the military can provide budget information without jeopardizing our security, so too can the Intelligence Community. This bill would declassify the top-line budget number of each of our Intelligence Community entities, adding a level of much-needed transparency,” said Senator Paul

"The biggest threat to the success of any federal program is a combination of unlimited money and non-existent oversight. That's the situation Congress has allowed to develop in the critical work of intelligence gathering,” Welch said. “The top-line intelligence budgets for America's 16 intelligence agencies are unknown to the American taxpayer and largely unknown to the Members of Congress who represent them. It's led to dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness. Americans have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and that their national security interests are being well served.”

“Properly funding our intelligence gathering agencies is critical to keeping Americans safe and secure. However, failure to disclose budgetary requests for these agencies does not meet the most basic government transparency standards,” Sensenbrenner said. “By declassifying the top-line budgets of each agency, this bill expands accountability to make certain taxpayer dollars are spent effectively while still protecting national security.” 

The bill would require disclosure of funding requests from the following agencies: Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Department of State, and Navy Intelligence. 

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By: Juliegrace Brufke of The Hill

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) says he plans to seek the House Judiciary Committee gavel next year.

“I will be running for chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” Collins said at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Ripon Society on Thursday. “Some of you may say, 'Three terms, getting ready for a fourth term, and you're going to run for chairman of the Judiciary Committee?' I think it is about a vision. I think — I think we have a lot of turnover in our committee this year, and what I am putting forward is a vision of saying that there are things in our committee that are ripe for the next real resurgence in our economy." 

Collins, who currently serves as the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said, if he's elected Judiciary chair, he would focus on issues he believes "will impact the next 40 to 50 years of our economy," citing intellectual property and immigration as areas he feels need to be reformed. 

The Judiciary committee is slated to look dramatically different in the 116th Congress, with current Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) all set to leave Congress at the end of their terms.

While the most senior member on the committee behind Goodlatte, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), has already served as chairman, seniority could be Collins's biggest issue in the race. 

GOP Reps. Steve Chabot (Ohio), Steve King (Iowa), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Tom Marino (Pa.) all rank above Collins. 

Chabot is likely to be Collins’s biggest competition in the race. 

“[Chabot] is running for chair," a GOP aide with knowledge of the congressman's plans told The Hill, adding it's unclear when he will officially announce his bid. 

By: Katie Bo Williams of The Hill

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday renewed a push to require the president to disclose the top-line budget request for each of the 16 federal agencies that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Currently, only the overall top-line figure is not classified — split between two aggregates of military and national intelligence, like the CIA and the FBI.

The bill, from Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in the Senate and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) in the House, would require the president’s annual budget request to make public an agency-by-agency breakdown.

“Protecting our national security means keeping many things secret from our enemies, but Congress should not be the ones in the dark,” Paul said in a statement. "Just as the military can provide budget information without jeopardizing our security, so too can the Intelligence Community.” 

Critics of the move argue that providing that level of detail — particularly in the case of smaller agencies — would give away too much information to adversaries about U.S. intelligence priorities. Only since 2007 has the national intelligence budget been made public.

Welch, with support from Sensenbrenner, has pushed since 2014 to cut down on the secrecy surrounding the so-called black budget, but has been rebuffed by both the Obama and Trump administrations.

“Beyond the disclosure of the NIP top-line figure, there will be no other disclosures of currently classified NIP budget information because such disclosures could harm national security,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in its 2019 budget request.

In 2013, the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided detailed figures on that year’s budget to The Washington Post, revealing a dominant $14.7 billion in CIA funding — an increase of over 50 percent between 2004 and 2013 — and $10.8 billion in NSA funding.

With the exception of the relevant intelligence and armed services committees, lawmakers are largely in the dark — leading to “dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness,” according to Welch.

The Trump administration requested a total of $81 billion for the year 2019 — $59.9 billion for national intelligence and $21.2 billion for military intelligence—up from the $78.4 that the administration requested for 2018.

By: KTVZ

WASHINGTON - Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., rolled out legislation Friday that would require the president to disclose the topline annual budget request to Congress from each of the 16 federal agencies conducting intelligence activities.

Currently, spending levels for these federal intelligence agencies and activities is classified and hidden from the public, the lawmakers said.

The Intelligence Budget Transparency Act would require the president’s annual budget request to make public the amount of funding budgeted for intelligence agencies and activities, creating greater transparency and oversight over how much is spent annually by the intelligence community.

