The House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to block a District of Columbia law, attempting to finish what House Republicans started a few months ago.
In April, the House voted along mostly party lines to formally block D.C.’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act, which aims to combat workplace discrimination based on reproductive health decisions. House conservatives argued the act could violate religious freedom, and activated the formal process to block a D.C. law for the first time in more than 20 years. However, since the Senate did not act, the bill became law, so Republicans opted Wednesday to try and combat the law in the appropriations process.
“This amendment is not about pro-choice versus pro-life or the pros and cons of reproductive health choices. This is about protecting the freedom of a religious or religiously guided employer to make decisions based on their system of beliefs, and the freedom to run their organization as they see fit,” said Rep. Steven M. Palazzo, R-Miss., as he introduced his amendment at committee markup of the Financial Services and General Government spending bill, which includes funding for D.C.
The amendment bars both local and federal funds from being used to carry out RHNDA, but, as D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said back in April, it is not clear how barring funds would actually block the law.
Palazzo told CQ Roll Call after the markup,”I think it’s effective.” He added, “I don’t see my amendment as the one that’s controversial. I think the D.C. law is actually more controversial … and depending on how they try to interpret it, could be the level of possibly discrimination against employers and institutions that have deeply held religious beliefs.”
Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., after defending RHNDA, pointed out that Congress already had its chance to formally block the law, but did not do so since the Senate did not take up the disapproval resolution. As it became clear the Senate would not act, and the president would veto such a resolution anyway, conservative groups in the House such as the Republican Study Committee encouraged the issue to be addressed in the appropriations process, a common tactic for addressing D.C.’s social policies.
Palazzo, a member of the RSC, took up that mantle Wednesday. Asked about the failed effort to formally block the law, Palazzo said, “Can’t control what the Senate does. I mean the House has voted in favor of the disapproval resolution and it’s imperative to us, if we have another opportunity, to take another bite at the apple. And that was our chance.”
Mirroring the debate on the House floor in April, Democrats and Republicans in the Appropriations Committee made their case for and against RHNDA. But one GOP member broke ranks with his party during the debate.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who voted against the disapproval resolution on the House floor, stood in opposition to the amendment Wednesday, saying, “I think this amendment goes too far.”
Dent and Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., who also voted against the disapproval resolution, joined 20 Democrats in voting against the amendment. But with 28 Republicans voting in the affirmative, the amendment was attached.
Democratic attempts to remove other riders dictating how the District can spend its federal and local funds failed in committee. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has pledged to force votes on the House floor on each of the riders.