A Major Victory for DC Equality!

Almost three years ago, we stood together and celebrated the passage of Referendum 8, a ballot initiative that amended the DC Home Rule Charter to give the District of Columbia local budget control. With the law on our side, we freed ourselves from congressional control over our local tax dollars.

Late last week, the DC Superior Court upheld the force of the election and declared DC's local budget autonomy act the law of the land, ruling:

Congress has chosen to delegate its authority and responsibility over the District's affairs to a distinct local government. This Court is unable to interfere with that lawful delegation of authority and exercise of that delegated authority by the Council, the Mayor, and the citizens of the District of Columbia.

This victory is long overdue, and we are grateful to those who stood behind the will of the people along the way. Thank you to DC Appleseed, Mayor Muriel Bowser, Council Chair Phil Mendelson, the DC Council and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton as well as the numerous legal teams who crafted and defended this law. Our victory would not be possible without their involvement or yours.

Some members of Congress may still choose to stand in our way - refusing to surrender even a portion of the control they maintain over the District. But we are prepared to defend our laws. I hope you will stand with us as we continue our campaign for full democratic equality for DC residents.


Budget Autonomy

The Heritage Foundation’s Baffling Hypocrisy Regarding DC Reaches New Heights

Heritage Foundation nonsenseNever a stickler for facts or honoring its own mission statement, the Heritage Foundation is back yet again urging Congress to abuse their authority and interfere with the District of Columbia's locally-passed laws.

In its newly released Blueprint for Balance – which ironically calls on Congress to “eliminate budget gimmicks” – the Heritage Foundation pleads with Congress to resort to its favorite gimmick and use the appropriations process to block DC from using local funds to enforce both the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) and the Human Rights Amendment Act (HRAA).

Since being enacted last year, both RHNDA and HRAA have been lighting rods for members of Congress attempting to gain national attention without fear of repercussion through disapproval resolutions and appropriations riders. Luckily, through the tenacity of supporters of DC Equality and our allies in Congress, these attempts all failed. Now the Heritage Foundation is back trying to yet again compromise basic human rights.

In their plea, The Heritage Foundation claims "Congress has a special responsibility to protect the freedom of the people of the District of Columbia." If Heritage really cared about freedom they would not be using their influence over federal legislators to try to block a local law. It's probably time for Heritage to re-evaluate and decide if they'd rather promote freedom or resemble a hate group championing Federal dominance over local jurisdictions.

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

What the Senate Appropriations Bill for DC Really Means

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. Included in this legislation is the District of Columbia’s locally-raised tax dollars. This spending bill is also the vehicle certain members of Congress use to introduce “riders” that would impose their fringe ideals on District residents.

This year is an outlier though, because the Senate Appropriations Committee passed their version of the bill with no DC riders. But what does it actually mean? And what happens next?

What does this mean for Congressional attacks on DC Home Rule?

In short: Almost nothing.

While it’s fantastic that Senators didn’t find it necessary to waste time or energy legislating for District residents, the Senate bill is largely status quo. Here’s how the process usually shakes out: 

  1. The House approves its version of the bill – which currently includes numerous DC riders
  2. The  Senate approves its own version of the bill
  3. The House and Senate will conference and create a compromise version of the bill – we anticipate DC riders will be included as part of some grand compromise.
  4. The House and Senate approve this new version of the bill and District residents are yet again stripped of the basic right to self-government.

This year things are likely to work a little differently:

  1. The House refuses to vote on any further appropriations bills until they are done arguing about the confederate flag.
  2. Both the House and Senate take a month long vacation and promise they’ll sort this all out when they get back – mostly likely in the form of another omnibus spending bill.

So what next?

Once Congress is back and well-rested there won’t actually be enough time to pass any legislation before the end of FY2015 on September 30, so they’ll pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running. The CR simply extends the FY 2015 appropriations language, and so District residents will continue to be stuck with riders blocking us from using local funds on abortion coverage or creating a tax and regulate system for legalized marijuana until a final agreement is reached. 

The CR then buys Congress enough time to create an Omnibus spending bill. If last year’s “CRomnibus” bill has taught us anything, it’s that we can expect every rider that is currently on the table to be included and yet again District residents will be denied basic democracy.

With Republicans now in control of both Houses, it will be up to the White House to negotiate changes to the spending bill. 

We can’t stand for this nonsense another day, and so we need you to start contacting Congress and the White House NOW and tell them to focus on National issues that their constituents are passionate about, and leave the District to govern itself.

Budget Autonomy

How Are Lawmakers Attacking DC Now?

It’s June in DC, which can mean only one thing: House Appropriators have launched the annual assault on DC Home Rule better known as the FY 2016 Appropriations Bill.

As it currently stands here are the anti-DC riders and what exactly they mean:

Sec. 809 (b) 

None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or  otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession,  use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the  Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any  tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.

This language was first introduced in the FY 2015 CRomnibus bill and was an attempt to block the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana. While that attempt failed, this rider DOES keep the DC government from creating any sort of tax and regulate system to allow the legal sale of marijuana in the District. Because of Congress’ refusal to allow the District to govern itself we’re stuck in a wild west of sorts where it is legal to cultivate, possess and smoke marijuana, but illegal to purchase. 

