July 10, 2017
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton
2136 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
We are concerned that the FY’18 Spending Bill will, yet again, attempt to undermine local decisions made by the people of the District of Columbia and their locally elected leadership. These local laws were enacted to address concerns that are important to the more than 680,000 residents who call Washington, DC home. When Congress attempts to impose legislative “riders,” they seek to overturn the work of our locally elected officials and ignore the voices of our neighbors. Such riders would have a grave impact on criminal justice reform, local budget control, gun violence prevention, end-of-life medical decisions, and reproductive freedom. These riders usurp the autonomy granted to the District and our elected mayor and council and overstep the original intent of both the creation of the District and the Home Rule Act.
We understand that some in Congress are still seeking to use the appropriations process to impose policy riders upon the people of the District. The undersigned organizations, collectively representing millions of Americans, advocate on diverse issues and are united in our opposition to the inclusion of any language in the appropriations bill that overrides, limits, or otherwise usurps local government decision-making by the District of Columbia.
We also urge Congress to refrain from taking action that could threaten the District’s Local Budget Autonomy Act. The Act allows the District to spend local tax dollars based on the local budget at the beginning of each fiscal year. The DC Superior Court has held that the Autonomy Act is valid and the DC Council and the Mayor of the District are proceeding with the FY’18 local budget in accordance with the law.
Previous appropriations bills have included a provision barring the District from using local funds to provide insurance coverage of abortion care for women enrolled in the Medicaid program. While the Hyde Amendment currently restricts the federal funding for abortion care, states are able to use their own funds to cover abortion care for low income women. D.C. is the only locality that is restricted by Congress from using its own local funds to ensure equal access to abortion coverage.
Further, previous congressional efforts attempted to overturn, and continue to block, voter initiatives to change marijuana laws that were shown to unfairly target minorities. Congress has gone so far as to bar the District from counting votes on a citizen-led initiative. Most recently, an initiative won the support of nearly 70 percent of District voters. In the end, the process has created a confusing conflict of laws unique to the District allowing for medicinal and personal use of marijuana but not allowing Washington DC to tax and regulate its sale. In short, congressional meddling has kept the sale of marijuana unregulated and uncontrolled.
Each year, DC faces the threat of legislation that bars local spending on critically needed HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
This year, interest groups and Members who have zero connection to Washington, DC are calling for additional riders aimed at killing important local DC legislation, including:
- Our Death with Dignity law which allows mentally capable, terminally ill residents to plan with the doctors their own end of life medical procedures.
- Our law that requires accurate labeling of “wet wipes” to prevent them from being flushed because they clog DC’s sewers, threaten our drinking water and jeopardize worker safety.
- Our law prohibiting D.C. employers from discrimination against employees because of their reproductive health decisions.
- Annual incursions into the ability of the District to regulate and tax marijuana.
Congressional interference into these local matters is unfair and intolerable. It is a gross misinterpretation of both the United States Constitution and the Home Rule Act.
Right now, Americans are debating these and other issues in communities throughout this country. But, what is not up for debate is who gets to decide these questions. DC’s locally elected leadership should decide what is best for the people of the District of Columbia. Or, as Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy said, he “…was not the Mayor of the District of Columbia.”
The Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia were elected by DC residents to represent their interests. Congress does not impose its views on any other local jurisdiction, and Americans in DC have no vote in the Congress to cast against this ongoing, relentless attack on local democracy. Until such time that the residents of the District achieve full equality through Statehood, we expect Congress to allow District residents to manage their own affairs without interference or meddling.
We urge you to continue to lead the opposition to rollbacks of local autonomy and any other efforts that seek to impose Congress’ views upon DC residents.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen
House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Representative Nita Lowey