Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Media Source: 
Washington Post (DC)
Perry Stein

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is once again staging a fight to block House Republicans from interfering with local affairs, vowing to force a floor vote each time Congress attempts to quash a D.C. law.

The latest Congressional threat to a District law?  The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act — a bill the D.C. Council unanimously passed in December that prohibits discrimination based on whether employees have abortions or use contraception. House Republicans last week tacked on a rider to the next federal spending bill that would prohibit the District from spending any of its funds enforcing the law.

The Home Rule Charter grants Congress the ability to effectively kill any D.C. law it pleases. But instead of passing specific legislation to block local action, Congress typically does this through the appropriations process, which allows legislators to dictate how the city spends its money. The House Appropriations Committee passed the amendment to the reproductive act mostly along party lines last week, with two Republicans voting against their party.

In a rare move in April, the House voted along party lines to upend the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act — the first vote to directly strike down a D.C. law in 23 years. The Senate, however, did not pass a companion bill and the law currently remains intact.

It is generally easier to block a District law through the appropriations process since it is attached to larger legislation.

At a press conference Tuesday at Cork Market on 14th Street NW, Norton called on lawmakers to “respect their own pro-local government principles and just let the District be the District.”

“I will force a vote on each and every attempt to overturn any D.C. local law when the D.C. appropriation goes to the floor,” Norton said.

Norton was joined by reproductive health, free speech, and LGBT activists. Khalid Pitts, the owner of Cork Market who recently ran for an at-large D.C. Council, also spoke on behalf of local business leaders who he said are in favor of the D.C. law.

“They would never dare impose this on their own constituents who they are accountable to at home,” said Sasha Bruce, the senior vice president of campaigns and strategy for NARAL Pro-Choice America, who called the Congressional actions “supremely outrageous.”

If the District is prohibited from spending money to carry out the law, the city could not even use the minimal amount of money it would cost to enforce the law. And, activists said, such a rider could prevent local courts from even hearing cases related to the law, considering that the D.C. budget funds the courts.

Rep. Steven M. Palazzo ­(R-Miss.) introduced the measure to block the District law. He called the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act “deceivingly named,” saying it disregards the First Amendment.

“[It] takes unprecedented steps to supersede the religious precedents that govern the lives and businesses of the men, women and children that live and work in the District of Columbia,” he said last week.

The full House still has to vote on the spending bill and Norton can introduce an amendment in attempt to block the rider.