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October 20, 2014

Posts in "DC Council"

October 17, 2014

Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.’s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

gun presser017 071714 440x292 Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

Will Gray’s successor make budget autonomy suit moot? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 40 years after President Richard M. Nixon signed the Home Rule Act, legal experts in the District of Columbia are fighting about what the feds intended.

Federal appeals court judges listened to more than an hour of oral arguments Friday in the case pitting the District’s executive branch against its legislative branch. It’s round two of a legal battle launched in April.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia A. Millett pressed a politically potent question for this time of year. Will the entire suit be “moot” after Nov. 4, when the city casts ballots for a new mayor and its first elected attorney general?

If the new administration chooses to comply with the local budget autonomy law signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in February 2013, and approved by 83 percent of voters two months later, there’s “at least a possibility that what we have right now [might] no longer be what the courts call a case or controversy,” said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed.

“The court could say, ‘Well, the case is over,’ dismiss the appeal and vacate the decision,” Smith said in an interview after the arguments. As the legal architect behind the charter amendment, he supports the D.C. Council’s appeal to require Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt to comply with the law.

Budget autonomy referendum backers claim Congress provided a pathway for the District to amend the budget process via its charter. In court documents, lawyers for the D.C. Council cited House staff memos and notes from 1973 conference negotiations with the Senate to discern lawmaker’s intentions. They noted that in 1984, Congress made it easier to amend the charter.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan counters that Capitol Hill “put it off limits” for the council to to change its budget process. Nathan insisted the panel go “back to the merits” and uphold U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s May 19 ruling that the city does not have the right to spend its local revenues without seeking an annual appropriation from Congress. He wants “common sense” to prevail.

Both sides say they believe the District deserves budget autonomy, but the executive branch agrees with the House GOP and the Government Accountability Office: The city can’t cut its own purse strings.

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser and independent candidate David Catania are both members of the D.C. Council, which voted unanimously to adopt the local budget autonomy law. Bowser, Catania and Carol Schwartz — another independent challenger for mayor and a former councilmember — have all expressed support for budget autonomy.

Paul Zukerberg, an attorney general contender, attended Friday’s arguments as a supporter of the D.C. Council. He told CQ Roll Call that, if elected, he would enforce the local budget autonomy law, but that might not be the end of the legal battle.

“There’s also a provision that would require the appointment of independent counsel for Jeff DeWitt or the mayor if they had different opinions,” Zukerberg said. “The CFO is independent so if he persisted there would still be an attorney representing him, so it wouldn’t necessarily mean the case is over.”

This hypothetical scenario is something Smith differed on. He said the CFO is still a member of the executive branch. A new attorney general’s opinion may be “binding on every District of Columbia official,” Smith said.

The appeals court has no set timeline to decide the appeal, but advocates of budget autonomy hope for a fresh start after Nov. 4.

DC Vote spokesman James Jones said he looks forward to having an elected attorney general who balances “the responsibility to uphold the law” with “viewing the people of the District as a client.”

Related:

D.C. Budget Autonomy Ruling Is Just the Beginning of Local Control Fight

D.C. Budget Autonomy Amicus Brief Takes Slap at Congress

D.C. Council to Mayor: See You in Court

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Warns Local Budget Autonomy Law Puts Home Rule at Risk

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October 10, 2014

Gray Signs D.C. Handgun Law to ‘Cure Alleged Constitutional Flaws’

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Gray signed the D.C. handgun licensing law to comply with federal ruling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With little fanfare, Mayor Vincent Gray signed legislation Thursday evening legalizing the concealed carry of handguns in the District of Columbia in response to a lawsuit brought against the city by Second Amendment advocates.

Under the terms of a stay in the Palmer v. District of Columbia ruling, District officials have until Oct. 22 to issue regulations related to the law, including how they will enforce a provision that outlaws carrying guns within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. The July 26 ruling briefly wiped the city’s ban on handguns from the books, something the House tried to do this summer with an appropriations rider.

“This law maintains our commitment to keeping guns out of the wrong hands and ensures the safety of all within the District of Columbia, while fully respecting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said in a joint statement.

They say the law “cures the alleged constitutional flaws in the District’s licensing laws,” but the plaintiffs in the Palmer lawsuit are dissatisfied. Opponents say D.C. is flying in the face of the court by crafting policies that are too restrictive.

The law allows D.C. residents who own registered handguns and non-residents who have state-issued carry licenses to apply to the police for carry permits. Applicants would have to demonstrate the need for carrying a gun, and undergo more extensive training.

On Oct. 2, about a week after the D.C. Council grudgingly approved the emergency measure, attorney Alan Gura asked the court for a permanent injunction on the city’s handgun carry ban. Gura claims the city fails to treat carrying handguns as an individual right, and objects to multiple elements of the new law.

