Senate votes against DC criminal code revisions

The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday in favor of a disapproval resolution that would overturn D.C.'s criminal code revisions.

By a vote of 81-14-1, the senators passed the H.J. Res. 26, the D.C. Crime Disapproval Resolution, with one senator voting "present."

The votes comes after weeks of debate over a proposed overhaul of D.C.'s criminal code, that was approved by the D.C. Council late last year. The update was the first comprehensive revision of the District's criminal code, which defines crimes and how sentences should be handed down, since it was created by Congress in 1901.

The criminal code bill, which aimed to reduce the maximum penalties for burglary, carjacking and robbery, has divided lawmakers both at the local and federal level.

Mayor Muriel Bowser initially vetoed the changes after they were approved, but in January, the D.C. Council overrode her veto with a 12-1 vote.

In her veto, Mayor Bowser 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.

Following the override, in February, the U.S. House voted to repeal the update. On Monday, the D.C. Council announced it had sent a letter to the Senate asking to withdraw the criminal code changes. Despite the letter, the Senate said it still intended to vote on the disapproval resolution.

Ahead of the Senate vote on the criminal code, President Biden took heat from his own party for saying he would sign the Senate resolution, should it pass. Now, the resolution is headed to the President's desk.

Once the resolution is in place, the District will operate as if the council never voted to approve the new code. D.C. will continue to operate under the 100-year-old criminal code.

Prior to the Senate vote, protesters took to the streets near Congress to voice their opposition to the new criminal code being struck down by federal officials. The protesters marched from Union State to the Capitol during the rally, blocking off First Street and Constitution Avenue.

U.S. Capitol police were forced to arrest over a dozen protesters during the rally, including D.C. shadow Representative Oye Owolewa.

"It's a shame. You know, we all elected Joe Biden. 95% of DC residents voted for Joe Biden. It looks like he turned his back on us," Rep. Owolew tells FOX 5. "President Biden decided to side with the GOP in attacking D.C. autonomy. So we all rose up, spoke about it, we put it on the line."

Following the bipartisan vote, the D.C. Republican Party (DC GOP) issued the following statement:

"The D.C. Republican Party has a history of advocating for DC Home Rule in the U.S. Congress. Many of us have been active for decades defending the rights of District residents. Since 2009, I have been active in supporting those advocacy efforts as a DC Republican and as an elected former member of the DC State Board of Education. This time the DC Council has gone too far. The Revised Criminal Code Act recklessly placed District residents in harm's way. The greater good - protecting lives - usurps Home Rule or any other political ideology. 

"Had the DC Council listened to residents instead of radical "progressive" dark money special interest groups, District residents would not be forced to choose between their own safety and the autonomy we all seek. Had the DC Council respected the Mayor's veto instead of thumbing their noses, we could be having a discussion about amending the criminal code, not starting from scratch."Mara continued, "The DC Council chose a path that put us on a collision course with Congress and the President. The DC Council alone owns this mess. Thank you to Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-GA) and Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) for standing up for the safety of nearly 700,000 District residents and thousands of visitors and commuters.

"The concerns of District residents, including the Mayor, the United States Attorney, and the Chief of Police, were heard loud and clear. Thank you to those who were not afraid to stand up and go against the powerful progressive special interests in the District. While there are many to thank, I specifically want to express my gratitude for the advocacy efforts of the DC Police Union and former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner K. Denise Rucker Krepp. Let's hope the DC Council learned its lesson on listening to DC residents and prioritizing policies and initiatives that matter."

Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, applauded the news that the United States Senate voted 81-14 in favor of the resolution disapproving the adoption of the Revised Criminal Code Act.

"Dangerous’ is the only word to describe the crime bill the D.C. City Council fought so hard for," said Yoes. "It’s hard to fathom how elected officials, charged with protecting the citizens of the District of Columbia, could be so reckless to pass a piece of legislation that includes provisions that would have only made an already out-of-control crime crisis even worse."

The Sentencing Project Executive Director Amy Fettig released the following statement in response to the vote:

"Today’s bipartisan Senate vote rejecting common sense criminal justice reform signals a widespread abandonment of racial justice and evidence-based policy in favor of political posturing.
The Revised Criminal Code Act is a sensible, balanced, long-overdue modernization of D.C. code. It would raise many penalties, lower others, and make sentences more proportionate – all in the interests of good governance and public safety.
But the facts didn’t matter to many in Congress, nor do they appear to matter to the White House. This vote and the President’s remarks are a deeply concerning return to the scare-tactic politics of the 1990s. President Biden has called the 1994 Crime Bill a mistake. He pledged to cut incarceration rates in half. He vowed to end mandatory minimums. But two years into his term, federal prison populations have risen and those promises appear to be empty rhetoric.
This year we’re marking 50 years of mass incarceration – 50 years of failing victims, communities, and families. I urge President Biden to veto this bill and work toward meaningful change, lest we have 50 more years of bloated prisons and broken communities with no benefits for public safety."