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House committee hearing begins on whether to block D.C.’s policing bill



D.C. officials are on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning for a House Oversight Committee hearing, where Republicans plan to examine crime and city management before voting on whether to advance a measure to block the city’s police accountability legislation.

Committee chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) indicated in excerpts of his prepared remarks that he plans to examine the impact of city policies on crime, the impact of pandemic-era school shutdowns on children’s education and the District’s financial footing as it heads into a more challenging budget year.

D.C. officials, Comer argues in his remarks, “have failed in their responsibility to keep safe its citizens and visitors and provide economic and educational opportunities for them” — claims that D.C. Council members plan to mount a vigorous defense against when they appear for questioning.

In fact, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) intends to argue that congressional interference in the District’s affairs has negatively impacted the District’s ability to improve public safety — including through blocking the comprehensive revision of its criminal code.

“Every year we watch as members of Congress with no connection to the District introduce legislation or insert appropriation riders that detrimentally impact the functions of our government,” Mendelson says in his prepared remarks, while making a case for statehood. “These legislative efforts are often motivated by a desire to score political points on hot topics in national politics without any regard for why we enact the laws that we do or the effect on broader policies.”

The hearing, which began at 10 a.m., is taking place as D.C. weathers a barrage of GOP intervention in its affairs — but also a notable uptick in Democratic involvement in weighing D.C. legislation. Republicans have brought forth back-to-back-to-back resolutions disapproving of various D.C. bills, and received help from a majority of Senate Democrats and sign-off from President Biden to block D.C.’s revised criminal code earlier this month.


Now, D.C.’s policing bill is in jeopardy as well. The GOP-led committee is expected to advance Republicans’ latest disapproval resolution seeking to overturn D.C.’s s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Act, potentially queuing it up for consideration on the House floor.

Republicans and the D.C. police union have framed the legislation as “anti-police,” though supporters argue it is necessary for transparency and trust within the police force through measures such as increasing public access to police disciplinary records and body-camera footage in incidents involving excessive or deadly force, among numerous other provisions.

Many provisions of the bill, such as prohibiting neck restraints, have already been enacted on a temporary basis multiple times and Congress did not intervene in those instances, as D.C. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb (D) noted in a statement Tuesday.

“This legislation is essential in ensuring the swift and certain discipline of officers who use excessive force or violate constitutional rights, which will go far to improve trust and mutual respect between police officers and the community,” he said.

D.C. leaders begin lobbying Congress against effort to block policing bill

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who shepherded the bill last year, and Mendelson appeared for questions during the hearing ahead of the vote. The city’s chief financial officer, Glen Lee, also testified, along with the D.C. police union chairman, Greggory Pemberton, who has frequently raised concerns about retention of police.

Pemberton has called the legislation “dangerous,” noting the bill’s removal of the union’s rights to bargain disciplinary matters, and claimed that it “further contributes to the critical staffing crisis that is plaguing” the department.


Mendelson and Allen pushed back on those claims as part of their testimony.

Allen, the former chairman of the council’s public safety committee, also detailed steps the council has taken or will take to address issues including retention and hiring of police officers, and to combat violent crime — an issue he said is personal to him after experiencing an armed robbery.

“Despite historically low overall crime, the District is experiencing challenging increases in certain categories of violent crime, namely homicides and carjackings,” Allen notes in his prepared remarks.

Violent crime in the District is “being driven by a significant rise in illegal firearms being trafficked into the District,” Allen said, suggesting Congress may find a role in cracking down on interstate gun trafficking. Allen pointed out how the “absurdity” of federal control of D.C.’s criminal justice system limits D.C., which has no local control over prosecuting crime or sentencing people convicted of crimes. The U.S. attorney’s office and federally nominated judges handle D.C. arrests, and federal prosecutors in the District recently reported they declined to prosecute in 67 percent of cases last year.

D.C. U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute 67% of those arrested. Here’s why.

Allen plans to call on Congress to return full control of the justice system to D.C., noting it would save the feds money and resources.

Lastly, he argues that blocking the policing disapproval resolution will do nothing to improve public safety if that is the aim of the committee.


“Let me make this perfectly clear: if you vote to disapprove our laws, you will be making the District less safe, you will be stripping the [police] chief of crucial powers he needs to run the department, and you will be harming the transparency and trust the District is working so hard to build between police and the communities they serve,” Allen says in his remarks.

D.C. disapproval resolutions that deal with provisions of the criminal code — as the policing legislation in part does — are subject to special procedures in Congress, which increase their odds of succeeding. The resolution would not be subject to the Senate filibuster and can be expedited for a floor vote without a committee hearing.

If it passes the House, the ultimate success of the policing disapproval resolution would likely come down to just a handful of Senate Democrats, who narrowly control the chamber. Several already indicated in interviews with The Washington Post that they would be weighing the merits of the bill, vs. voting on the principle of D.C. home rule as advocates would hope.

The White House recently said in a statement to The Post that Biden was reviewing the legislation, but stressed his support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and executive actions on police accountability. Many city officials have compared the D.C. policing bill to the federal legislation, which passed the House with near-unanimous Democratic support in 2021.

On Wednesday morning, demonstrators with the Hands Off DC Coalition held a march to the hearing, imploring Congress to leave D.C. alone while defending the policing bill.

At Seward Square, the crowd of about 50 began marching down Pennsylvania Ave at around 9 a.m. to the chant of “Hands Off D.C.”

The crowd slowly grew and received a few honks of support from cars on the other side of Pennsylvania Ave as the crowd chanted “Rise up fight back” and “This is what DC statehood looks like.”


As the crowd passed the Cannon building, they chanted “Boo you Andrew” in reference to Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R) of Georgia, one of the sponsors of the resolution targeting D.C.’s policing legislation.

When the crowd arrived outside the Rayburn building where the hearing is taking place, they left their signs and banners outside before heading in.

Omari Daniels contributed to this report.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Source: Washington Post


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