In addition to giving the police chief discretion over handgun licensing, the law establishes a “Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board” and lays out basic rules for its operation. The mayor and attorney general would have the power to appoint three of its five members. Gura argues the board “is tilted entirely toward those with a government, law enforcement, and prosecutorial background.”

Gura makes multiple references throughout the 31-page memo to the court that city leaders are acting “hostile” to the idea of handgun carrying.

In an Oct. 8 hearing on police oversight, one councilmember took some by surprise by suggesting officers should not be armed.

“My staff won’t let me tell you that I think we oughta get rid of guns in the city and that police shouldn’t have guns, so I’m not gonna tell you that,” said David Grosso, an at-large independent, according to WNEW, which first reported the comment.

Proponents of the carry legislation point out that the bill is modeled after gun laws in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. They say each of those states’ licensing laws have withstood constitutional challenges in multiple federal appeals courts.

If the new permit law stays in place, officials say it is hard to estimate how many concealed carry permits will be issued.

“Since [District of Columbia v. Heller] allowed registration of handguns in 2008, I believe there’s about 6,000 previously registered firearm owners,” Lanier told reporters in September. She said she did not expect a large number of people to request the permits. “This is [one] of the lessons learned from Heller. I think everybody anticipated we’d be flooded with people trying to register the handguns in their home and we just didn’t see that. That never happened.”

While the District works out the details of its new regulations, carrying a gun in public remains a criminal offense.

Related Stories:

In D.C., Response to Judge’s Handgun Ruling Is Mixed and Muddled (Updated)

Norton to Congress: Hands Off D.C.’s New Gun Law

Scarce Prospects for Senate Shooting Down D.C. Gun Control

D.C. Council Considering Handgun Permit Bill

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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By Hannah Hess Posted at 3:45 p.m.
DC Council, DC Mayor

September 26, 2014

‘Women Who Make a Difference’ Honored in D.C.

tlod 240x180 Women Who Make a Difference Honored in D.C.

(Clark Mindock/CQ Roll Call)

An audience of mostly women filled the banquet hall of the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Northwest D.C. Thursday evening to honor four women in the first Women Who Make a Difference awards, organized by the Top Ladies of Distinction D.C. chapter.

The honorees represented a spectrum of public service in the nation’s capital, from the rising political career of D.C. mayoral front-runner Muriel Bowser to the first female African American U.S. senator, former Ambassador to New Zealand Carol Moseley Braun.

honorees 240x180 Women Who Make a Difference Honored in D.C.

From left: Bowser, Girton-Mitchell, Moseley Braun, during the Top Ladies of Distinction awards ceremony Thursday night. (Clark Mindock/CQ Roll Call)

“It’s very humbling, because I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” said another honoree, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “To have people wanting to recognize that is very extraordinary,” she added. Full story

September 25, 2014

Yoga Community Argues ‘Yoga Tax’ Does Not Apply to Studios

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(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The D.C. yoga community is working to convince lawmakers that the district’s so-called “yoga tax” does not actually apply to yoga studios.

The law states the 5.75 percent sales tax, which takes effect Oct. 1, will apply to membership of a health club, defined as a “facility for the purpose of physical exercise.” Yoga instructors are arguing that physical exercise is not the purpose of yoga, and therefore a yoga studio does not qualify as a health club and would not be subject to the tax.

Members of the yoga community made their case to representatives from the Office of Tax and Revenue last week and, on Tuesday, they launched an effort to lobby D.C. council members. Full story

September 23, 2014

Norton to Congress: Hands Off D.C.’s New Gun Law

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Norton vowed to defend D.C.’s narrowly crafted gun law. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Emergency legislation legalizing the carry of concealed handguns in the District cleared the D.C. Council unanimously on Tuesday afternoon, setting up a temporary “may-issue” permitting scheme.

Under the legislation, guns are not allowed near Congress. Guns are outlawed within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. They are also banned near the White House in Northwest Washington, in an area bound by Constitution Avenue, H Street and 15th and 17th streets, and on most federal property, including the Capitol grounds. The law puts into place many other requirements and restrictions.

Opponents like Alan Gura, the lawyer who argued against the city’s ban on handguns in Palmer v. District of Columbia, argue the law gives the Metropolitan Police Department too much subjective discretion over who will be able to carry a gun. Full story

September 22, 2014

D.C. Council Considering Handgun Permit Bill

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Gray worked with law enforcement and D.C. councilmembers to craft a new gun law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

District of Columbia officials have grudgingly taken up the task of putting in place a handgun permit system in response to a July 26 federal court ruling that struck down the local ban on carrying pistols outside the home.