 “By operating secret programs funded by secret budgets, our national intelligence agencies enjoy a blank check as far as the American taxpayers are concerned,” Wyden said. “With little to no public oversight, it is even more important that Americans have at least some sense of whether they’re getting what they paid for. Requiring the disclosure of these budget requests is the first step in achieving greater accountability and transparency of these agencies.”

“Protecting our national security means keeping many things secret from our enemies, but Congress should not be the ones in the dark. Just as the military can provide budget information without jeopardizing our security, so too can the Intelligence Community. This bill would declassify the top-line budget number of each of our Intelligence Community entities, adding a level of much-needed transparency,” said Senator Paul. 

 "The biggest threat to the success of any federal program is a combination of unlimited money and non-existent oversight. That's the situation Congress has allowed to develop in the critical work of intelligence gathering,” Welch said. “The top-line intelligence budgets for America's 16 intelligence agencies are unknown to the American taxpayer and largely unknown to the Members of Congress who represent them. It's led to dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness. Americans have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and that their national security interests are being well served.”

“Properly funding our intelligence gathering agencies is critical to keeping Americans safe and secure. However, failure to disclose budgetary requests for these agencies does not meet the most basic government transparency standards,” Sensenbrenner said. “By declassifying the top-line budgets of each agency, this bill expands accountability to make certain taxpayer dollars are spent effectively while still protecting national security.” 

The bill would require disclosure of funding requests from the following agencies: Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Department of State, and Navy Intelligence.

By: Matthew DeFour of the Wisconsin State Journal

Three of Madison’s most economically challenged areas, including the shuttered Oscar Mayer plant, could benefit from a new economic development tool created under the recently enacted federal tax law.

Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday named 120 areas of the state that could be eligible for the program, including 11 in Dane County.

The new Economic Opportunity Zones allow redevelopment in designated low-income areas with investment funds that won’t be subject to the usual capital gains tax. The designations, if approved by the U.S. Treasury Department in the next 30 to 60 days, would be in place for the next decade.

“We are excited to embrace Economic Opportunity Zones as a new tool to build on our track record of economic growth,” Walker said. “These recommendations reach communities across our state — urban, rural and tribal — that are positioned for strong and sustained growth.”

The 120 designated census tracts are located in 44 counties and include 85 in metropolitan areas and 35 in non-metropolitan areas. Milwaukee County has the most with 37.

Each census tract must have enough low-income households to be eligible. Only 25 percent of the 479 eligible census tracts in the state could be selected so Walker recommended the maximum amount allowed.

Dane County nominated 19 tracts for consideration, so having 11 selected was “very positive,” said Paul Jadin, president of the Madison Region Economic Partnership.

Some of the tracts are contiguous, so they form four distinct areas in Dane County: Madison’s North and Northeast side neighborhoods around Oscar Mayer, the Dane County Regional Airport and the Madison Area Technical College campus and part of the Capitol East corridor; a large area along the Beltline from Allied Drive to Monona, including the Alliant Energy Center and the Villager Mall; the University Research Park and the Meadowood Neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side; and part of Sun Prairie.

The Oscar Mayer area was the highest priority in Dane County, Jadin said. The city has a development team working on attracting investment to that site and has applied for a $500,000 state grant for idle factory site redevelopment and federal funding.

Two lower-priority areas in Middleton and the Hawthorne and Lake Edge neighborhoods and area around Highland Park on Madison’s East Side were not selected. The Greenbush, Vilas, Waunona and Bridge-Lakepoint neighborhoods on the South Side and the neighborhoods near Lake Mendota on the North Side were nominated as high priorities but not recommended by Walker.

Mayor Paul Soglin said the city is pleased with the outcome, though it remains to be seen what kind of private investment will be spurred by the tax break.

“We feel we did very well,” Soglin said. “Nobody knows exactly how this is going to work. We’re going into new territory. We’ll have to take that a step at a time.”

The city did not submit all eligible areas, Soglin said. For example, the State-Langdon neighborhood qualified because it included UW-Madison student housing, but the city felt it would be “counterproductive” and “not meeting the purpose of the law” to submit that tract for consideration. The Downtown and campus area tracts were also eligible but not nominated.

