Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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Norton’s First Bill of the Year to Give D.C. Legislative Autonomy

Jan 7, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced the District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act to eliminate the congressional review period for legislation passed by the D.C. Council.  In her statement introducing the bill, Norton said, “The congressional review process for D.C. bills provides no benefit to Congress, but imposes substantial costs (in time and money) on the District.  Indeed, Congress effectively abandoned the congressional review process as a mechanism for overturning D.C. legislation twenty-three years ago, yet it still requires the D.C. Council to use Kafkaesque make-work procedures to comply with the abandoned congressional review process established by the Home Rule Act of 1973.”  Because the congressional review period is limited only to those days when both chambers are in session, D.C. bills often do not become final for many months.  That forces the D.C. Council to pass most legislation several times over, using a cumbersome and complicated process to keep bills alive.  Instead of using the congressional review period to overturn D.C. legislation, Congress instead has long used attachments to the D.C. appropriations bill.

“Congress constantly decries excessive paperwork in government and passes several bills in committee or on the floor to reduce or eliminate paperwork every year,” said Norton.  “Yet, during my service in Congress, I have never seen a more Sisyphus-like paperwork regime than the congressional requirement for the D.C. Council to needlessly submit never-reviewed legislation to Congress for required layover periods.  It is time Congress practices what it preaches.”  Norton believes she can get bipartisan support for her bill, particularly in the Senate. 

Currently, there is a required congressional review period for civil and criminal legislation passed by the District of Columbia (30 legislative days for civil and 60 legislative days for criminal).  If a congressional resolution disproving a D.C. bill is signed into law during the congressional review period, that bill does not become law.  Since the 1973 Home Rule Act, of the more than 4,500 legislative acts transmitted to Congress, only three resolutions to disapprove a D.C. bill have been enacted – in 1979, 1981, and 1991 – and two of those involved distinct federal interests. 

Norton’s full introduction statement follows.

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on the Introduction of the District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act

January 7, 2014

Ms. Norton.  Mr. Speaker.  Today, I introduce the District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act, to eliminate the wasteful congressional review process for legislation passed by the District of Columbia Council and to align longtime congressional practice and the law.  The congressional review process for D.C. bills provides no benefit to Congress, but imposes substantial costs (in time and money) on the District.  Indeed, Congress effectively abandoned the congressional review process as a mechanism for overturning D.C. legislation twenty-three years ago, yet it still requires the D.C. Council to use Kafkaesque make-work procedures to comply with the abandoned congressional review process established by the Home Rule Act of 1973.

The bill would eliminate the congressional review process for legislation passed by the D.C. Council.  Congress would lose no authority it currently exercises because, even upon enactment of my bill, Congress would retain its authority under clause 17 of section 8 of article I of the U.S. Constitution to amend or overturn any D.C. legislation at any time.

The congressional review process (30 days for civil bills and 60 days for criminal bills) includes only those days when both houses of Congress are in session, delaying D.C. bills from becoming law, often for many months.  The delay forces the D.C. Council to pass most bills several times, using a cumbersome and complicated process to ensure that the operations of this large and rapidly changing city continue uninterrupted, or in the alternative, the lapse of the bill before it becomes final.  The review period, based on legislative, not calendar, days means, for example, that a 30-day period usually lasts three calendar months and often much longer because of congressional recesses.  The congressional review period for a bill that changed the word “handicap” to “disability” lasted nine months.  The Council estimates that 50-65 percent of the bills the Council passes could be eliminated if the review period did not exist.  To ensure predictability, the Council often must pass the same legislation in three forms -- emergency (in effect for 90 days), temporary (in effect for 225 days) and permanent.  Moreover, the Council has to carefully track the days Congress is in session for each piece of legislation it passes to avoid gaps and to determine when the bills have taken effect.  The Council estimates that it could save 5,000 employee-hours and 160,000 sheets of paper per Council period if the review period were eliminated. 

My bill would do no more than align the Home Rule Act with congressional practice over the last twenty-three years.  Since the Home Rule Act, of the more than 4,500 legislative acts transmitted to Congress, only three resolutions disapproving D.C. legislation have been enacted--in 1979, 1981, and 1991--and two of those mistakenly involved federal interests in the Height Act and the location of chanceries.  Placing a congressional hold on 4,500 D.C. bills has not only proven unnecessary, but also a waste of money and time for both the District and Congress.  Instead of using the congressional review process to overturn D.C. legislation, Congress has preferred to use appropriations riders.  It is particularly unfair to require the D.C. Council to engage in a labor-intensive and costly process that Congress has itself long ago abandoned.  My bill would only eliminate the automatic hold placed on D.C. legislation and the need for the D.C. Council to use a process initially passed for the convenience of Congress, but one that Congress has since eliminated in all but law.  The bill would promote efficiency and cost savings for the District, and carry out a policy stressed by Congress of eliminating needless paperwork and make-work redundancy. 

I urge my colleagues to support this good-government measure.

January 7, 2013