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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

GOP sends disapprovals of two D.C. bills to House floor

Allison Robbert | Staff Photographer

Updated: Feb. 9, 2023 at 1:39 p.m.

The U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee voted Monday to send a formal disapproval of two D.C. Council bills to the House floor, where the chamber’s Republican majority is expected to vote in opposition to the legislation this week.

The committee voted 9-3 to send disapproval resolutions for D.C.’s revised criminal code and the Local Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022 to the House floor after Republican committee members disagreed with the code’s progressive policies and raised concerns about the council’s prioritization of statehood and local voting rights. The House’s Republican majority is likely to pass the disapprovals, but the Republican’s disapprovals face an uphill battle in the Democratic Senate and White House, where the party majority has historically supported D.C.’s authority to self-govern.

The disapprovals are set to reach the House floor this week, but a date has not been set for the vote.

The formal disapproval opposes the D.C. Council’s revised criminal code, which the D.C. Council passed in November after a 16-year effort to refine “outdated” criminal laws originally written by Congress in 1901. If passed, the District will retire all mandatory minimum sentences, expand jury trials for misdemeanor convictions and allow inmates to petition for a reduced sentence to a judge starting in 2025.

Rep. James Comer, R-KY, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he thinks the Council has chosen to make crime in the District worse by supporting the revised code’s “soft on crime” policies like scrapping mandatory minimum sentences amid upticks in carjackings and property crime. He said as a result of numerous judicial vacancies, D.C.’s “overloaded” court system will not be able to keep up with the demand for jury trials if the code is enacted.

Republicans at the meeting were critical of D.C.’s “elevated” crime rate, despite violent crime dropping by 7 percent while all crime dropped by 4 percent in the District in 2022, according to Metropolitan Police Department records.

“All Americans should feel safe in their capital city, but they don’t because of D.C. Democrats’ leniency towards criminals at the expense of American safety,” Comer said.

The D.C. Council overrode Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of the code on Jan. 17 with a 12-1 vote, despite her concerns about “easy” access to guns in the District and the code’s ability to keep the community “safe,” which she said was her “top priority” in a statement. Ward 8 Council member Trayon White was the only member in opposition of the veto’s override.

Tom Cole, R-OK, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said because D.C. is seeing an “elevation” in crime, it would be “unconscionable” to adopt the newly revised criminal code because it doesn’t address the uptick.

“This bill was so bad that Mayor Muriel Bowser actually vetoed it only for the District of Columbia Council to override her veto,” Cole said. “Though, we’re actually on the side of the mayor and the Washington Post, which editorialized against that particular matter.”

Under threat of the entire bill’s repeal by the House GOP, Bowser proposed a package of changes for the code in an amendment act Monday, which would restore penalties on crimes that the public has expressed “concerns” about in recent months and push back the implementation date to 2027.

Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto, who represents the area surrounding Foggy Bottom and chairs the council’s judiciary committee, said she will consider Bowser’s amendment during public hearings in the future but will prioritize stopping Congress’ “undemocratic” interference in D.C. legislation in the present.

The D.C. Council passed the Local Voting Rights Amendment Act in November, which allows non-U.S. citizens the right to vote in D.C. local elections, with former Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh the only member to vote in opposition. During the meeting, congressional Republicans voiced their dissent toward the bill, claiming liberals in D.C. are putting the integrity of the American election system “at risk” with the legislation.

Rep. Nick Langworthy, R-NY, said voting is a “core tenant” of American citizenship and that allowing non-U.S. citizens to vote “devalues” the definition of citizenship.

“The bottom line is allowing noncitizens here legally or illegally to vote in our domestic elections is a violation of our sovereignty and the sovereign rights of Americans,” Langworthy said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-MD, who backed the D.C. bills throughout the hearing under scrutiny from other committee members, said while the District statehood is picking up “momentum” among voters, Republican committee members are “determined” to scrap the voting bill to put the D.C. residents “in their place.”

“They will be attacking Washington not just for its local voting rights policies and criminal justice code but for its gun safety policies, its defensive abortion rights and LGBTQ rights, its decriminalization of marijuana and dozens of other issues potentially headed to the House floor,” Raskin said.

Raskin said while the immigrant vote is “controversial” in national elections because of opposing considerations against it, the matter is different at the local level because communities hold similar interests as opposed to an entire country, like D.C. residents’ particular interest in statehood or their deep blue partisan majority.

“I think that that has always been left up to local communities to decide who should vote in local elections,” Raskin said.

The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission passed the voting resolution when it came to their desk during a July meeting, with Commissioner Trupti Patel voicing her support for the bill because of the District’s large immigrant population.

President Biden’s administration said D.C.’s 700,000 residents have faced taxation without representation for too long and the disapprovals from GOP lawmakers are “clear” examples of D.C. citizens continuously being denied representation and statehood in a Monday statement.

“While we work towards making Washington, D.C. the 51st state of our Union, Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s autonomy to govern its own local affairs,” the release states.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, said Democratic support of the D.C. statehood movement is about “consolidating power” and “enacting radical policies” in an April 2021 tweet. He said U.S. citizens can see through statehood’s “blatant power grab.”

A spokesperson for McCarthy did not return a request for comment.

Moksha Akil contributed reporting.

This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the D.C. council chose to override or veto the criminal code. Cole said the D.C. Council chose to override Bowser’s veto of the criminal code.

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