Senate votes to overturn DC police reform bill, reigniting tensions over home rule

The Senate has approved a resolution that will overturn several local police reforms made in Washington, D.C., which is escalating tensions with Congress over the limited legislative autonomy of the District.

The Senate, which is made up of all Republicans and Democrats, voted to override the local laws with a vote of 56-43 on Tuesday. Eight senators from the Democratic caucus backed the measure. This is only the second time, in the past 30 years, that Congress has repealed local laws passed by the D.C. Council.

This vote follows Sen. J.D. Vance (R – OH) revived this bill by filing a discharge request on Tuesday morning. This allowed the Senate place the resolution for immediate consideration on the floor. In this way, Republicans needed only a simple majority in order to pass the legislation, and they did so after Democratic Senators. Joe Manchin (WV), Jon Tester, Maggie Hassan, Jacky Rosen, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jeanne Shaheen voted for the bill.

“Today’s voting is a win for safety and security in our nation’s capitol. Vance added that the vote was also a powerful statement of support for the hardworking officers of DC’s Metropolitan Police Department. “With this voting, Congress sent President Biden an unmistakable and bipartisan signal: The American people reject the radical left. They want law and order to return to Washington.”

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The resolution aims to repeal laws passed in December by the D.C. Council to reform the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the district’s justice system following George Floyd’s death in 2020 at the hands law enforcement. These reforms included a ban on neck restraints and increased access to body-camera footage. They also revised officer discipline procedures.

The House passed a disapproval measure in late April. It then sent the legislation to be voted on by the Senate, where it was mostly stalled because of a lack support from the Democratic majority. Vance, however, insisted on pushing the measure forward on Tuesday. This put Democrats in a difficult position, as they had to decide whether to protect the district’s autonomy or crack down on the high crime rate.

Vance stated on Tuesday that “Congress should exercise its constitutional authority to protect our nation’s capitol.” It’s a shame that the capital city of the world’s most powerful nation has become so unsafe, but we can expect this when left-wing activists take the lead. “For the sake of all Americans who live in this town or visit it, I urge my fellow colleagues to support my motion of disapproval.”

Vance’s effort has been dismissed by some district lawmakers, who claim it will have no legal impact under the D.C. Home Rule Act of 1973, which gives the district the ability to function as an independent local authority and control its own legislative affairs. All laws must be approved by Congress before they can be enacted. This gives members of Congress a disproportionate amount of influence in the 68-square mile jurisdiction.

The Home Rule Act requires that all district laws be reviewed for 60 days, during which time Congress can block the legislation. The 60-day review period expired on May 11; therefore, the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act has become district law. Local lawmakers have questioned whether Vance’s legislation can undo it.

Washington Attorney General Brian Schwalb stated in a press release that “Congress set the deadlines for voting disapproval resolutions. Voting to disapprove legislation after the deadline has no meaning and no legal effect.” The Senate Republicans’ attempt to pass a disapproval measure after the 60 day review period is over has no legal effect on the validity of the legislation and is nothing but empty political grandstanding.

The Senate parliamentarian, however, disagreed with this interpretation. He argued that the 60-day limit does not prevent the Senate from releasing the resolution from committee.

Vance also cited the enclave provision of the Constitution, which gives Congress full authority over the district. The Ohio Republican believes that this clause can be used by the government to repeal the police bill.

“D.C. “D.C. officials are in constitutional fantasyland,” said a Vance spokesperson to the Washington Examiner. “We’re confident that Congress can overturn this problematic law.”

The bill will not become law even if it passes the Senate. President Joe Biden stated in March that he would veto the measure if it reached his desk.