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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Places in Washington DC

Norton Releases Floor Statements Opposing Attacks on D.C. Budget Autonomy and D.C. Anti-Discrimination Law, and Supporting Her Halfway House Subsistence Fee Amendment

Sep 7, 2017
Press Release

NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood Announce They Will Score Vote on RHNDA Amendment

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In anticipation of going to the floor this evening and tomorrow, the office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released advance copies of Norton’s prepared floor statements on three District of Columbia-related amendments to the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills.  Norton will speak on her amendment to strike the rider that repeals the D.C. budget autonomy referendum; the amendment offered by Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL) to block D.C. from spending its local funds to enforce a local anti-discrimination law, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees, their spouses and dependents based on their reproductive health decisions; and her amendment to prohibit the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from carrying out a law that requires individuals in halfway houses and on home confinement to pay a subsistence fee to offset the cost of being housed or supervised.  Norton will demand recorded votes on all three amendments.

Norton said she was grateful that ahead of votes on the RHNDA amendment, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood Federation of America urged Members to vote against the RHNDA amendment and announced they will “score” Members’ votes.  Groups compile annual scorecards based on key votes to inform their members and the general public on where members of Congress stand.

Norton’s full floor statements, as prepared for delivery, are below.

Floor Statement on Norton Amendment to Strike Budget Autonomy Repeal

My amendment strikes the repeal of the District of Columbia’s Local Budget Autonomy Act, which allows D.C. to spend its local funds, consisting solely of local taxes and fees, after a 30-day congressional review period.  It is astonishing that my Republican colleagues are so at odds with a local jurisdiction spending its local funds without the approval of a federal body, the U.S. Congress, that we will be voting for a third time since May 2016 to repeal this local law.  The first two attempts were not enacted into law, and I expect this third attempt to fail, too. 

In fact, I should not even have to offer this amendment. The bill’s repeal of the Local Budget Autonomy Act violates the House Rule against legislating on an appropriations bill.  However, the special rule governing consideration of the bill prohibits me from raising a point of order against the repeal provision, which would be sustained by the chair.

D.C.’s Local Budget Autonomy Act is in effect.  This year, the D.C. Council passed its second local budget under the Local Budget Autonomy Act.

Smart lawyers differed about the validity of the Local Budget Autonomy Act when D.C. enacted it.  However, the Local Budget Autonomy Act has been litigated.  The only court ruling in effect upheld it, the ruling was not appealed, and the court ordered D.C. officials to implement it.

Some House Republicans disguised their opposition to the Local Budget Autonomy Act with legalistic arguments until the Speaker revealed last year the real reason the House passed a stand-alone bill repealing the Local Budget Autonomy Act.  He said: “There are real consequences.  The D.C. government wants to use revenues to fund abortions in the District.  House Republicans will not stand for that.”

The Speaker was wrong about the effect of the Local Budget Autonomy Act.  Congress loses nothing under our budget autonomy law.  Congress retains the authority to legislate on any D.C. matter, including its local budget, at any time.  The Local Budget Autonomy Act is a modest attempt by D.C. to get enough control of its local funds to be able to implement its budget soon after it is passed, like other jurisdictions, instead of having it caught up in congressional delays.

Indeed, the riders in this bill prohibiting D.C. from spending its local funds on marijuana commercialization and abortion services for low-income women were changed from those in prior appropriations bills to apply whether or not D.C. has budget autonomy.  Historically, D.C. riders applied only to funds included in appropriations bills because only appropriations bills authorized D.C. spending.  In this bill, as in fiscal year 2017, the riders apply to D.C. local funds available under any authority, including those in local budgets passed under the Local Budget Autonomy Act. 

Local control over the dollars raised by local taxpayers is a principle much-cited by my Republican colleagues, and is central to the American form of government. Beyond this core principle, budget autonomy has practical benefits for D.C., including lower borrowing costs; more accurate revenue and expenditure forecasts; improved agency operations; and the removal of the threat of D.C. government shutdowns during federal government shutdowns.  These are our concerns.

D.C.’s budget is bigger than the budgets of 14 states.  The District raises $8 billion in local funds.  While D.C. is in a better financial position than most cities and states, with a rainy-day fund of over $2 billion on a total budget of $14 billion, budget autonomy makes D.C., which has no state fallback, to be even stronger.

The repeal of the Local Budget Autonomy Act is not only bad policy; it is a blight on one of this country’s most revered principles—local control.

