District officials want the federal government to stay out of their local business and stop trying to control local policy.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press conference alongside a collation of organizations to speak out against the policy riders in the federal budget. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and a national and local coalition working to protect local D.C. laws from being blocked or overturned during the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process joined them.
“We want Congress to keep their hands off the things that matter to our residents,” Bowser said. “Congress cannot interfere in locally approved laws in D.C.”
While the city can create its own laws, Congress controls its finances. Currently, four budget amendments, or riders, exist in the president’s D.C. spending budget for this year.
The presidential budget for the District includes stipulations that prohibit and prevent the local government from passing and funding legalized medical suicide assistance also known as death with dignity laws, funding abortions for low-income residents and implementing protections for employees discriminated against based on reproductive choices. It would also prevent the District from commercializing recreational marijuana.
The District has pushed back on appropriation riders attached to the D.C. spending bill before.
Norton said she called to the coalition together to go on the offensive as the fiscal year 2019 D.C. appropriations process began in the second session of this Congress.
“During the first session, we saw more attacks on the District’s local laws than in recent memory,” she said.
She encouraged the group by recalling that she first came to Congress, the House held hearings on the D.C. budget “as if it were a congressional bill.”
“But fighting together, we have not only eliminated those hearings, we have eliminated the appropriations subcommittee that held them,” said the District’s longtime delegate. “And we have defeated most bills and appropriations riders that have sought to overturn local D.C. laws.”
She said many Republican members of Congress attack D.C. laws that they disagree are urged to do so to get financial contributions from corporations, satisfy special interest groups or to raise their profiles back home.
She said sometimes attacks on D.C. laws start with stand-alone bills to overturn local law, but more often congressional opponents turn to the appropriations process to block local laws.
She called the attacks abuse of congressional authority over the D.C. budget.
But Norton noted that most attempts to defend local D.C. laws have been successful.
Last year, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) offered a rider to block the District’s law regulating the labeling of personal hygiene products, particularly wet wipes, as safe to flush.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) introduced stand-alone bills that would alter the local school system by requiring the District to spend local funds for students to attend private schools and other educational expenses. Rep. Steve King (R-Texas) also introduced an anti-union bill unique to the District.
None of the aforementioned attempts to alter local D.C. law were successful.
“If Congress is inclined to focus on the District, we urge members to pass our bill to make the District of Columbia the 51st state,” Norton said.
Though the presidential budget includes four riders, the coalition gathered to talk about five attacks on D.C. policy by the federal government, the fifth being the District’s gun control laws.
Last year Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reintroduced a bill he previously pushed to erase D.C.’s gun-control laws, which are among the most restrictive in the country, with a provision that would require the city’s police to issue concealed-carry permits to any resident or visitor who meets basic criteria.
“We need Congress to strengthen our gun laws, not attempt to weaken them,” said Aaron King, a Woodrow Wilson High School Student that helped organize the local rally ahead of the March for Our Lives in March.
Legalizing the commercial sale of marijuana was also a major focus for the press conferences speakers. D.C. legalized recreational marijuana for people over 21 by referendum in 2014 but budget riders have prohibited its sale in the District.
Members of the coalition include the Center to Prevent Gun Violence, American Civil Liberties Union, Death with Dignity National Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Drug Policy Alliance and D.C. Vote. Other organizations in the coalition include Above All, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catholics for Choice, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Compassion & Choices, DCMJ, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
New riders may yet to come during the appropriations process.
“We already know what the solution is to end this cycle,” said Bo Shuff, executive director of the statehood advocacy group D.C. Vote. “It’s statehood.”