House GOP plans vote to overturn DC laws, including allowing noncitizens to vote

Phil Mendelson, DC Council
Washington, D.C. City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 12, 2016, before a House Oversight Government Operations subcommittee hearing on whether the District of Columbia government truly has the power to spend local tax dollars without approval by Congress. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

House GOP plans vote to overturn DC laws, including allowing noncitizens to vote

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The House is set to vote on a pair of bills that would overturn two laws passed by the D.C. Council seeking to overhaul the city’s criminal code and giving noncitizens the right to vote in local elections.

House Republicans introduced the resolutions shortly after taking control of the lower chamber last month, seeking to maintain control over the limited autonomy lawmakers have in Washington, D.C. Although the city council can pass local legislation, all laws are subject to congressional approval because Washington is not a state.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS SEEK TO BLOCK DC CRIMINAL CODE OVERHAUL

The House Committee on Rules is scheduled to meet on Monday to review two of Washington’s laws before sending them to the full House for a vote.

The first piece of legislation that is under review is a law passed by the D.C. Council last year that would allow undocumented residents to vote in local elections beginning in 2024. Local lawmakers have argued for years that legal noncitizens should have the right to vote because they pay taxes and are directly affected by city laws. Opponents have countered that voting rights should be withheld until full citizenship is attained.

House Republicans previously sought to block measures allowing undocumented residents to vote in Washington elections last summer, with 30 signing on to a bill that would ban the district from allowing such a provision. However, that bill failed to make its way through the then-Democratic majority.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Rep. James Comer (R-KY) introduced a measure in early January seeking to overturn the provision, triggering the mechanism that requires Congress to review the legislation and decide whether to toss it out.

“Allowing illegal immigrants to vote is an insult to every voter in America,” Cotton said. “Every single Democrat should be on the record about whether they support this insane policy.”

The House will also consider another local law that seeks to overhaul the city’s criminal code, which includes provisions that reduce penalties for some violent crimes.

The D.C. Council overwhelmingly approved a bill last year that would implement a massive overhaul of the city’s criminal code, completing a project district lawmakers have been working on for 16 years. The law is not set to take place for three years, giving law enforcement and court officials time to prepare.

The rewritten legislation sought to clarify and redefine penalties for criminal offenses, with several lawmakers arguing severe punishments often do not deter crime. Part of the rewrite included provisions that would eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences, establish jury trials for nearly all misdemeanor cases, and reduce the maximum penalties for crimes such as carjackings or robberies.

Several House Republicans denounced the bill, arguing it amounted to “insanity.” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) is leading efforts among House GOP members to block the bill’s enactment, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced an identical version in the Senate earlier this week.

“The D.C. Council’s bizarre and dangerous effort to reduce penalties for numerous violent criminal offenses will undoubtedly embolden criminals and make our nation’s capital less safe — threatening the safety of both residents and visitors,” Clyde told the Washington Examiner in a statement.

Local D.C. lawmakers have pushed back against congressional efforts to intervene with their legislative process, arguing district laws should be left to city lawmakers.

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“The District government has shown over 50 years that it’s pretty good at governing itself and working out disagreements and resolving policy issues,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said last week. “So there’s no need for Congress to step in, and it would be wrong.”

Even if the House passes legislation seeking to overturn the city laws, it’s unlikely such measures would pass through the Democratic-led Senate. Efforts by Congress to overturn Washington laws have been unsuccessful for the last three decades.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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