SEC. 810. None of the funds appropriated under this Act shall be expended for any abortion except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were  carried to term or where the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.

This mainstay of the appropriations process – despite an uncharacteristic respect for DC Home Rule in 2010 – is so ingrained in DC's consciousness that  it registers as nothing more than an afterthought in the limited media coverage of Congress’ attacks on our democracy. The language is pretty straightforward, DC is FORBIDDEN to provide any local funding for abortion services, a decision Congress leaves to every other State’s legislature.

Both of these provisions are an unacceptable attack on democracy and on the very idea of local government.

It’s a depressing state of events when only two riders dictating how the District can spend its own locally raised tax dollars is cause for mild celebration, but judging by veiled threats made by certain members of Congress we can expect quite a few more riders to come when the full appropriations committee considers the bill and when the bill hits the House floor.

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

What Does That Budget Autonomy Ruling Mean?

Last week we saw a welcomed victory in the fight for DC local budget control.  This win for the District has been complicated and threatened by opposing legal arguments aimed at weakening popular support for the law. This strategy to sow confusion makes discussion about our budget law inaccessible to most supporters of DC Equality. 

To start, it is best to read the actual court order:

Upon consideration of Mayor Bowser’s suggestion of mootness and motion to dismiss the appeal, the responses thereto, and the reply, it is

ORDERED that the motion be granted. The judgment of the court below is hereby vacated and the case is remanded to the district court with instructions to remand the case to the D.C. Superior Court.

The Clerk is directed to transmit to the Clerk of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia a certified copy of this order in lieu of a formal mandate.

What does this mean?

Simply put, this order undoes the previous court ruling declaring DC’s local budget control law invalid. With that ruling gone, the 2013 budget autonomy referendum introduced by the DC Council, supported by DC Vote and approved by 83% of DC voters is now law. District leaders officially have the authority to spend local tax dollars in fiscal year 2016 without the need for Congressional approval.

What happens next?

While Mayor Bowser and the DC Council are staking out a cautious course and despite opposition from the Chief Financial Officer, local budget control is the law. The DC Council will hold a second reading of the budget bill, and send the approved budget to Congress for a 30 day review – just like any other piece of legislation. Congress does not have to actively approve the budget, and once the 30 day review ends, the budget is enacted. Starting October 1, the District will be free to spend local tax dollars in accordance with that budget.

Is the fight over?

The fight is far from over. Members of Congress – armed with a legal opinion from a previous DC Attorney General – are not quick to give up their control over the District’s budget. And, the fact that Congress still retains authority to overturn any DC law – including the budget law. The Attorney General and CFO will soon decide who they will stand with, the Congress or the people they have sworn to serve. DC Vote is ready to fight any attack on DC’s rights and laws, but we are also prepared to stand strong with our leaders who step forward to advance local autonomy. 

Budget Autonomy

Two Years Later and Still No Budget Freedom

On April 23, 2013, DC residents raised their voices and demanded control of their local tax dollars. 83% of DC voters supported Referendum 8, which gave DC control of its own local tax dollars, freeing it from Congressional delays.

Now, two years later, due to non-binding commentary from Congress and local infighting, DC still doesn’t have local budget control. We continue to be at the mercy of opportunistic national politicians who use the budget process to force their personal opinions on DC residents.

The absurdity of Congress controlling DC’s local tax dollars is not lost on people across the country. 78% of Americans believe that the District should have control of its own tax dollars. Still, we are stuck toiling under congressional control as lawmakers arrogantly declare they are prepared to use the “power of the purse” to punish DC residents for passing legislation they disagree with.

There is still hope for local budget control. Mayor Bowser has declared her support, and petitioned the courts to dismiss the case currently blocking DC from implementing the local law. While the local fight for budget autonomy continues, there is also an opportunity on Capitol Hill. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) reintroduced H.R. 552, the District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act, which would end the fighting and grant DC budget freedom.

If we ever expect budget control we need more supporters across the country to take action. Contact your member of Congress and tell them to sign on to H.R 552 to give local DC residents control of local tax dollars.

Budget Autonomy

The District is not a Political Pawn

Two top contenders for the GOP presidential nomination have decided that winning accolades from narrow interest groups, while denying local democracy to 660,000 Americans living in DC is a fair trade. We can’t let them off so easy. 

Last week, Senatos Ted Cruz (R-TX), along with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) filed resolutions of disapproval in an attempt to overturn two locally-passed DC bills that would protect the LGBT community from discrimination and safeguard women from workplace discrimination based on the employees’ personal reproductive health care decisions. 

Next up, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)  jumped on the bandwagon by introducing legislation that would not only completely overturn DC’s locally passed gun laws, but also block the DC Council from passing future legislation, instead handing over full control of DC’s gun laws to Congress.

The hypocrisy of these actions is stunning. Politicians who continue to speak about the tyranny of the federal interference in local matters are more than willing to drop those beliefs to score a few political points.

The residents of the District of Columbia are not pawns in somebody’s political game; we are taxpaying American citizens with a locally elected  government and deserve the basic democratic rights and respect granted to all other citizens.

