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Facing Senate disapproval, DC tries to reel in crime-reform bill

The attempt to skirt expected Republican blowback has already drawn derision, with one lawmaker calling it a “desperate, made-up maneuver.”

WASHINGTON (CN) — The chairman of the D.C. Council alerted lawmakers in the U.S. Senate on Monday that there is no need for them to consider the district's recent revisions to the D.C. criminal code since they have been withdrawn.

“I don’t know that that will stop the Senate Republicans, but our position is that the bill is not before Congress anymore,” Council Chair Phil Mendelson said in a press conference this afternoon about his letter.

The council had passed the revisions in January, marking the first update to the city's criminal code in nearly 100 years. Among the changes were eliminating most mandatory minimum sentences, reducing maximum sentencing guidelines and decreasing penalties for some violent crimes, such as carjacking and robbery. 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the bill, but the council overrode her action. Because D.C. is not a state, however, its changes to the law still require congressional approval before they can be enacted.

The chances of that happening are increasingly slim. Mendelson's letter notwithstanding, the Senate had been scheduled to vote this week on a disapproval resolution that the U.S. House of Representatives passed with bipartisan support. President Joe Biden had likewise said he would sign the resolution if it reaches his desk.

The last time Congress passed a disapproval resolution was in 1991 when it overturned a measure seeking to restrict building heights.

It is unclear whether Mendelson's letter will succeed in dissuading the Senate from its vote on the crime bill resolution.

Senator Bill Hagerty called the council chair's actions a “desperate, made-up maneuver" at odds with the D.C. Home Rule Act of 1973, which established the current form of D.C.’s government.

"No matter how hard they try, the council cannot avoid accountability for passing this disastrous, dangerous D.C. soft-on-crime bill that will make residents and visitors less safe," Hagerty, a Tennessee Republican who sponsored the disapproval resolution targeting the criminal code, tweeted Monday.

Local activists and politicians have been pushing for D.C. statehood for decades, saying the current situation disenfranchises the more than 700,000 residents of the district and complicates administration over local issues. 

The most recent legislative attempt to establish D.C. as a state was introduced by Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, in 2021, but the bill did not move forward.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that Biden still supports statehood and his action to override the law is based solely on the resolution under consideration in the Senate.

“It doesn’t mean that it stops our support for their statehood,” she said.  “[Biden] believes that cities and states across the country should be able to govern on their own.”

Categories: Government Law Regional

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