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Leave D.C. Laws Alone, Coalition Tells Congress

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 50 women's rights and gay rights groups are urging members of Congress not to interfere with two District of Columbia laws they say protect against discrimination.  

Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group, has been lobbying members of Congress to overturn the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Amendment Act, which the D.C. government approved in January. Both laws were recently transmitted to Congress for the mandatory 30-day review period. Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler wrote in an email to CQ Roll Call that resolutions of disapproval will be introduced, but timing is still being solidified.  

But 53 groups on the other side of the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, wrote in a letter Monday that any action to strike down the bills would be unfounded.  

"These bills are straightforward: they will ensure that those who work and study in the District are treated fairly," the groups wrote. "Unsurprisingly, opponents of these bills have unfairly mischaracterized them as 'unprecedented assaults' on religious liberty. Nothing could be further from the truth."  

The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act seeks to prohibit employer discrimination based on reproductive health decisions. The D.C. Council unanimously approved a resolution on March 3 clarifying the act would not require employers to pay for insurance that covers reproductive health decisions, such as abortions. But the clarification would likely not appease religious and conservative groups, including the U.S. Conference of Bishops, Catholic University and the Family Research Council, which wrote in a Feb. 5 letter to members of Congress that the clarifications "fail to resolve" concerns that the act violates religious freedom.  

The second D.C. measure, the Human Rights Amendment Act is actually an attempt to undo a 1989 congressional amendment known as the Nation’s Capital Religious Liberty Act, which allowed religious educational institutions to “deny, restrict, abridge, or condition” funds, school facilities, etc., from gay groups."  

While a joint resolution of disapproval is expected to be introduced regarding these two measures, it is unlikely that the president will sign the resolution considering his support for D.C. autonomy. A more likely scenario is attaching an amendment to a spending bill, which is a more common congressional tactic for affecting the District's social policies. But the groups, and the District's representative, warned conservative groups against infringing upon local autonomy in any capacity.  

"These are local laws that match the local interests of D.C. residents," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a statement Monday. "D.C. is not a political playground for Members of Congress, and I will fight tirelessly alongside our local and national partners to defend D.C.’s anti-discrimination laws.”  

Related: Heritage Action Urges Congress to Reject D.C. Bills The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.