Norton Introduces D.C. Legislat​ive Autonomy Bill as Part of Her ‘Free and Equal D.C.’ Series

Jan 21, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today reintroduced her District of Columbia Legislative Autonomy Act, which would eliminate the congressional review period for bills passed by the D.C. Council, enabling local D.C. bills to take effect immediately.  Norton’s bill is part of her “Free and Equal D.C.” series, a set of bills she is introducing as part of her strategy to give the District expanded home rule and equality while simultaneously pursuing statehood.  This month, Norton reintroduced her D.C. statehood bill, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act (H.R. 51), with a record number of original cosponsors (202), and it now has 207 cosponsors. 

“The congressional review period for D.C. bills is onerous for the District, and rarely even used by Congress, causing D.C. bills to be unnecessarily ensnared in congressional bureaucracy for months,” Norton said.  “Congress has only successfully used the disapproval process during the review period to nullify D.C. bills three times since enactment of the Home Rule Act in 1973, and never since 1991.  Congress instead generally uses the appropriations process to overturn or block D.C. laws.  Legislative autonomy would eliminate unnecessary and wasteful administrative costs on the D.C. government, Congress, D.C. businesses and D.C. residents.  The District currently has no certainty when D.C. bills, covering major issues such as taxes and regulations, will take effect.  Under my bill, Congress would maintain its plenary authority to block or overturn D.C. legislation at any time.  This common-sense measure merely updates the Home Rule Act to save time and taxpayer dollars for all concerned.” 

Currently, there is a required congressional review period for bills passed by the D.C. Council (30 or 60 legislative days depending on the type of bill).  If a resolution disapproving a D.C. bill is signed into law during the review period, that D.C. bill does not become law. 

Norton’s introductory statement follows. 

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on the 

Introduction of the District of Columbia Legislative Autonomy Act 

 

January 21, 2021 

 

Ms. Norton.  Madam Speaker.  Today, I introduce the District of Columbia Legislative Autonomy Act, which would eliminate the wasteful congressional review period for legislation passed by the District of Columbia Council and align longtime congressional practice with the law.  The congressional review period 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. bills and almost entirely abandoned the disapproval process as its mechanism for nullifying D.C. bills 24 years ago, having used it successfully only 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 period established by the D.C. Home Rule Act. 

 

Our bill would eliminate the congressional review period for bills 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. laws at any time.  

 

The congressional review period (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 a 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.  For example, 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 does not lapse, the Council often must pass the same bill 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 process were eliminated.  House Minority 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 was passed in 1973, only three resolutions disapproving D.C. bills 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 more than 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.  It is particularly unfair to require the D.C. Council to engage in this unnecessary, labor-intensive and costly process to no effect.  My bill would only eliminate the automatic hold placed on D.C. bills and the need for the D.C. Council to comply with a process initially created for the convenience of Congress, but that is now almost never used.  This bill would promote efficiency and cost savings for Congress, the District and D.C. residents and businesses without reducing congressional oversight, and would carry out the policy stressed by Congress of eliminating needless paperwork and make-work redundancy.   

 

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

 

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