The recommendations from Walker came from a working group with members from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., Department of Administration and Department of Children and Families, public comment and an analysis by Chicago-based consultant Novogradac & Co., according to Walker’s office.

Economic Opportunity Zones were a concept developed in 2015 by the Economic Innovation Group, which bills itself as a bipartisan Washington, D.C., think tank founded by entrepreneurs. The concept was promoted in a bill sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, including Reps. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls.

The idea was later incorporated into the American Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) applauded Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) for his relentless and unwavering support of the fiscal interests of American taxpayers while serving in Congress. Rep. Sensenbrenner is one of the 12 lawmakers to earn a perfect score of 100 percent in CCAGW’s 2017 Congressional Ratings, making him a “Taxpayer Super Hero.” He currently has an exemplary lifetime rating of 95 percent.

The report, which CCAGW has issued since 1989, highlights the voting records of all 535 members of Congress. It identifies members whose impeccable voting records helped protect and save the taxpayers’ money, earning them the honored title of “Taxpayer Super Hero,” and cites those who consistently voted against the fiscal interest of taxpayers.

CCAGW rates members of both chambers on a 0-100 percent scale. Members are placed in the following categories: 0-19 percent Hostile; 20-39 percent Unfriendly; 40-59 percent Lukewarm; 60-79 percent Friendly; 80-99 percent Taxpayer Hero; and 100 percent Taxpayer Super Hero. The 2017 Congressional Ratings scored 93 votes in the House of Representatives and 27 votes in the Senate.

“We applaud and wholeheartedly thank Rep. Sensenbrenner for his tireless work on behalf of the taxpayers while serving in Congress,” said CCAGW President Tom Schatz. “His courageous votes to cut wasteful spending and make government more accountable should serve as an example to other members, challenging them to make good on promises to protect the fiscal interests of American taxpayers.”

“We have no doubt that Rep. Sensenbrenner will continue to help lead the effort to eliminate government waste and bring fiscal sanity to Washington,” added Schatz. “His constituents should be very proud of him.”

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste is the lobbying arm of Citizens Against Government Waste, the nation’s largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.

By: David Kroman of Crosscut

What was once a first-of-its-kind jail diversion program between Seattle police and local case workers may soon land on the desk of President Donald Trump, a man known more for his threats to execute drug dealers than his willingness to find new solutions to an out-of-control opioid epidemic.

But first-term Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is finding support on both sides of the aisle for funding the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) in the 2019 federal budget.

“It’s got the attention of Republicans because LEAD is a program that offers social services to people instead of incarcerating them,” Jayapal, a Democrat, said in an interview Tuesday.

LEAD first began in Seattle in 2011 as a response to racially disproportionate drug-related arrests. While post-arrest diversion programs are common in courts across the country, LEAD was unprecedented in that police officers would not make an arrest right away, avoiding the messy and often harmful bureaucracy of the criminal justice system.

Instead, officers connect low-level offenders — such as drug possession or prostitution — with case workers. What makes LEAD even more unique is that the diversion does not come with the same level of requirements as drug courts. The only thing required of a participant is an intake assessment, and if a drug user continues to use, they won’t be arrested.

It’s a program in the same “harm reduction” arena as needle exchanges for heroin users, built on the idea that assistance need not come with a sobriety requirement and that society’s hope for a person may not always align with the current reality. Or, as public defender and LEAD founder Lisa Daugaard likes to say, that “better is better.”

Another unique aspect of the LEAD program was that from the beginning, its success has been contingent on collaboration with the criminal justice system. In addition to a wide range of business, neighborhood and advocacy groups, Daugaard worked closely with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and City Attorney Pete Holmes as well as with local law enforcement to make it a reality.

In the years that have followed, data has shown the program to be effective at keeping people out of jail and reducing recidivism. Participants are more likely to find housing and/or a job, and to come away with a positive view of local enforcement. The program was highlighted in a recent Frontline documentary as a new approach to the opioid epidemic.

As a result, LEAD has already begun to spread, and is currently or soon to be operating in 25 cities from Portland, Oregon to Huntington, West Virginia. An additional 36 cities are either developing programs or exploring the idea.

But this expansion has not come with the aid of the federal government. Now, both Daugaard and Jayapal are optimistic that could change, thanks to the broad support from communities who have seen it work. “They have a significant issue in their state and they’re hearing from law enforcement that this approach is effective,” said Daugaard.

