Friday 3 March 2023

Biden Says He Will Sign Bills Blocking D.C.’s Radical Overhaul Of Voting Rights Criminal Code

 President Joe Biden promised to sign a law preventing the city of Washington D.C. from overhauling its crime and voting laws.

The Washington, D.C., city council passed a bill to overhaul the city’s criminal code, and another one allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections. But the House of Representatives passed two resolutions blocking those bills from becoming law, and the Senate is expected to vote on them as early as next week. Biden said Thursday that he would sign the bills if passed.

According to NPR, Biden reportedly told Senate Democrats during a closed-door meeting Thursday that he would not veto the bills, which are expected to pass with bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed the decision to reporters after the meeting.

Biden confirmed the news himself on Twitter. “I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule – but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections – such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden tweeted from the official Presidential Twitter account. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the bills as soon as next week. Two Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Bob Casey (D-PA), have already expressed support for the bills. With Casey’s Pennsylvania colleague, John Fetterman, out for an extended period of time with health problems, the Democrats do not seem to have the votes to stop the resolutions from passing, POLITICO reported, adding that with Biden signaling his support for the measures, they could earn more Democratic votes by the time they reach the floor. The bills require a simple majority to pass, and cannot be filibustered.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution to block the D.C. legislation allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections from becoming law on February 9. Some 42 Democrats joined Republicans, and the vote passed 260-162. Another resolution blocking the city from overhauling its criminal code passed 250-173, with the support of 31 Democrats.

D.C. city officials passed the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act on its first reading last year, which Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser allowed to pass without her signature, as she refused to veto the legislation. Washington, D.C., city councilmember Charles Allen introduced the bill in October 2020, arguing that it aligns with the chamber’s values and history of expanding voting rights.

The other bill, the one overhauling D.C.’s century-old criminal code, would not take effect until October 2025. While proponents argue the overhaul updates and improves an outdated system, critics warn it would embolden wrongdoers by reducing the penalties for certain crimes. Among other changes, the bill would reduce maximum penalties for violent crimes such as carjacking, and expand the rights to jury trials for misdemeanor offenses.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the criminal code changes, but the D.C. Council voted to override the veto. Bowser then proposed targeted alterations to the revised code, including restoring maximum penalties for gun crimes and carjackings, as well as delaying its implementation to 2027, per NBC Washington.

Under the Home Rule Act of 1973, Congress is allowed to overrule legislation passed by the D.C. city council before it becomes law.

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