WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — In what could be a historic blow for the District, the U.S. House voted Thursday to overturn D.C.’s criminal code, which D.C. Council recently revised for the first time since 1901.
A vote to overturn a D.C. law hasn’t advanced through the house since 2015, and before that, it was in the ’80s.
But on Thursday, the Republican-controlled U.S. House — along with 31 Democrats — decided D.C.’s Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA) isn’t up to code with them.
“Clearly, crime after crime is on the rise here in D.C. Yet, the D.C. Council’s bill will only make matters worse,” said Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.).
The updated policy would among other things reduce penalties for things like carjackings and burglaries.
“(They) are still subject to very, very significant penalties on courses and instead again, significantly longer than even the longest sentences that are currently being imposed,” said Jinwoo Park, executive director of the Criminal Code Reform Commission.
“We had a member of assaulted in her apartment today in Washington DC. We’ve had Hill staffers who have been injured because of crime,” said Denise Krepp, former ANC 6B10 commissioner.
Krepp has been a vocal opponent of the RCCA and a letter to Congress in December asking for a resolution to block the bill. On Thursday, Clyde mentioned her name on the House floor.
“It’s been my honor to work with a local Democrat, Denise Krepp, who formerly served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner here in D.C.” Clyde said. “For years Ms. Krepp pleaded with Democrats to be tough on crime for the sake of the residents she served.”
“I want to say thank you to the 250 members of Congress who said, ‘You know what, we shouldn’t be tolerating this. We shouldn’t be allowing murderers and rapists to get out of prison early,” Krepp said.
But Park says most people agree on 95% of the bill.
“The RCCA actually increases penalties in a number of significant ways for things like attempted murder, attempted sexual assault, for certain kinds of non-consensual sexual activities, for possession of certain dangerous weapons,” Park said.
The revised criminal code was passed by D.C. Council in November. The mayor vetoed the bill earlier this year, but the council voted to override that veto 12 to one.
“This has been the product of more than a decade of really, really intense work in direct consultation with both public defenders and prosecutors,” Park said.
Park said the RCCA “clearly defines the requirements for every single offense that you can be charged with here in the district as well as the defenses that a person can claim. And so it’s going to improve dramatically the administrability of the system.”
Park said there is too much focus on penalty reductions.
“These changes to penalties are really relatively small. And not only that, but will have virtually no practical effect on the actual sentencing outcomes,” Park said.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been pushing for statehood for years, expressed her displeasure before the vote.
“I strongly oppose this profoundly undemocratic, paternalistic resolution,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton “The legislative history and merits of the legislation enacted by D.C. that is the subject of this resolution are irrelevant to the consideration of this resolution since there is never justification for Congress nullifying legislation enacted by D.C.”
Krepp says solving crime is a bipartisan issue.
“Nobody from outside of D.C. is going to come here and say you know what? If you think the criminal is a victim, we’re not going to give you statehood,” Krepp said. “Now, when you start writing bills that hold criminals accountable for their actions, we’ll get statehood.”
The resolution still has to pass through the democratically controlled Senate and then the president’s desk before it can officially be overturned.