Norton and Home-Rule Coalition to Lead Defense of D.C. Laws During Upcoming Appropriations Process While Mayor Bowser and D.C. Go Forward with Budget Autonomy

WASHINGTON, DC – May 11, 2016 – (RealEstateRama) — The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) released her statement at a press conference today on efforts to protect District of Columbia home rule during the fiscal year 2017 appropriations process.

In addition to Norton, the speakers are D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; Dana Singiser, Vice President for Public Policy and Government Affairs, Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Louise Melling, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Liberty, American Civil Liberties Union; Brian Malte, Senior National Policy Director, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; Kaitlyn Boecker, Policy Coordinator, Drug Policy Alliance; and Kimberly Perry, Executive Director, DC Vote.

Organizations in the coalition attending today’s press conference include: AIDS United, All* Above All, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catholics for Choice, Center for Reproductive Rights, DCMJ, Human Rights Campaign, Marijuana Policy Project, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Abortion Federation, National Health Law Program, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and National Women’s Law Center.

Norton’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton at D.C. Appropriations Riders Press Conference with Mayor Bowser and National Organizations

Once again, I am pleased to welcome our mayor, Muriel Bowser, and our extraordinary home-rule coalition of national and local organizations.  We are particularly grateful for the efforts of the coalition in aggressively defending D.C.’s laws, which simultaneously allows them to defend their own great issues.  Both are under attack this year as they are every year.  Although we hold this press conference annually with the mayor of our city and our coalition, the context this year is different.  D.C. residents approved a referendum in 2013 authorizing local officials to sever D.C.’s local budget from the federal appropriations process, and that referendum has been upheld in court.  Consequently, the District has served notice it will implement its local fiscal year 2017 budget without waiting for a vote of approval by the House and Senate.  In addition, Mayor Bowser has asked for a vote by residents on D.C. statehood and a state constitution in November.  If the new D.C. statehood constitution follows the genius of the federal constitution, it will not be a policy document to be picked apart by the Congress, but a statement of government functions.

Yet, even before the city embarks on its budget autonomy and statehood strategies, Republicans are responding as never before because they see budget autonomy as an achievable threat.  A spokesperson for Speaker Paul Ryan has said House leadership is considering “legislative options” to nullify the budget autonomy referendum.  In addition, a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing this Thursday on the referendum, with lawyers as witnesses, determined to show that the referendum is illegal.  Furthermore, although the District won an important budget autonomy victory in the Superior Court in March, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG), which speaks for the House in litigation and is controlled by Republican leadership, has filed amicus briefs supporting every court challenge to the city’s referendum, including a case pending in the District’s federal district court now.  We are grateful that Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) declined to join the briefs.  Nevertheless, the House will probably try to continue the usual appropriations process for the D.C. budget, while at the same time trying to block the District’s effort to implement its own local budget without submitting it to the congressional appropriations process.

If the House is moving on offense and defense, so is the District.  Historically, the District is annually on the defensive as Members of Congress use the appropriations process to play with the District’s laws as if they were a bunch of toys, doing whatever they like to press their partisan agendas at the District’s expense.  Nevertheless, here in the Congress, we succeed more often than we fail, as with the needle exchange rider, which has not reappeared.  Yet, sometimes we fail, as with the current rider that bars local funding for abortion services for low-income women.

As long as the District is content with delegated home rule—and that’s what the city has, not even home rule, but self-government delegated by Congress that can be taken back in its entirety at will, or as Congress routinely prefers, piece by piece, law by law—as long as we are satisfied with occupying a position lower than that of most 19th century European colonies, we will be in a perpetual fight against intrusions into the local affairs of the District of Columbia that we defend annually.  As long as we fight for budget autonomy or statehood episodically, Congress will be successful in waiting us out.  The most recent interferences are emblematic—three attempts to overturn D.C.’s gun laws by Republicans running for president we beat back last year, but at the same time the marijuana referendum was saved by a loophole, only to meet another rider that keeps the city from taxing or regulating cannabis.

I am enormously grateful that Mayor Bowser’s statehood initiative and commission for the first time gives us two strategies—the strong defense against the D.C. Appropriations riders we announce today and an affirmative strategy that puts the Congress on the defensive.  The need for both cannot be clearer.  We must fight these riders until they are gone, but on offense for the first time, we are also turning the tables on the Congress this year.

We cannot ignore this year’s appropriations process as if we had already prevailed on budget autonomy and statehood.  We need our coalition to reach Members where they can feel it: in their home districts and states.  To buttress the coalition’s efforts, if there are attempts to overturn our local laws, I will force roll call votes on each and every rider targeting D.C. laws—whether attempts to block D.C. laws on reproductive rights, LGBT equality, marijuana reform, gun safety, or abortion, we will respond here as the coalition goes into Members’ districts and states.

We have seen success in this work before.  Last year, facing the first all-Republican Congress in a decade, the Republican Senate reported out a D.C. appropriations bill with no riders.  The House, however, was able to reattach the abortion and marijuana riders in the omnibus.  Our coalition is in a good position to let the constituents back home know which Members are violating their own local control principles by trying to use federal power against another Member’s district instead of taking care of the business of their own districts.

In addition to Mayor Bowser, we welcome today a broad array of national and local organizations: AIDS United, All* Above All, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catholics for Choice, Center for Reproductive Rights, DCMJ, Human Rights Campaign, Marijuana Policy Project, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Abortion Federation, National Health Law Program, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and National Women’s Law Center.  Speaking for the coalition will be the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Drug Policy Alliance, and DC Vote.

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