Congressional effort to block DC’s new criminal code intensifies

Congressional Republicans are pressing ahead with a legislative effort to prevent D.C. from implementing a new criminal code that would lighten maximum sentences for burglary, carjacking and robbery.

U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., said this week that he has 48 co-sponsors for his legislation that seeks to block the new penalties from going into effect.

“Reducing penalties for violent crime in the midst of an ongoing crime wave obviously sends the wrong message,” Hagerty said, in announcing his legislation, along with several other GOP senators. “It will only serve to embolden criminals, who are on a massive spree right here in Washington, with carjackings, assaults and homicides.”

While Hagerty said all of his bill co-sponsors are Republicans, he still believes he can get some bipartisan support.

Thirty-one Democrats joined Republicans last week, when the U.S. House passed similar legislation, on a vote of 250-173.

The legislation is aimed at reversing the sweeping changes made to the D.C. criminal code, which were approved by the D.C. Council. While Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the D.C. measure, it was overridden by the council.

Hagerty and other Republicans have said they rarely agree with D.C.’s Democratic mayor, but in this case they support her decision.

Bowser has said she supports most of the changes but doesn’t think altering mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for violent crimes should take place right now, as the District deals with a spike in criminal activity.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has been a vocal opponent of congressional action on the D.C. measure, arguing that it’s another case of congressional meddling in the District’s affairs.

Hagerty’s bill is known as a resolution of disapproval. If it were to get enough support from Senate Democrats to pass, it would go to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The president has indicated he opposes the legislation, but the White House hasn’t explicitly stated whether he would veto it.

Hagerty and Republicans want to keep the political heat on Democrats and the president on the issue of crime, with a presidential election coming up in 2024.

GOP lawmakers argue that intervening to block the D.C. sentencing guidelines would send a strong message to voters in other major cities that Republicans won’t be soft on crime.

“I can’t believe that President Biden wants to encourage more crime here in the District of Columbia,” Hagerty said. “Combating crime should not be a Republican or a Democrat issue. It should be a common sense issue, a bipartisan issue.”

The House vote last week came the same day Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., was attacked in her Northeast D.C. apartment building. She managed to fend the attacker off in part by throwing hot coffee at him.

The suspect, identified as Kendrid Hamlin, was later arrested.

Supporters of the latest legislation have pointed to the attack in noting that no one is immune to crime in the District.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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