Jayapal, for her part, has been interested in LEAD since her time as a state senator in Olympia. After she was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2016, she was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee, which gave her an opening. “When I came it was just a natural thing for me to work on, being on the judiciary committee” she said.

This past September, she sent a letter to the chair of the House Appropriations Committee requesting $2.5 million for the program in the 2019 budget. At that time, she only had the support of fellow Democrats.

But by December, Republicans started coming on board, including Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis), whom Jayapal pegged as a Republican with an interest in criminal justice reform. She also collected signatures from Republicans Walter Jones, David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Mike Johnson. With that support, she sent another letter re-stating the call for the $2.5 million on March 13.

The proposal also has some traction in the U.S. Senate: In a March 15 letter sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee, 12 Democrats included LEAD as one of a number of proposals aimed at reducing opioid-related arrests. No Republicans signed the letter.

Daugaard concedes that $2.5 million isn’t anywhere near enough to run the program country-wide. But what’s important, she says, is what it symbolizes. “We’re not talking about a level that would support implementation of LEAD nationwide, so I don’t want to overstate [the funding’s] significance,” she said. “The significance here is really about a paradigm shift… The further down the road you go, the harder it is to turn back.”

Jayapal is genuinely optimistic about the funding’s chances, in part because it’s such a small amount of money. “I think that the chances are pretty good,” she said. “Then the question becomes, can we expand our understanding of LEAD? Can we get it into the main conversation as a practical solution to the opioid crisis?…I do think Republicans have an appetite for this.”

David Bowdich
Acting Deputy Director
Statement Before the House Judiciary Committee
Washington, D.C.
March 20, 2018

Chairman Sensenbrenner, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, members of the committee, it is my privilege to appear before you today as the Deputy Director of the FBI.

On February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a former student allegedly shot 17 innocent people and caused significant physical and emotional harm to countless others. This tragedy abruptly ended the lives of kids who had their lives and dreams ahead of them, and stole from their families the right to watch their children grow into adulthood. As you know, the alleged perpetrator of this unspeakable violence is in custody and has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder by the state of Florida.

To the victims, families, and friends of those who were killed or injured on that day: Director Wray and I and the rest of the FBI extend our deepest sympathies to you. Though nothing can be said to undo the hurt and loss you all feel, please know the FBI continues to work closely with our state and local law partners in Florida to ensure that justice is served.

Unfortunately, as was disclosed by the FBI shortly after this terrible incident, the FBI did receive two separate tips that we now know were related to the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz. As the FBI Director has made clear, the FBI could have and should have done more to investigate the information it was provided prior to the shooting. While we will never know if any such investigative activity would have prevented this tragedy, we clearly should have done more.

Our investigation continues into exactly what the FBI learned prior to February 14, 2018, and what we did and did not do in response.

To summarize the results of our investigation to date, let me walk the Committee through the relevant timeline as we understand it.

It is important to know the FBI receives tips from the public through our Public Access Line, or PAL. The PAL is the FBI’s central contact center for all calls, electronic tips, and public leads made to the FBI’s 56 field offices. The access line is responsible for receiving and vetting information from the public, then disseminating it to the field as actionable tips and leads for special agents and intelligence analysts. To understand the volume of leads we receive, during 2017, the PAL handled approximately 765,000 calls and 735,000 e-mail tips.

On September 25, 2017, the FBI received an e-mail tip from a person in Mississippi who indicated that a person, unknown to him, posted on his YouTube page the following text: “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” The posting was from the username “Nikolas Cruz.”

In response to this tip, the PAL opened what the FBI calls a “Guardian” lead and assigned it to the FBI’s Jackson Field Office in Mississippi. Upon receipt of the Guardian lead, an FBI special agent, along with a local task force officer, visited the tipster and interviewed him on October 2, 2017. At the time of this interview, the agent was provided a copy of a “screen shot” of the subject post.

The agent conducted searches of both FBI databases and open sources. Believing the true identity of the poster could not be determined, the Guardian lead was closed on October 11, 2017, with no other investigative activity.

A few months later, on January 5, 2018, at 2:32 p.m., the FBI received another tip by way of a call to the PAL. The caller identified herself as a close friend of the Cruz family. The caller provided the following information about Cruz:

  • Statements about Cruz harming himself and others;
  • References to ISIS;
  • That he had threatened his mother with a rifle;
  • That he had purchased several weapons;
  • That he wanted to kill people and was going to explode;
  • That he was mutilating small animals; and
  • That the caller was concerned that Cruz might shoot up a school.

