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Following a court decision in March that upheld budget autonomy for the District, Congress will hold a hearing about D.C. Home Rule on Thursday that some advocates worry could turn into an attack on local independence.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pushed for the hearing, which the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled for 2 p.m. Its stated purpose is to “evaluate the intent of Congress in passing the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973” and to “understand potential repercussions for the District if the Budget Autonomy Act is implemented.”
That act, passed in 2012, removed D.C.’s local funds from the purview of congressional appropriations, and was considered part of the larger movement for statehood. Voters even overwhelmingly approved budget autonomy in a 2013 referendum. But it couldn’t become law due to a complex legal challenge over whether the Home Rule charter would be properly amended. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman ruled otherwise on March 18. (Still, a separate lawsuit filed against D.C. autonomy last year is ongoing.)
The congressional hearing comes as the District has launched a renewed effort to achieve voting equality through statehood, including the release of a draft constitution for a new state that took place last Friday.
“It is unjust and, frankly, absurd for the Congress to now, three years later, attempt to undermine [the referendum on budget autonomy],” pro-statehood group DC Vote writes in an open letter to Ryan. “Please focus the powers of the Congress on pressing issues impacting the nation such as foreign relations, the economy, and the restoration of voting rights instead of undermining the already vulnerable and limited rights of American citizens living in Washington, D.C.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is scheduled to testify at Thursday’s hearing, alongside other attorneys and officials. In a release last week, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said she would “vigorously defend” the District’s autonomy from the dais. “At least in the 21st century, there is no case to be made that Congress should control the locally raised revenue of any jurisdiction in the United States,” she said.
The hearing is set to occur in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building.