Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill allowing the Washington, D.C. Council to pass laws without waiting for review from Congress Jan. 24.
Currently, every civil and criminal bill passed by the local government in D.C. must be reviewed by the U.S. Congress before going into effect. During the review period, Congress can pass a resolution blocking D.C. bills from becoming laws. Civil legislation is reviewed for 30 legislative days and criminal legislation for 60.
The congressional review period for D.C. legislation is rarely used by Congress, Norton said in a Jan. 24 press release. Since 1991, Congress has only overturned three D.C. bills.
Legislative autonomy would allow the District to have more certainty as to when bills take effect and benefit the taxpayer by eliminating administrative costs, according to Norton.
“The District currently has no certainty when D.C. bills, covering major issues such as taxes and regulations, will take effect,” Norton said. “Under my bill, Congress would maintain its plenary authority to block or overturn D.C. legislation at any time.”
Because the D.C. Council often has to pass legislation in three different forms — emergency, temporary, and permanent — for bills to take effect, the council could eliminate 50 to 60 percent of the bills its passes if the legislative review process did not exist, according to a Feb. 4, 2015, news release by Norton’s office. The council estimates the bill would save 5,000 employee hours and 160,000 sheets of paper, Norton said.
D.C. should receive equal legal footing with the rest of the United States, Bo Shuff, executive director for D.C. Vote, a group that pushes for equal representation for the District, said. The bill will hopefully pass in both houses due to its focus on local government, Shuff said in an interview with The Hoya.
“I would expect that with Congresswoman Norton being in the House and the House being under her colleagues’ control it would probably be an easier path through the House than through the Senate, but I think it would be consistent with both parties’ views that local control and local government is important,” Shuff said.
Norton’s push for legislative autonomy is the first of a series of bills Norton intends to introduce called “Free and Equal D.C.,” that will aim to give D.C. and its citizens more autonomy and equality while pursuing statehood. The series comes after Norton introduced H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act on Jan. 3. H.R. 51 would incorporate D.C. as the 51st state in the union. It has won a record 155 original cosponsors and the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
D.C. attained budget autonomy in March 18, 2016, which allows the D.C. Council to implement a local spending plan without prior congressional approval. The increased financial freedom that D.C. will experience due to budget autonomy puts it one step closer to statehood, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
“With our first budget under the Budget Autonomy becoming law today, the District of Columbia passes another mile marker to our final destination: statehood,” Bowser said in a news release. “With the 30-day Congressional review period in our rearview mirror, our Administration can give residents greater certainty that their locally raised tax dollars will be used for their priorities in the upcoming fiscal year.”
Norton previously introduced a bill to grant D.C. legislative autonomy in 2015, but it never made it out of committee. Under the Obama administration, Bowser and Norton began a renewed push for D.C. autonomy and statehood, but historically Republicans have stymied such efforts because statehood would most likely increase the number of Democratic senators in Congress. Norton’s bill on legislative autonomy awaits committee review in the House.
Norton elaborated on her plans in a video posted on her Twitter account Thursday.
“I’m embarking on a two-track strategy to get the district as much freedom from Congress as fast as I can,” Norton said in the video.
Statehood is one track of “Free and Equal D.C.,” and legislative autonomy is the other according to Norton. Eliminating the congressional review period is jumping off point for the ultimate goal of greater self-governance for the district, Norton said, acknowledging that statehood may take a long time to become a reality.
“Meanwhile, there are at least 16 bills that this Congress — and remember we have a Democratic Congress — could pass that would get us closer to statehood,” Norton said. “Legislative autonomy is a perfect bill to begin.”