WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — In an 81-14 vote, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution on Wednesday to block D.C.’s revised criminal code.
In an announcement last week, President Joe Biden stated that he would sign the resolution overturning this code if the Senate passed it. This marks the first time in over three decades that Congress has struck down the District’s laws through this disapproval process.
The House first passed the resolution in February.
The revised criminal code was passed by the D.C. Council in November, but Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the bill, citing concerns including the impact of lower sentences and expanding the right to a jury trial. The Council voted to override that veto 12 to 1.
DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson posted on Twitter after the Senate vote and said, “This is not a surprise and that’s why I withdrew the bill earlier this week. This is nothing more than a symbolic vote. Critics still don’t understand what the RCCA really does. We’ll continue to work on this because our current code is considered one of the worst in the nation.”
DC’s criminal code was written in 1901 and has only ever been revised in piece-meal. An independent group — which included prosecutors, defense attorneys, professors and more — spent 16 years working on the massive overhaul.
“Most states made this change (to their criminal code) decades ago, we’re really late to the game,” said Councilmember Charles Allen, who formerly chaired the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, during a November interview. “What you’ll see now in the courtroom, is much more transparency, much more clarity, much more certainty. And that will hold people who did wrong accountable.”
Allen argued that the revised code fixes outdated language, lays out proportional penalties and defines crimes in the District. It also adjusts sentencing guidelines to fit more in line with how judges are actually sentencing people. In some cases, that meant lowering penalties; in others that meant raising them.
The lowering of some penalties is what’s caused many Congressional leaders to call the code “soft on crime.”
“These ideas are crazy folks. Even DC’s very liberal mayor says so,” said Republican Senator Joni Ernst. “The law was so reckless, so irresponsible, only those Congressional democrats in the most extreme wing of the defund the police crowd defended the change publicly.”
“Why would they even consider sending such a weak on crime message? It is an invitation to criminals to come and carry out their crimes,” said Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn. “It’s time for the left to revisit their priorities and start paying attention to what the crime stats are telling them. The status quo isn’t working, but surrendering to violence, lawlessness, despair, is not the answer either.”
Still other Senators argued the code has become the target of misinformation.
“I have never seen such a distortion of facts, such a misrepresentation of what something is,” said Senator Cory Booker. “Unfortunately this is now embroiled in scare tactics. Where political opportunistic tactics are taking place to try and use this as a way of winning political points.”
The resolution to block the criminal code from taking effect has pushed the fight for DC Statehood into the forefront. Hundreds of people rallied outside the Capitol Wednesday calling for Congress to “keep your hands off” DC.
Despite those calls, the resolution blocking the code passed.
“I am not happy that the Congress is intervening in our laws,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “I am not happy about the discussion at all. And I hope, and it was my fervent hope, that my concerns with the crime bill would have been addressed locally. But, what we should do, is we should al stop talking about a dead bill and get to work to get it right.”