Last week, during a southeast Washington memorial ceremony marking the one year anniversary of the deadly Navy Yard shooting, Mayor Vincent Gray lamented the violence that ”happened right within the view of the Capitol Dome,” and called on Congress to come up with a solution.

“We have tough gun laws in the District of Columbia, which probably will have to be relaxed to some extent because of the Palmer case,” Gray said, referring to the decision by Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. in the case against the city. Gun control laws, he said, ”are now under attack by Second Amendment advocates who believe in putting the right of gun owners before community safety.” Full story

September 12, 2014

Cynics Be Damned: Krepp Endorses Norton … on Statehood Efforts

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Krepp is backing Norton on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

Ruthless campaigner Tim Krepp emailed supporters on Friday afternoon to say he wholeheartedly supports Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and they should, too. Krepp hopes to defeat the congresswoman, who is running for her 13th term representing the District, in the November election, but he wants everyone to rally behind her on Monday. Norton will testify to a Senate panel on a cause near and dear to most Washingtonians: D.C. statehood.

“Heck, I’ll even link to her website,” the tour guide, author and former naval intelligence officer wrote in his email.

Krepp also gave considerable praise to citizen activist Josh Burch, and his group, Neighbors United for DC Statehood.

Burch mobilized much of the support on Capitol Hill, pestering staffers for meetings, and status updates on the hearing promised in June 2013 by  the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del. The Brookland resident, who squeezes in time for lobbying around his full-time job for the D.C. government, has not been invited to testify.

Krepp is counting on Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to make a solid case for why a 51st star should be added to the flag. Scholars on both sides of the issue will also be weighing in. An expanded witness list released Friday by the committee includes shadow Sens. Michael D. Brown and Paul Strauss, two men who effectively serve as pro bono statehood lobbyists to the Senate.

The “New Columbia Admission Act” would give D.C. voting representation in both chambers.

During a Friday appearance with WAMU’s Kojo Nmandi, Burch acknowledged that the bill is unlikely to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled House, but said the hearing would be key to getting members of Congress “on the record” about their positions.

“We need to know who are friends are publicly, and we need to know who our detractors are publicly,” Burch said, “because right now, without a vote on anything, everyone can just sort of hide behind the, ‘Oh, my boss hasn’t made a decision on this legislation.’ We need to know where public officials stand on this.”

Activists hope to pack the Dirksen committee room with statehood supporters. They encourage attendees to wear red to support the cause.

Krepp is dismissing cynicism, claiming it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to assume statehood will never happen.

“If we declare victory after Monday’s hearing and go home, we’re going to be right back here in 2034 celebrating the first hearing in twenty years all over again,” he wrote. “We need to keep this momentum going and not let it drift away like we’ve done before. The key is sustained effort and civic involvement.”

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September 10, 2014

Panelists Selected for D.C. Statehood Hearing

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Rivlin will testify on D.C. statehood. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:37 p.m. | Expect humanitarian and fiscal arguments for why the District of Columbia should become the 51st state during next week’s Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the issue.

The witness list for the first hearing on D.C. statehood in more than two decades includes local elected officials, constitutional law experts, a civil rights leader and senior Brookings Institution fellow Alice Rivlin, the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office and an expert on fiscal policy.

Full story

August 26, 2014

U.S. Attorney Offers Plea Deals in Capitol Hill Gun Cases

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Prestage was arrested last month for allegedly carrying a firearm into the Cannon House Office Building. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr. has offered plea deals to two men who allegedly carried 9mm handguns and ammunition to Capitol Hill in July.

Both Ryan Shucard, a staffer in the office of Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and pork and turkey executive Ronald Prestage face charges of carrying a pistol outside a home or business — a felony that carries up to five years in prison and $5,000 fine.

Court documents filed in both cases show that Machen has proposed an agreement under which each man would plead guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of one year of prison and a $1,000 fine. Under the terms of the nearly identical deals, filed on Aug. 15, federal prosecutors would not pursue any other weapons charges, and would reserve the right to allocution, or addressing the court, at the time of sentencing. Full story

August 19, 2014

Norton Questions Mostly White Ferguson Government

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Norton criticized racial disparities in Ferguson. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is characterizing the nearly all-white elected leadership and police force in majority-black Ferguson, Mo., as “poison.”

“Here you have mostly white police force in a mostly black community, but I’m really perplexed about why most of the elected officials are white as well,” Norton, a Democrat, said Tuesday during an interview with MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart. “Is there something about the way elections are done in Missouri or in the county?”

Though members of Congress have raised the alarm about mounting violence and militarized police in the St. Louis suburb, Norton, a Yale-educated civil rights lawyer, may be among the first to raise the issue of racial disparity among Ferguson’s elected leadership.
Full story

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