The Washington Post
It’s time for D.C. leaders to rewrite the criminal code
Mr. Biden’s decision to not support the law should galvanize the council.
PRESIDENT BIDEN announced Thursday that he will not stand in the way of a congressional effort to nullify D.C.’S new criminal code, paving the way for Congress to block a D.C. law — for the first time since 1991 — from taking effect. Feeling forced to choose, the president picked public safety over home rule for the capital city.
Despite our grave concerns about the law, it shouldn’t have come to this. Washington’s leaders should have acted on their own. Now that the city is in this regrettable place, however, the duly elected members of the D.C. government have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to go back to the drawing board and prove to the country that safety and self-determination are not incompatible values. They should write new legislation that does not reduce sentences for violent crimes or tie the hands of prosecutors who are trying to keep bad actors off the street. This is what their constituents want.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-pierre said Mr. Biden is especially opposed to lowering the maximum penalties for carjacking and emphasized that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) vetoed this crime bill before the
D.C. Council voted to override her. Ms. Jean-pierre said the president has “an obligation to keep communities safe” when he has the power to do so while reiterating his support for D.C. statehood.
Ms. Bowser, who just won a third term with 75 percent of the vote, says she agrees with 95 percent of the new code. There’s much to commend, such as bringing more consistency to penalties and giving prosecutors and judges the ability to enhance penalties by stacking charges. The new code also replaces archaic language that dates back to the original version passed by Congress in 1901. Ms. Bowser recently proposed significant changes to the bill that Congress is now poised to overturn, and her ideas can form the basis for deliberations over a rewrite.
Washingtonians have a right to feel and be safe. At the moment, it would be hard to say this is the case. We hoped the council and the mayor could work together to make fixes to render the measure acceptable to moderate senators. Now that Mr. Biden has made his decision, leaders should feel a renewed sense of urgency to get D.C.’S house in order.