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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Places in Washington DC

Norton Introduces Bill to Give D.C. Legislative Autonomy as Part of Her ‘Free and Equal D.C.’ Series

Mar 9, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced her bill, the District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act, to give D.C. legislative autonomy by eliminating the congressional review period for legislation passed by the D.C. Council.  Norton’s bill continues a series of bills she plans to introduce as part of her “Free and Equal D.C.” series.  Last week, Norton introduced her bill, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, to make D.C. the 51st state.  Norton said that the mandatory congressional review period imposes unnecessary administrative costs on the D.C. government, Congress, and D.C. businesses and residents, who have no certainty when D.C. bills, covering major issues such as taxes and regulations, will take effect.  Even with legislative autonomy, Congress would maintain its plenary authority to block or overturn D.C. legislation.

“The current congressional review process for D.C. legislation is an inefficient money- and time-wasting process that serves neither Congress nor the local D.C. government,” Norton said.  “All the current system does is create paperwork that wastes time and taxpayer resources, while handicapping D.C. residents and businesses, who need certainty when planning their budgets and operations.”

Norton’s full introductory statement is below.

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

March 9, 2017

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 is almost entirely ignored by Congress, providing it no benefit, but imposes substantial costs (in time and money) on the District.  Congress has almost always used the appropriations process rather than the disapproval process to block or nullify D.C.’s legislation, and entirely abandoned the congressional review process as its mechanism for nullifying D.C. legislation 24 years ago, having only used it three times before then.  Yet Congress 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.

Our bill would eliminate the congressional review process for legislation passed by the D.C. Council.  However, Congress would lose no authority it currently exercises because, even upon enactment of this 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 those days when either house of Congress is 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, avoiding a lapse of the bill before it becomes final.  The congressional calendar means that a 30-day period usually lasts a couple of 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 it passes could be eliminated if the review period did not exist.  To ensure that a bill becomes law, 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 the House and Senate are in session for each D.C. bill 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 two-year Council period if the review period were eliminated.  House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy addressed the issue of saving such resources by eliminating the amount of paperwork sent to Congress when he proposed a cut in the number of reports that federal agencies are required to submit to Congress.  Our bill is a perfect candidate because it eliminates a paperwork process that repeats itself without interruption.

My bill would do no more than align the Home Rule Act with congressional practice over the last 24 years.  Of the more than 5,000 legislative acts transmitted to Congress since the Home Rule Act, only three resolutions disapproving D.C. legislation have been enacted (in 1979, 1981, and 1991) and two of those mistakenly involved federal interests—one in the Height Act and the other in the location of chanceries.  Placing a congressional hold on 5,000 D.C. bills has not only proven unnecessary, but has imposed costs on the D.C. government, residents and businesses.  District residents and businesses are also placed on hold because they have no certainty when D.C. bills, from taxes to regulations, will take effect, making it difficult to plan.  Instead of using the congressional review process to nullify D.C. legislation, Congress has preferred to use riders to appropriations bills.  Therefore, it is particularly unfair to require the D.C. Council to engage in this labor-intensive and costly process.  My bill would only eliminate the automatic hold placed on D.C. legislation and the need for the D.C. Council to comply with a process initially created for the convenience of Congress, but that is now rarely used.  This bill would promote efficiency and cost savings for Congress, the District, its residents, and businesses without reducing congressional oversight, and would 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.