Although we cannot hold Senators Cruz, Lankford, Rubio or Rep. Jordan accountable with our votes, we can still let them know we have a voice. On Wednesday, April 1, tell these opportunists you are #NotaPoliticalPawn by sharing an image of yourself holding one of the signs below and share it on Facebook and Twitter. You can also contact the offices of Senators Rubio, Lankford and Cruz and Rep. Jordan and let them know you will not stand aside as they attack the rights of DC residents.

Budget Autonomy · Gun Control · Voting Rights

Senator Cruz, Don't Tread on DC

Last week, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Lankford (R-OK) filed resolutions of disapproval in a wrongheaded attempt to overturn two locally-passed DC bills. These resolutions represent political hypocrisy at its highest level, coming from a Presidential hopeful who views himself as the leading defender against federal interference in local matters. 

The irony is not lost on us that a month after wrapping up our 30 Days of Disapproval campaign we are staring at two disapproval resolutions. Likewise, Senators Cruz and Lankford should recognize the absurdity of preaching against unnecessary federal overreach while attempting to use the naked power of the federal government to block DC’s local laws.

The disapproval process is a vestigial remainder from a time when Congress believed that DC was incapable of properly managing itself. Still, Congress only used it three times – most recently in 1991 – to actually block a DC law. Now it has become a tool for political grandstanding where members of Congress can suck up to their campaign donors without having to face repercussions from actual voters. 

The residents of the District of Columbia are not just a hypothetical in a stump speech or a checkmark on a voter guide; we are American citizens who should not be made victim to a politician’s personal aspirations. Although we cannot hold Senators Cruz and Lankford accountable with our votes, we can still let them know we have a voice. 53 national organizations already joined together to urge Congress to reject these disapproval resolutions. Now you can be heard as well. Sign our petition or call Ted Cruz (202.224.5922) and James Lankford (202.224.5754). Tell them to put an end to the grandstanding and respect the principles of local control they claim to support!

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

Americans Now Given the Chance to "Disapprove" of Congress

During the new digital challenge: 30 Days of Disapproval, Americans get the chance to "disapprove" of members of Congress from both major political parties who voted in favor of the 2015 spending bill including a provision to overturn a November 4th ballot initiative voted on by the people of the District of Columbia.

Some of those members have, in the past, voiced strong support for local control in the District of Columbia. Some were even cosponsors of DC statehood bills in the House or the Senate. We appreciate those expressions of support for our struggle. 

But any member of Congress who knowingly votes to overturn a legitimate local election that expresses the will of the people must be held accountable. 

The attempt to void democracy in the District of Columbia through the appropriations process is a serious attack on American democratic principles. For more than two centuries, the people of the District of Columbia have lived with the indignity of being treated as second-class citizens. We are not. Instead, we are proud Americans who fight and die in wars, pay federal income taxes, yet have no say in our national legislature – and this reality must come to an end. 

We need champions in the Congress who will stand up for us no matter the circumstance, regardless of party affiliation.  The principles of democracy should be valued at all times, not just when it’s convenient for the member. 

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

Can Common Sense Stop Push to Void DC Election Results?

In November, 64 percent of DC voters supported Initiative 71, an effort to legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana in the District of Columbia. As the DC Council prepares to transmit the initiative to Capitol Hill for the outdated and unnecessarily bureaucratic Congressional review process, District residents will find out once again whether  members of Congress are willing to ignore democracy when it comes to the 650,000 American citizens who live in the shadow of the capitol.  

Already, members of the House of Representatives are preparing to attack the District’s local law:

“I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action.” – Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)

“[W]hen I was the chairman of the D.C. subcommittee, I didn’t meddle in their affairs. This is a little different, when you take something that is on its face against federal law and say that we’re going to supersede it … I wouldn’t support that effort if a state did it.” –Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) forgetting the four states that have also legalized marijuana.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) outright refused to do anything to prevent this abortion of justice, admitting that when it comes to members of Congress forcing their personal opinions on DC residents “it’s all on the table” during the appropriations process.

Thankfully, a number of members of Congress from both parties are standing up for the rights of District residents, speaking out against Congress meddling in local affairs:

“I think there should be a certain amount of discretion for both states and territories and the District, you know [. . .] I’m not for having the federal government get involved.” –Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

“The fundamental principles are individual liberty, which Republicans have always talked about; limited government, which Republicans have always talked about; the doctor-patient relationship, which, of course, we have been stressing a lot about lately; and of course, states’ rights,” – Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

Still others in Congress are taking little interest in efforts to overturn the initiative vote, providing more evidence that  a jurisdiction’s local laws are not a concern of many on Capitol Hill.

“To be honest, that’s pretty far down my list of priorities,” - Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

“I haven’t given it one thought,” - Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)

“[I’m] focused on other things,” - Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

As we fight to stop any attempt from Congress to overturn the District’s local laws, we will remind the constituents of those seeking to ignore democracy that instead of focusing on national issues – or matters that may have an impact on their home district -- they are using their power to attack American citizens in a local jurisdictions that did not elect them.

 [d1]Should be at margin

Budget Autonomy