Norton Introduces Bill to Repeal Unnecessary Federal Law on D.C. Bridges

Nov 15, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. –– Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today reintroduced the District of Columbia Bridges Home Rule Act, which would repeal a redundant 1997 federal law that makes it a crime for a person in the District of Columbia to obstruct any bridge connecting D.C. and Virginia. The District already had, and continues to have, its own local law prohibiting obstructing a bridge in the District. There is no federal law that prohibits a person in Virginia from obstructing such a bridge or a person in any state from obstructing a bridge connecting two states. 

“This law is as offensive as it is redundant,” Norton said. “The District does not need a federal law to keep our bridges clear. This harkens back to a time when a private group attempted to block the 14th Street Bridge into Virginia, though there is no evidence that D.C. authorities failed to act. The District’s local criminal law prohibiting obstructing a bridge takes care of any obstruction. This is an important step to increase home rule for the District.”

The courts have long held that D.C. may repeal federal laws that predate the 1973 Home Rule Act (HRA) and apply exclusively in or to the District, but have not ruled on whether D.C. may repeal post-HRA federal laws that apply exclusively in or to the District.

Norton has introduced several bills to reduce the federal government’s control over local District matters and expand D.C. equality. This bill is the 17th in Norton’s Free and Equal D.C. Series:

  1. The District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment Home Rule Act (H.R. 5825) would give D.C. the authority to appoint all members of the Board, except when the Board is performing functions regarding an application by a foreign mission with respect to a chancery.
  2. The Flood Prevention Act (H.R. 5784) would amend the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 to include D.C. in the definition of a coastal state and make the District eligible for funding and oversight for federally issued permits, facilities and actions to respond to floods and mitigate flood risk.
  3. The Commission of Fine Arts District of Columbia Home Rule Act (H.R. 5570) would remove the Commission’s authority over D.C. property and private property in D.C.
  4. The National Capital Planning Commission District of Columbia Home Rule Act (H.R. 5144) would remove the authority of the NCPC to review the development of D.C.-owned land.
  5. The District of Columbia Zoning Commission Home Rule Act (H.R. 5002) would give D.C. the authority to appoint all members of the Commission.
  6. A bill to permit the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff in the event of the death of the Mayor of the District (H.R. 4368).
  7. The District of Columbia Clemency Home Rule Act (H.R. 4206) would give the District exclusive authority to grant clemency to offenders convicted under its local laws. 
  8. The District of Columbia Non-Discrimination Home Rule Act of 2021 (H.R. 4023) would eliminate the applicability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to the District.
  9. The District of Columbia Federal Officials Residency Equality Act of 2021 (H.R. 3786) would require certain federal officials who serve the District to live in the District.
  10. The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act District of Columbia Equality Act of 2021 (H.R. 2452) would amend both laws to make D.C. eligible for the same federal funding as the states under both.
  11. The District of Columbia Chief Financial Officer Salary Home Rule Act (H.R. 1204) would give D.C. the authority to set the maximum salary for the D.C. CFO.
  12. The District of Columbia Parole and Supervised Release Act (H.R. 658) would give D.C. the authority to make parole and supervised release determinations for D.C. Code offenders.
  13. The District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act (H.R. 657) would give the D.C. Mayor the authority to deploy the D.C. National Guard. 
  14. The District of Columbia Police Home Rule Act (H.R. 656) would eliminate the president’s authority to federalize the local D.C. police department.
  15. The District of Columbia Legislative Autonomy Act (H.R. 411) would eliminate the congressional review period for D.C. bills.
  16. The District of Columbia Prosecutor Home Rule Act of 2021 (H.R. 281) would allow the District to prosecute all crimes committed under its local laws. 

Norton’s introductory statement follows.

 

 

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on the Introduction of the District of Columbia Bridges Home Rule Act

 

November 15, 2021

 

Today, I introduce the District of Columbia Bridges Home Rule Act. This bill would repeal a redundant 1997 federal law that makes it a crime for a person in the District of Columbia to obstruct any bridge connecting D.C. and Virginia. The District already had, and continues to have, its own local law prohibiting obstructing a bridge in the District. There is no federal law that prohibits a person in Virginia from obstructing such a bridge or a person in any state from obstructing a bridge connecting two states, and, fortunately, D.C. does not need a federal law to keep our bridges clear either.

This law is as offensive as it is redundant. It harks back to a time when a private group in D.C. attempted to block the 14th Street Bridge into Virginia, although there is no evidence that D.C. authorities failed to act. The District’s local criminal law prohibiting obstructing a bridge takes care of any obstruction occurring here.

Under the 1997 federal law, “whoever in the District of Columbia knowingly and willfully obstructs any bridge connecting the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia… shall be fined not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000, and in addition may be imprisoned not more than 30 days….” Under D.C. law, a person may be subject to imprisonment and/or fines for “crowd[ing], obstruct[ing], or incommod[ing]…[t]he use of any street, avenue, alley, road, highway, or sidewalk.”

The courts have long held that D.C. may repeal federal laws that predate the Home Rule Act of 1973 (HRA) and apply exclusively in or to the District, but have not ruled on whether D.C. may repeal post-HRA federal laws that apply exclusively in or to the District. My bill would avoid any court challenge the District could face if it tries to repeal this 1997 federal law.

This bill is an important step in increasing home rule for the District, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

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