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Eleanor N.
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  • The Introduction of the District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act

    by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton

    Posted on 2015-02-04

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    NORTON of the district of columbia in the house of representatives Wednesday, February 4, 2015 Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, today, I introduce the District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act, to eliminate the wasteful congressional review process for legislation passed by the District of Columbia Council and to align longtime congressional practice and the law. The congressional review process for D.C. bills is ignored by Congress providing it no benefit, but imposes substantial costs (in time and money) on the District. Congress has almost always used the appropriations process rather than the disapproval process and entirely abandoned the congressional review process as its mechanism for overturning D.C. legislation twenty-three years ago, and only used it three times before that, preferring riders on D.C. appropriation bills instead. Yet Congress still requires the D.C. Council to use Kafkaesque make-work procedures to comply with the abandoned congressional review process established by the Home Rule Act of 1973.

    Our bill would eliminate the congressional review process for legislation passed by the D.C. Council. However, Congress would lose no authority it currently exercises because, even upon enactment of this bill, Congress would retain its authority under clause 17 of section 8 of article I of the U.S. Constitution to amend or overturn any D.C. legislation at any time.

    The congressional review process (30 days for civil bills and 60 days for criminal bills) includes those days when either house of Congress is in session, delaying D.C. bills from becoming law, often for many months. The delay forces the D.C. Council to pass most bills several times, using a cumbersome and complicated process to ensure that the operations of this large and rapidly changing city continue uninterrupted, avoiding a lapse of the bill before it becomes final. The review period, based on legislative, not calendar, days means, for example, that a 30-day period usually lasts three calendar months and often much longer because of congressional recesses. The congressional review period for a bill that changed the word ``handicap'' to ``disability'' lasted nine months. The Council estimates that 50-65 percent of the bills the Council passes could be eliminated if the review period did not exist. To ensure that a bill becomes law, the Council often must pass the same legislation in three forms--emergency (in effect for 90 days), temporary (in effect for 225 days) and permanent. Moreover, the Council has to carefully track the days the House and Senate are in session for each D.C. bill it passes to avoid gaps and to determine when the bills have taken effect. The Council estimates that it could save 5,000 employee-hours and 160,000 sheets of paper per two-year legislative Council period if the review period were eliminated. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy addressed the issue of saving such resources by eliminating the amount of paperwork sent to Congress when he proposed a cut in the number of reports that federal agencies are required to submit to Congress. Our bill is a perfect candidate because it eliminates a paperwork process that repeats itself without interruption.

    My bill would do no more than align the Home Rule Act with congressional practice over the last twenty-three years. Of the more than 5,000 legislative acts transmitted to Congress since the Home Rule Act, only three resolutions disapproving D.C. legislation have been enacted--in 1979, 1981, and 1991--and two of those mistakenly involved federal interests in the Height Act and the location of chanceries. Placing a congressional hold on 5,000 D.C. bills has not only proven unnecessary, but has imposed fruitless costs on the D.C. government, residents and businesses. District residents and businesses are also placed on hold because they have no certainty when D.C. bills, from taxes to regulations, will take effect, making it difficult to plan. Instead of using the congressional review process to overturn D.C. legislation, Congress has preferred to use appropriation riders. Therefore, it is particularly unfair to require the D.C. Council to engage in a labor-intensive and costly process that Congress has itself long abandoned. My bill would only eliminate the automatic hold placed on D.C. legislation and the need for the D.C. Council to use a process initially passed for the convenience of Congress, but that Congress has since eliminated in all but law. This bill would promote efficiency and cost savings for Congress, the District, its residents, and businesses without reducing congressional oversight, and would carry out a policy stressed by Congress of eliminating needless paperwork and make-work redundancy.

    I urge my colleagues to support this good-government measure.


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