DC Council chair pulls crime overhaul bill, but Senate may still consider it
WASHINGTON - On Monday D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson announced he sent a letter to the U.S. Senate to withdraw the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA), the major overhaul of D.C.'s criminal laws.
"I think our challenge here is that the message got out of our control and the messaging had [been] picked up by Republicans who wanted to make a campaign out of it for next year against the Democrats," Mendelson told reporters on Monday.
"It's very clear to me, folks who have been leading the charge against the legislation in Congress are not interested in what the bill says. That's very clear to me. Because when a Congressman or a senator says this bill decriminalizes carjacking, they haven't read the bill. But that's not important for this issue. What's important for this issue is to try to put the Democrats in the light of being soft on crime. And that's not what this bill does."
The controversial 450-page bill has been decades in the making and addresses both D.C. criminal code and how people will be punished. As FOX 5 previously reported, Bill 24-450, the ‘Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, is, "the first comprehensive revision of the capital city's criminal code since it was created by Congress in 1901."
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the amended criminal code in January. She said the maximum penalty reductions send "the wrong message" regarding crime prevention. Bowser also was in opposition to a measure that would permit jury trials in most misdemeanor cases. She said the sudden jump in jury trials would inundate the local justice system.
D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee disagreed publicly with the amended criminal code that would – among other things – reduce penalties for carjacking, armed robbery, and burglary, and expand the right to a jury trial for misdemeanor crimes.
Bowser's veto was overridden by the D.C. Council in a 12-1 vote.
"Any effort to overturn the District of Columbia's democratically enacted laws degrades the right of its nearly 700,000 residents and elected officials to self-govern — a right that almost every other American has," said D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, earlier this month.
President Biden took heat from his own party after announcing his decision not to veto a resolution to end controversial crime bill after many believed he would protect it.
New York's Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter Thursday expressing her outrage. "This ain't it," she tweeted. "D.C. has a right to govern itself like any other state or municipality. If the President supports D.C. statehood, he should govern like it. Plenty of places pass laws the President may disagree with. He should respect the people's gov (sic.) Of D.C. just as he does elsewhere."
Mendelson acknowledged he is not aware of any previous chair pulling a bill in this way. He also noted there is no provision D.C.'s Home Rule law that prohibits him from making this move.
"It's quite clear at this point that both houses would vote against the legislation. So in effect, we're accomplishing what they want – which is that the Bill cannot become law," said Mendelson.
"If the Republicans want to proceed with the vote, it will be a hollow vote because it really isn't there before," he added.
Asked how much responsibility the chair places on Mayor Bowser and her comments regarding her grievances against the RCCA, the Chair responded, "I don't think I want to go there. The message today is that the bill has been pulled back from the Congress. That's the message today and I don't know that there's anything , any purpose gained by talking about other folks did or didn't do or should or shouldn't have done."
FOX 5 asked about those who are still against the RCCA legislation and what Mendelson would say to those who say the D.C. Council is not listening to D.C. residents?
"What I saw is the council is not explaining very well to those folks – we have not explained as well as we need to [on what bill does] and that is – part of that is our fault and part of what we have to fix."
FOX 5 also asked about concerns voiced by the community that those working on the RCCA were more liberal-leaning thinkers and what may be done to address this.
"The stakeholder group that worked on this, there was a Commission actually was diverse and had representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Mayor's Office, although I believe that person never showed."
Mendelson noted how the U.S. Attorney, while raising concerns on the RCCA, still recommended the council move forward on the criminal code overhaul as a member of the commission.
"So again, this just speaks to the miss information around this like somehow a bunch of radical crazies in the community, in the District, came up with this bill that decriminalized all these offenses, and nothing could be further from the truth," said Mendelson.
Asked if the Chief of Police and the Mayor are then "radical crazies" for finding objections with the bill, Mendelson again doubled down on the Mayor's representative not participating in the RCCA.
"I wouldn't characterize the chief as crazy. But he raised a number of concerns after the bill was submitted and the council made a number of changes in response to his concerns."
Bowser and Contee are holding a public safety event where more questions on the matter will likely be asked.
This is a developing story. Stay with us for updates.