Senate to vote on resolution to block D.C. crime bill
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Washington — The Senate on Wednesday is poised to take up a resolution that would invalidate a controversial plan to overhaul the District of Columbia’s criminal code, with a number of Democrats expected to join their Republican colleagues in support of the measure.
The disapproval resolution, which requires a simple majority to pass, is likely to clear the Democratic-led Senate. President Biden has said he will sign the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he intends to support the resolution, though he told reporters it was a “close question.”
The resolution overturns the D.C. Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, which was approved by the district’s Council last November and ushered in the first sweeping changes to the criminal code in 100 years. The bill reduces the maximum sentences for some offenses such as carjackings and robberies, and eliminates most mandatory minimum sentences.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the legislation amid concerns it would not improve public safety in the nation’s capital and burden courts. The council unanimously voted to override her veto, and the update to the criminal code was set to take effect in 2025.
Congress, which under federal law can invalidate a proposed district law, then moved to intervene through a resolution of disapproval introduced in the Republican-led House. The measure rejecting the revamp to D.C.’s criminal code cleared the lower chamber with bipartisan support — 31 House Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of the resolution.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson attempted to forestall further congressional action, announcing Monday that he withdrew the controversial legislation. But a Senate leadership aide said the vote on the resolution would proceed as planned despite Mendelson’s efforts.
If the resolution is enacted, it will be the first time in 30 years that Congress has nullified a local D.C. law.
While many Democrats, including Mr. Biden, support statehood for D.C. and believe the district’s elected representatives should govern its local affairs, some have raised concerns about crime rates in D.C. and other major cities. The president highlighted a change included in the council’s plan that would lower penalties for carjackings as one of his objections to the overhaul.
The support from the president and Schumer is expected to clear the way for more Senate Democrats to back the resolution. But Mr. Biden’s decision to back the GOP-led resolution has frustrated others in his party, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s nonvoting representative in the House.
Norton said in a statement last week that allowing the disapproval resolution to take effect “would empower the paternalistic, anti-democratic Republican opposition to the principle of local control over local affairs,” and noted that in an initial statement of administration policy, the White House said it opposed the resolution.
The statement from the White House budget office said the measure was an example of “how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-governance and why it deserves statehood,” but did not say that Mr. Biden would veto the resolution if it arrived on his desk. The statement was issued before Mr. Biden said he would sign the measure.