In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: taking a look at congressional disapproval of District of Columbia Acts under the Home Rule Act. This is The Two Minute Drill for April 3, 2015.
On November 4, 2014, voters in the District of Columbia handily approved ballot Initiative 71, which made the use of up to two ounces of marijuana and the possession and cultivation of up to three marijuana plants legal according to city law. The vote wasn’t close – 69% of D.C. residents supported Initiative 71 while only 30.6% of D.C. residents voted against the measure.
After Initiative 71’s passage, Congressional Republicans moved quickly to thwart it. In December, Congress buried an additional clause into its $1.1 trillion spending bill that prohibits federal or local funds from being used to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance,” which includes marijuana. Then in February, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), wrote to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser that, “If you decide to move forward with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law.”
The lawmakers’ committees have jurisdiction over D.C. But what is the procedure by which Congress can disapprove laws enacted by the District of Columbia?
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
The District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, as amended (also known as the “Home Rule Act”), includes provisions establishing a special parliamentary mechanism for Congress to disapprove of the measures lawfully enacted by the District of Columbia.
Under the Home Rule Act, the chairman of the D.C. city council is required to transmit a copy of each act passed by the council and signed by the mayor, as well as enactments stemming from ballot initiatives or referendum, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. The law in question will take effect upon the expiration of a specified “layover period” following the date the law was transmitted to Congress unless it is first overturned by a joint resolution of disapproval.
The length of the congressional layover period differs based on the type of the law the District has enacted. Any law codified in Title 22 (Criminal Offenses and Penalties), 23 (Criminal Procedure), or 24 (Prisoners and Their Treatment) of the District of Columbia Code has a layover period of 60 days. All other District laws have a minimum layover period of 30 calendar days (the act can prescribe a longer layover period).
However, under the Home Rule Act, any Member of the House or Senate may introduce a qualifying joint resolution disapproving a law of the District of Columbia at any time after the law has been submitted to Congress and before the expiration of the layover periods described above. Once a joint disapproval resolution is referred, a committee may choose to mark it up but may not report amendments to it.
In both the House and Senate, once a committee has reported a joint resolution, a non-debatable motion to proceed to consider the measure is in order and may be made by any Member. This motion may not be amended, nor may a vote on it be reconsidered. Should the House or Senate agree to consider by a simple majority vote, the joint resolution would be pending before the respective chamber and debatable for up to 10 hours, equally divided. Once debate is complete, passage of a joint resolution is by simple majority vote. Should a joint resolution of disapproval pass the House and Senate but be vetoed by the President, any attempt to override that veto would take place under normal House and Senate procedures.
It bears further mention that while the Home Rule Act disapproval procedure is one method Congress might use to invalidate a District law, it is not the only way Congress might undertake such disapproval. In fact, the Home Rule Act disapproval procedure has been used infrequently (three times since passage of the act in the early 1970s). Congress has far more frequently influenced actions of the District through the regular lawmaking process, including the appropriations process.
Word Count: 471
THE FIVE: Here are the five best things we’ve read all week.
- Cockpit of Despair. Authorities are reporting that Germanwing’s co-pilot Andreas Lubitz “had been trawling the Internet for ways to commit suicide and had sought out information online about the safety mechanisms on cockpit doors.” From Anthony Faiola in WaPo: Co-Pilot in Germanwings Crash Said to Have Researched Online About Suicide.
- An Apple a Day. “Kevin Lynch accepted a job offer from Apple. Funny thing about the offer: It didn’t say what he would be doing. So intense is Apple’s secrecy that all Lynch knew was his vague title, vice president of technology, and that he’d be working on something completely new.” From David Pierce in Wired: The Secret History of the Apple Watch.
- Sippy Cup. “Giving your child a taste of the good stuff might not do her any favors down the road. That’s according to researchers at Brown University, who surveyed 561 middle school children in Rhode Island over a period of three years, and found that the ones who were allowed to sip alcohol before the sixth grade were more likely to drink, and get drunk, by the time they began high school.” From Sonali Kohli in Quartz: Children Allowed to Sip Alcohol Risk Becoming Early Drinkers.
- Finch Takes the Mound. “The secret cannot be kept much longer. Questions are being asked, and sooner rather than later the New York Mets management will have to produce a statement.” Internet pranks are abound on April Fools Day, but nothing beats this April 1, 1985, article from George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated: The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.
- Greased Lightning. “Today’s drop in crude-oil prices, which began in summer of 2014, may be as disruptive as the quadrupling of oil prices that created the oil shock of 1974. From Moisés Naím in The Atlantic: The Hidden Effects of Cheap Oil.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week took a look at the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. Read the Column for March 31, 2015 – Administration Will Likely Need Congressional Approval to Implement Any Nuclear Agreement With Iran.