(Casey Harper, The Center Square) Washington D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson announced he is withdrawing a controversial crime law from Congressional consideration Monday that would have lessened certain criminal penalties even as crime spikes in the nation’s capital.
Mendelson said that the changes would be reworked. The U.S. Senate was expected to vote and likely kill D.C.’s rewrite of the criminal code, which received opposition even from the President Joe Biden.
Congress can weigh in to overrule the D.C. city council, though local D.C. leaders dispute that as part of their ongoing fight for autonomy. The House voted to do just that in February, and despite the withdrawal, the Senate is expected to still follow through with its vote on the matter this week.
“This desperate, made-up maneuver not only has no basis in the DC Home Rule Act, but underscores the completely unserious way the DC Council has legislated,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn. “No matter how hard they try, the Council cannot avoid accountability for passing this disastrous, dangerous DC soft-on-crime bill that will make residents and visitors less safe.”
The law also grants noncitizens the right to vote.
Biden previously said he would not veto Congress if it voted to overrule the city council.
Total crime is up 25% in D.C. so far this year.
The bill would have reduced the maximum penalties for offenses like murders, armed robberies , armed home invasion burglaries, armed carjackings, unlawful gun possession, and some sexual assault offenses.
According to data from the D.C. government, in 2023 as of Monday, homicides are up 31%, sex abuse is up 113%, motor vehicle theft is up 110%, and arson is up 300%. Some crime categories were slightly lower, and assault with a deadly weapon is about the same level as this time last year.
The battle over the bill has typified the controversy over how liberal leaders of America’s largest cities are approaching criminal justice even as homicides have risen markedly in recent years.
A recent incident, though, put a face to the statistics and likely galvanized members of Congress on the issue.
Last month, Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., was robbed in the elevator of her apartment building in Washington, D.C. and suffered minor injuries.
That evening, 26-year-old Kendrid Hamlin was arrested. Turns out Hamlin has a lengthy criminal history with involvement in incidents often near the capitol.
“Passing a bill that lowers sentences for first and second degree murder, carjacking, assault against law enforcement officers, sexual assault and other crimes under the guise of reform is laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous,” Heritage Foundation legal and crime experts Cully Stimson and Zack Smith told The Center Square in a joint statement.
Stimson and Smith argued that this kind of lax treatment has led to repeat offenders among youth.
“Furthermore, the kid-gloves ‘second chance law’ for violent juvenile offenders has resulted in at least 120 criminals sentenced under the ‘Youth Rehabilitation Law’ since 2010 to “progress” to being charged with murder,” they said. “This isn’t reform; it’s insanity, and DC residents are paying with their lives.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre took a flurry of tough questions from visibly agitated reporters at a press briefing last week. That issue eclipsed others as Jean-Pierre tried to toe the line of the president’s position.
“And so, look, the President has been very clear we need to do more to reduce crime, to make communities safer, to save lives,” she said. “And that’s why he put together — he put forth his Safer America Plan that does just that — that we believe does exactly that.”