The caller also noted that Cruz was 18 years old but had the mental capacity of a 12- to 14-year-old. She indicated that she was very concerned and had contacted the Parkland Police Department, and wanted someone to look into this matter.

Upon finishing the call, the FBI operator conducted a search of FBI databases and found the closed Guardian lead out of Mississippi. The operator then consulted with her supervisor and the matter was closed. The information received was never forwarded to a field office or to any of our State or local partners for further review or action. 

As FBI officials learned of the Parkland shooting incident, FBI personnel conducted a search of its holdings and discovered the two tips.

Please know the FBI is committed to maximum transparency in all that we do on behalf of the American people. While I cannot fathom the agony, horror, and anger of the parents of these young people who were robbed of their futures, I do again want to express our sorrow and remorse to the family members.

When we make mistakes, we will not hide them, and we are committed, with your help, to doing whatever is necessary to correct our mistakes and prevent tragedies like this one from being repeated.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.

FOX News

Senator Jeff Flake warned President Donald Trump against firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, saying that "no one" wants to see impeachment proceedings.

Flake, an Arizona Republican who is often critical of the president, said firing Mueller would "create a Constitutional crisis."

Mueller is investigating possible Russian collusion in Trump's election victory, and is currently probing the former businessman's real estate firm.

"Congress cannot preempt such a firing," Flake said on Twitter. "Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact, through impeachment."

Flake added that neither he nor anyone else wants to see Trump or Congress go through what they did two decades ago.

In late 1998, the House filed impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton on allegations of perjury.

The Senate, of which Flake is now a member, acquitted Clinton on all charges in early 1999.

Three members of the committee tasked with considering Clinton's impeachment remain in Congress today: Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Graham has also called a potential Mueller dismissal an impeachable offense.

Additionally, the seat of one key Republican member of the Judiciary Committee at the time, Republican Rep. James Rogan of California, is now held by Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) - the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, probing Russian interference.

Schiff beat Rogan in the 2000 elections in a historically expensive contest.

By: Evie Blad of Education Week

An Obama administration directive with the aim of driving down disproportionately high school discipline rates for black and Latino students took center stage at a congressional hearing on school safety Tuesday. 

That guidance, issued by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education in 2014, includes a call for schools to ensure that they are not involving law enforcement in routine disciplinary issues. It also put schools on notice that they may be in violation of civil rights laws if their disciplinary policies lead to disparately high discipline rates for students of color, even if those policies were written without discriminatory intent.

The Broward County, Fla., district—where the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed 17—created a 2013 agreement with law enforcement agencies whose officers work in its schools to clarify when to involve officers in student discipline and to set up a diversionary program, called PROMISE, as an alternative to student arrests. That program was held up as a model by the Obama administration as it encouraged schools to rewrite their discipline policies.

Some Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on crime asked Wednesday whether the accused shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, should have been arrested at Stoneman Douglas when he was a student there. If he had been arrested, the infraction may have shown up on a criminal background check before he bought a gun or confirmed to the FBI that he was a possible threat, the lawmakers said. They cited news reports that said the suspect was frequently disciplined at school and was known for disturbing behavior, like killing small animals, but they did not name a specific offense he should have been arrested for.

"The question needs to be asked why Cruz was never placed under arrest, either at school or at home," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, the chairman of the subcommittee. "He clearly had a violent past, a past that is properly handled by law enforcement."

He spoke a few hours after the most recent school shooting at a high school in Great Mills, Md.

Sensenbrenner also listed concerns about Cruz that did not relate to school discipline. He noted that the Broward County sheriff's office had been called to the suspect's home dozens of times and a tip passed on to a deputy who worked at the school that Cruz may be planning a school shooting. He also called out the failure of the FBI to investigate a tip from a caller who feared Cruz may one day be a school shooter, and noted that the school had once recommended he be involuntarily committed for a mental evaluation.

Democrats on the committee said critics of Obama-era discipline guidance were trying to use it as a scapegoat and a distraction from the need for new gun laws. They said the guidance had helped make critical progress for black and Latino students, who are often disciplined at higher rates than their white peers in school. And they criticized loopholes in the background check system that may have allowed the suspect to buy a gun, whether or not he had an arrest on his record.

