Politics

Keep Hands Off Local Laws, DC Politicians Tell Congress

Budget riders for Washington include stopping legalized recreational marijuana, abortion funding

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss efforts to protect the district’s local laws. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

District of Columbia politicians want Congress to stop trying to take control of local laws.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press conference Wednesday to speak out against legislative policy riders in this year’s Washington budget.

“We want Congress to keep their hands off the things that matter to our residents,” Bowser said.

The presidential budget for D.C. has four stipulations that would:

  • Prohibit the local government from passing laws that would legalize suicide assistance.
  • Stop D.C. from implementing protections for employees discriminated against based on reproductive health choices.
  • Halt the district’s commercialization of recreational marijuana.
  • Prevent D.C. from funding abortion services for low-income women.

This is not a new fight.

District politicians have frequently pushed back on appropriations riders attached to D.C. spending bills. While Washington has a city government that creates local laws, its finances are controlled by the federal government.

“Congress cannot interfere in locally approved laws in D.C.,” Bowser said.

Legalizing the commercial sale of marijuana was a major focus for Wednesday’s speakers. D.C. legalized recreational marijuana for people over 21 by referendum in 2014 but selling pot for recreational use is prohibited. The district wants to follow in the footsteps of states such as Colorado, which has seen major financial success after the state legalized selling recreational marijuana.

From the Archives: 4 Arrests After Pot ‘Smoke In’ on Capitol Lawn

This budget denies Washington the right to make its own decision about marijuana legalization, Norton said.

“Marijuana is essentially already legal in the United States,” the Democrat said. “We deserve the same rights as 60 million other Americans.”

The politicians, joined by leaders of D.C. organizations, also criticized legislation by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that aims to repeal D.C.’s gun control laws. D.C. students and residents came out in support of stronger gun regulation in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, said Aaron King, a student from Wilson High School. Getting rid of gun regulations would run counter to what Washington locals want, he said.

“We need Congress to strengthen our gun laws, not attempt to weaken them,” King said.

Bowser and other officials also made a push for D.C. statehood at Wednesday’s news conference. High taxes without any federal voting representation was an “affront to democracy,” Norton said.

“We are overqualified to be the 51st state,” the longtime delegate said.

The easiest way to end the yearly fights over budget riders would be for D.C. to fully control its own budget and local laws, Bo Shuff of statehood advocacy group DC Vote said.

“We already know what the solution is to end this cycle,” Shuff said. “It’s statehood.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.