This blog was written by Elinor Hart, Anne Anderson, and Patrice Snow, members of LWV of DC.
Congress has until September 30 to pass legislation to fund the government or risk a shutdown. The budget process must be negotiated carefully between the US House, US Senate, and the White House.
Earlier this summer, lawmakers and President Biden agreed on spending levels for fiscal year 24 when they voted to avert the debt ceiling crisis. While Congress is home on the August recess, negotiations continue on the final budget. Oftentimes, negotiators use riders on the budget to appease either side to move forward on the main bill. Riders are often used with regard to issues like DC autonomy, money in politics, and abortion funding.
This blog will dive into the threat these riders pose and what they mean for DC’s future.
What Are Rider Bills?
Riders are additions to the proposed legislation, which usually have little or no connection to the legislation they are attached to. As their name indicates, they essentially “hop on” and “ride” these other bills to passage the same way a person would ride a train into a new city.
Sometimes, amendments are added as riders because they’re unlikely to get passage independently. Other times, legislators add riders they know won’t get passed to ensure the president vetoes certain bills. Still, other times, they are used as a negotiating tactic to gain support for an underlying bill.
Riders Related to DC in the Federal Spending Bill
Unfortunately, DC residents are all too familiar with budget riders. Since DC lacks statehood, the Constitution gives Congress control over the city’s laws and budget. And Congress has made extensive use of riders to impose its will on DC; riders have been added to DC’s budget every year since 1973 when Congress gave the District the limited authority to govern itself through “Home Rule.” In recent years, politicians have proposed riders that would limit government subsidies for low-income people seeking abortion care, block implementation of the legal marijuana market, and more.
Several riders have been added to the current federal spending bill that threatens the city’s health and safety.
For example, one of the riders added to the proposed federal spending bill would prohibit the city from using traffic cameras to identify and fine divers who violate traffic laws. If the bill is passed with the rider attached, it could impact the risk of traffic accidents and fatalities. This rider will also impact DC’s budget, potentially requiring significant spending cuts or tax increases.
Another rider that threatens pedestrian safety is the prohibition on banning right turn on red.
These riders are particularly troubling considering that in 2022, traffic deaths in the city hit a 15-year high.
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Sterile Needle and Syringe Exchange Riders
Partially because of the rider barring the city from providing sterile needles or syringes to IV drug users, first imposed in 1989, then renewed annually for 10 years, DC earned the distinction of having the nation’s highest rate of AIDS infection. After the needle and syringe exchange ban was lifted, studies indicated that exchange programs prevented a significant amount of infections and saved the government millions of dollars. Residents took comfort in knowing that our sterile needle and syringe programs were effective and appreciated.
Yet our comfort was badly shattered when we learned that members of Congress wanted to impose another rider preventing DC from providing sterile needles and syringes. We know from the increase in infections and death that resulted from the rider imposed in 1989 what a devastating impact the proposed new ban would have.
Concealed Carry Riders
We are also alarmed by a rider that would make it possible for visitors who have concealed carry permits issued by other states to carry their weapons in DC. Our city is already suffering from a spike in homicides and high rates of illegal gun ownership. Visitors bringing guns is not the solution to this issue.
Please tell your Senators and Representatives to vote against any effort to legislate on local District issues or place restrictions on using our local funds. Riders make it possible for Congress to silence DC residents in a way that undermines the ideals of our democracy.
The Latest from the League
LWVUS and LWVDC submitted a statement that urged Congress to prioritize DC’s autonomy and its elected leaders’ right to make policies for its residents.
The League of Women Voters of the United States joined a sign-on letter to the Senate urging them to oppose a resolution disapproving of the DC Council's passage of policing and justice reform legislation. The letter expressed the way in which DC disapproval resolutions contradict DC statehood, and that this one in particular undermines police and criminal reform efforts.
DC statehood is critical to our democracy, and support for DC statehood means allowing the people of DC to be fully represented and have their voices heard.