"The issue of school discipline is a worthy topic of discussion, so long as it is constructive and not intended to undermine progress in reforming disciplinary policies that have been racially biased and counterproductive for a long time," said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the subcommittee. "Unfortunately, some individuals are advancing the charge that reforms to these policies contributed to the Parkland shooter not having been stopped. To use a horrible mass shooting as a pretext to halt progress in these much-needed reforms is offensive."

Criticism of the discipline guidance predates the Parkland school shooting

Critics of the Obama-era discipline guidance have pushed for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to revoke or revise it since she took office. DeVos has said she is reviewing the document. After Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, questioned the guidance, the White House listed it as one of the items DeVos will review as leader of a  task force on school safety. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, DeVos would not say if racial disparities in school discipline rates are caused by systemic racism. 

The guidance calls on schools to explore the underlying causes for discipline disparities, like implicit bias that causes teachers to perceive behavior differently depending on a student's race, inconsistently applied policies, and vaguely worded school rules against infractions like "defiance" that may be interpreted subjectively and applied differently by different teachers.

But critics, like Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Max Eden, say schools have rushed to comply with the guidance by limiting the use of suspensions, creating unsafe and disruptive learning environments. School officials fear federal investigations if their suspension rates are uneven, Eden told the subcommittee Wednesday. In some districts that have made such changes, teachers have complained that they are unprepared for new discipline policies or that they don't know how to deal with disruptive students, he said.

"When teachers have their hands tied in handling classroom disruption, student learning suffers," Eden told the subcommittee.

Civil rights groups and organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus have spoken out in support of the guidance in recent weeks, fearing that it may be revoked. Black and Latino students are too often disciplined and arrested at school for minor, non-violent infractions, they say. They cite incidents like a  2015 viral video of a South Carolina girl who was violently dragged from her desk by a school police officer and arrested in math class after she refused to surrender her cell phone. A classmate who recorded the interaction was also arrested for "disturbing a school."

"To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restricts the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety," Kristen Harper, a former Education Department official and policy director for Child Trends, told the committee.

The guidance does not prohibit schools from referring students to police, she said. Rather, it recommends that schools "establish procedures and train school personnel...how to contact law enforcement when warranted." And calls in the guidance to address disparate discipline rates echo previous court decisions, which have flagged schools for policies that affect one student group more heavily than the other.

"There is no conflict between our obligation to prevent discrimination based on race and our obligation to keep children safe in school," Harper said. "We can and must do both."

Harper called on Congress to provide resources for schools to help create positive learning environments and to help support students with emotional and behavioral concerns.

Broward County's school discipline plan

Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie has been pushubg back against criticisms of his district's discipline plan. He's emphasized that it focuses on non-violent behaviors.

That plan includes a matrix that recommends or mandates certain responses for various student behaviors. For some behaviors, schools could opt to enroll students in the PROMISE diversionary program as an alternative to a law enforcement referral.

The district has no record of Cruz committing an infraction that might have placed him in the PROMISE discipline program while he was in school, Runcie said in a statement submitted to the committee. The matrix allows staff to consult with law enforcement on the first offense for a variety of behaviors, including a major fight, hazing, sexual misconduct, an assault that causes injury, the threat of such an assault, and battery.

"The District's position with the PROMISE program and school discipline reform efforts, in partnership with local law enforcement, has always been explicitly clear— that there is no intent to limit or tie the hands of law enforcement in doing their jobs in addressing school safety," Runcie's statement said.

Eden acknowledged that the Broward County program was created by the district's own volition before the Obama directive was put into place, but he said many districts have adopted similar approaches to student discipline since the 2014 guidance. 

He also acknowledged that the guidance doesn't explicitly prohibit or limit student arrests.

"My issue is that this policy of explicitly trying to push these numbers down can inhibit the good and fair judgment of school resource officers to issue arrests where they may be warranted, and those arrests then feed into the system in a way that could have been constructive in this case," Eden said.

Questions about Cruz's disciplinary, mental health, and emotional history will likely be answered in coming months. A school safety bill recently signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, established a state commission with subpoena power to investigate the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. And, at Runcie's recommendation, the school district has hired an outside consulting agency to conduct a review of Cruz's history with the district and the policies that were in place while he was a student.