DC Pulling Crime Bill Before it Goes to U.S. Senate

March 6, 2023

 Washington DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) said Monday that he wrote to the U.S. Senate to say he was withdrawing a bill to revise the city’s criminal code.

The move comes ahead of a GOP-led resolution in the Senate the could have overturned the bill. Even so, several lawmakers raised doubts that the city council’s action could prevent the Senate from voting. One Republican lawmaker called the move a “desperate, made-up maneuver.”

Mendelson said he believes pulling the bill, called the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, is an unprecedented act. However, he said there’s no provision in the Home Rule Act that prevents him from doing so.

The DC Home Rule Act was passed in December 1973. As the United States’ capital, the Constitution grants Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the District of Columbia in “all cases whatsoever.” But home rule is part of an ongoing effort by DC residents to increase control of their own local affairs, and it provides for an elected mayor and a city council whose members are elected to four-year terms.

In 2022 there was a push in the 117th Congress to expand the Home Rule Act which would have given DC “exclusive authority to prosecute, and grant clemency for, violations of its criminal laws.” The bill was passed the then-Democratic-led House Committee on Oversight and Reform but has not proceeded any further.

Last week, President Biden shook up his party when he decided to side with Republicans and not veto their legislation that would have undone parts of DC’s revised crime bill. The White House on Thursday asserted that Biden remained supportive of granting statehood to DC, but was concerned about the impact that leaving the revised bill as-is might have had on the city’s crime rate.

The now-Republican-led House disapproved the criminal-code resolution in a bipartisan vote last month.

A Senate leadership aide told reporters under condition of anonymity Monday the Senate is expected to proceed with its vote despite the DC Council’s withdrawal. The aide said the vote would be on the disapproval resolution that passed in the House, rather than on the DC Council’s transmission to the Senate. 

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