I reserve the balance of my time.

Floor Statement on Palmer RHNDA Amendment

This amendment prohibits the District of Columbia from spending its local funds, consisting solely of local taxes and fees, to carry out a local nondiscrimination law, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act.  Unlike the D.C. Council, which passed this law, no member of Congress was elected to legislate on local D.C. matters.  Yet, this is the third time in two years that the House will vote to nullify or block this local law.  The first two attempts were rejected by the Senate.  I expect this third attempt will fail, too, because we are at work now to make sure this amendment does not become law.

This amendment is wildly undemocratic, is in violation of the nation’s founding principle of local control of local affairs, and is profoundly offensive to D.C. residents.  This amendment would give employers license, in the name of religion, to discriminate against employees, their spouses and their dependents based on their private, constitutionally protected reproductive health decisions.  It is important to correct a false statement that continues to be repeated by proponents of this amendment.  Contrary to the sponsor’s claim, the D.C. law does not require employers to provide insurance coverage for reproductive health decisions.  The law states expressly: “This section shall not be construed to require an employer to provide insurance coverage related to a reproductive health decision.”

This amendment permits employers to fire a woman for having an abortion due to rape, or to decline to hire a woman for using in vitro fertilization, or to fire a man for using condoms, or to reduce the salary of a parent for buying birth control for his or her child.

The D.C. law is valid under both the U.S. Constitution and federal law.  Indeed, the law has been in effect for more than two years, and there appear to have been no lawsuits challenging it.  Under the U.S. Constitution, laws may limit religious exercise if they are neutral, generally applicable and rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest.  The D.C. law applies to all employers, does not target religion and promotes workplace equality.  Under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which applies to D.C., laws may substantially burden religious exercise if they further a compelling governmental interest in the least restrictive means.  D.C. has a compelling interest in eliminating discrimination, and the D.C. law is the least restrictive means to do so.

The D.C. law protects religious liberty. The law is subject to constitutional and statutory exceptions to non-discrimination laws.  The Constitution’s narrow ministerial exception allows religious organizations to make employment decisions for ministers and ministerial employees for any reason whatsoever. D.C. law permits religious and political organizations to make employment decisions based on religion and political views.  Under the D.C. law, employees must be willing to carry out employers’ missions and directives.

I urge Members to vote NO on this amendment in order to protect employees’ reproductive health decisions, workplace equality and D.C.’s right to self-government.

I reserve the balance of my time.

Floor Statement on BOP Subsistence Fees Amendment

Mr. Chairman, my amendment prohibits the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from using funds to carry out a law that requires individuals in halfway houses or on home confinement to pay a subsistence fee.  Currently, the subsistence fee for residents of halfway houses is 25 percent of income.  This criminal justice reform amendment would improve reentry and reduce recidivism among the nation’s returning citizens.  Out of prison and often without a job, returning citizens have no ability to pay counterproductive subsistence fees while in halfway houses or on home confinement, any more than they could have paid for their subsistence while in prison.  For the limited time individuals spend in halfway houses—up to 12 months—or on home confinement—up to 6 months—the subsistence fee requirement is a substantial burden on them and de minimis on the BOP, witness that the Congressional Budget Office concluded that this amendment would have no budgetary effect.

If returning citizens are able to find work at all, they are fortunate, but those would almost certainly be in minimum-wage jobs, so the loss of 25 percent of their paychecks to subsistence fees would be a significant hurdle to successful reentry, making it extremely difficult to save money to pay rent, child support or fines and fees associated with their conviction, such as restitution.  Far from promoting financial responsibility, subsistence fees while in custody actually prevent returning citizens from meeting their financial obligations.  Congress should not be imposing additional burdens on returning citizens, setting up many to fail.  Jobs and affordable housing are crucial to successful reentry.  Charging subsistence fees is antithetical to this goal.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) itself has recommended eliminating this fee.  A November 2016 DOJ memorandum recommended developing a plan to “limit the use of counterproductive ‘subsistence’ fees imposed on indigent residents.”  It further stated, “[t]he Bureau [of Prison]’s process for collecting these subsistence fees is costly and administratively burdensome for both [halfway houses] and the Bureau, and these fees make it difficult for residents, who typically earn minimum wage, to meet their other financial obligations, including restitution, fines, and child support.”  The BOP already eliminated subsistence fees for individuals on home confinement, which was a step in the right direction.  My amendment would continue this trend and eliminate the fees for those in halfway houses as well.