With Congress back in session to tackle a spending bill, three freshmen Central Florida Democrats in the Florida delegation are looking to ensure Orlando will be getting funds for counterterrorism operations.
On Tuesday, the three Democrats--U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto filed an amendment to add $20 million to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) budget for grants for counterterroism and equipment to be included in the department’s Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI).
“This funding would help Orlando and other cities avoid losing ground on preparedness,” Demings. “The federal government has a continuing responsibility to assist this nation’s cities in preventing and preparing to respond to acts of terrorism. I believe we have no greater obligation than to keep the people that we represent safe from harm.”
“We have seen too many recent international and national tragedies, including in our beloved Orlando,” Soto said. “In this era of growing terror threats, it is vital we are proactive with our preparedness and prevention plans. Additional funding for UASI counterterror programs will equip our Central Florida Police Departments and First Responders with the necessary training and resources to better protect our community in case of the unexpected. Orlando is a thriving, global city, and we must continue to do all we can to keep Floridians and our visitors safe and secure.”
“The safety of our communities must be a top priority,” Murphy said. “Additional funding for the UASI program will help ensure that cities like Orlando are prepared to handle potential terrorist attacks. As a global tourist destination, Orlando faces unique security challenges. An increase in UASI funding will give law enforcement and first responders the training and tools they need to keep our families safe."
This is not a new issue for the two of the Central Florida Democrats. Back in April, Demings and Murphy joined U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s, R-Texas, push for more federal funds for counterterrorism efforts in cities across the nation.
Demings and Murphy signed on a letter Hurd sent to U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on that subcommittee, urging more funding to the Urban Area Security Initiative.
Demings weighed in back in April on why these funds were needed and pointed to her background in law enforcement.
“As the first line of defense, it is critical that local law enforcement agencies are equipped to detect, prevent and effectively respond to any enemy that threatens the safety of their citizens,” said Demings. “At the time of the 9/11 attacks I was commander of the Orlando Police Department Airport Division at the Orlando International Airport, and saw firsthand how these funds could be used to make sure local law enforcement is prepared to prevent, and respond to threats.”
While currently 29 cities are eligible for federal funds in the program, Demings, Hurd and Murphy noted other cities--Cincinnati, Cleveland, Honolulu, Kansas City, New Orleans, Orlando Sacramento, San Antonio and Virginia Beach-Norfolk--are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and should get more funds.
Demings pointed to the Pulse attack and Orlando’s high tourism traffic as to why the city needed more federal funds.
“As the site of the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history, and as the number one tourist destination in our nation, there is no question Orlando should be on the list of cities that receive federal support to fight terrorism,” said Demings.
Hurd sent the letter back in April to Carter and Roybal-Allard.
“While we strongly agree that UASI funding must remain focused on the areas under the greatest threat and at the greatest risk, we are concerned that cities and urban areas that have experienced lapses in this crucial funding risk losing the increased capacity and capabilities created with prior UASI funds,” the representatives wrote. “These capabilities can erode if planning is not updated, equipment is not maintained, refresher trainings are not provided, and exercises are not repeated.”