When the election results were all in, we knew that this would be a very tough year for democracy in the District of Columbia. As feared, we have seen several assaults on Home Rule since the new Congress convened in January.
On January 24, 2017, the House of Representatives passed HR 7 “No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017.” Title 1 of the Act would permanently prohibit the use of federal funds, including funds in the budget of the District of Columbia, for abortion or health coverage that includes abortion. It was introduced on January 17 by Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ-4).
Also on January 17, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced S.162 “2nd Amendment Enforcement Act of 2017.” Rubio introduced it as “A Bill to Restore 2nd Amendment Rights in the District of Columbia.” The provisions include “reforming” the DC Council’s authority to restrict firearms; repealing DC’s ban on semiautomatic weapons; allowing DC residents to buy guns elsewhere, specifically in Maryland and Virginia where regulations on gun shows are not so strict; removing prohibitions on possession of unregistered guns and certain ammunition; repealing our gun register; and repealing nine other DC laws related to guns. Among the potentially horrific outcomes: it would be legal to sell weapons to someone with a mental illness. The bill, which totally guts our progressive gun laws, has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
Rubio’s bill is a travesty, full of falsehoods about the District. It claims that federal courts have repeatedly found DC gun laws to be unconstitutional and that the District remains one of the “most dangerous large cities in the United States.” One of the clauses states, “The law-abiding residents of the District of Columbia are deprived by local laws of handguns, rifles, and shotguns that are commonly kept by law-abiding persons throughout the United States for sporting use and for lawful defense of their persons, homes, businesses, and families.”
Death With Dignity
Representative Brad Wenstrup (R-Oh-2) introduced H.J.Res 27“Disapproving the action of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Death with Dignity Act of 2016” along with 60 co-sponsors on January 12. That same day Senator James Lankford (R-OK) with three co-sponsors introduced S.J.Res 4 “A joint resolution disapproving the action of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Death with Dignity Act of 2016.”
Assaults on the District’s limited Home Rule are not new. A 1990 article in the Catholic University Law Review reported a long list of interfering laws such as the one requiring the District to provide a free telephone hotline from FY 1987 to FY 1989 so that people living near Lorton could learn of any prison disturbances. But the assaults seem to be increasing in number and seriousness. DC Vote reported 25 instances of interference in 2016 including budget autonomy and the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
We recently joined 26 other organizations in signing onto a letter sponsored by DC Vote calling for Congress to respect DC autonomy and the will of the District’s citizens. (a copy of the letter can be found on our website a www.lwvdc.org). The efforts that are rising out of our lively and well-attended Program Planning meeting on January 28 will help us speak out for democracy for the District. I hope that you will join in one of them or recommend other actions we can take.
We need to do as much as we can to stand up for democracy. We have been hampered because we have no voting representation in Congress, and League rules say state Leagues may lobby only their own representatives. But we are talking with national leaders of the League of Women Voters to determine how we can do more. Following up on our very successful grant for the Statehood Toolkit is one of those efforts.
Do help us speak out for democracy!