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Norton Vows to Fight GOP Attempts to Block D.C. Laws

Norton said she is going to fight the riders. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., reaffirmed her effort Tuesday to fight congressional attempts to block the District of Columbia's anti-discrimination laws, while activists detailed the consequences if those attempts are successful.  

In round two of a fight to preserve two laws that the District government argues combat discrimination based on reproductive health decisions and sexual orientation, Norton faces a familiar fight against policy riders attached to the District's spending bill. "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 vowed again at the event at Cork Market in Northwest D.C., where she was joined by a handful of reproductive health and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender activists.  

Last week, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee attached an amendment to the District's spending bill barring federal and local funds from being used to carry out the District's Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act. D.C. argues the act combats employer discrimination based on reproductive health decisions, while conservatives say it forces employers to violate their religious beliefs.  

Should the rider remain on the spending bill, the activists argued it could have practical implications for  the District.  

"It could stop the law from being enforced, obviously, which is the biggest problem," said Kate Ryan, a policy representative for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Ryan also said that the rider could block the D.C. government from setting rules that govern how the law should be carried out.  

"It stops the promulgation of those rules so they can’t even set up the law to take effect properly," Ryan said. She also said the rider could have ramifications if there is a violation of the law, and the case comes to the local court system. "It would also impact D.C. court’s ability, we think, to hear the case because the courts are obviously funded by D.C.’s budget, which has the rider on it,” she said.  

Cork Market's owner, Khalid Pitts, said he and more than 100 other small D.C. businesses supported RHNDA and want to rebuff congressional attempts to block it.  “Small business owners like myself strive to create a healthy workplace for their employees," Pitts, who is also a community activist, said. "The first way to do that is by protecting private health decisions.”  

The bill with the rider still has to go to the House floor, which Norton said could be sooner rather than later. The spending bill was not listed on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's weekly schedule of items to address before the July 4th recess.  

Norton took some solace in the fact that two Republicans voted against the rider in committee, but said she was more hopeful that there would be some success in blocking the rider in the Senate because senators represent broader constituencies than House members.  

However, one of the senators who attempted to formally block RHNDA in March sits on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over D.C. funds. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who also chairs the D.C. oversight subcommittee, introduced disapproval resolutions along with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, aimed at RHNDA and the Human Rights Amendment Act. The HRAA is an attempt to protect gay student groups from discrimination by religious educational institutions.  

Though the House did not attach any amendment relating to HRAA, Norton said she was bracing for another rider related to that law as well. But she noted that divisions within the GOP could work in her favor as she works to fight the riders.  

“Indeed the Republicans themselves are divided into five or six factions," Norton said, pointing to Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., losing his subcommittee chairmanship after bucking GOP leadership on a procedural vote. "So you see when you have a party that divided, it can’t help them; it helps us. so I am really quite hopeful that we can overcome this on both bills.”  

Meadows' subcommittee also had jurisdiction over D.C., and Norton said he is "a good friend." "I think he’s tried to find compromises that would satisfy his leadership," she told CQ Roll Call after the press conference. "While he’s been unsuccessful and he’s always voted against us, I have appreciated the effort.”  

As the House and Senate work through the appropriations process, the activists at Tuesday's press conference aimed to present a united front against Congress. Along with Pitts, other attendees included Sasha Bruce, senior vice president of campaigns and strategy for NARAL Pro-Choice America; Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, executive director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital.

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