D.C. City Council Overrides Mayor's Veto of Criminal Justice 'Reform' That Would Lessen Penalties for Violent Crime

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Washington, D.C. is in the midst of a violent crime epidemic, but that didn’t stop the all-Democrat city council from overriding Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto to pass a criminal justice reform bill that contains several problematic provisions, including lessening the penalties for violent crimes and allowing people charged with a misdemeanor to demand a trial — a move experts say will cause the D.C. court system to collapse under a tsunami of unnecessary and expensive trials.

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Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto argued, “allowing the veto to stand would be a significant step back in our work to modernize the criminal code, negating years of work, compromise, and engagement by the council.”

It’s true. The city council has been writing, debating, and massaging this bill for 16 years. But is that any reason to pass a bill if it’s bad?

Bowser’s objections were straightforward. “Anytime there’s a policy that reduces penalties, I think that sends the wrong message. That takes the focus off using guns or possessing guns, and I think that’s the wrong way to go,” Bowser wrote about her decision to veto.

Washington Post:

The bill would, among other things, eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences, allow for jury trials in almost all misdemeanor cases, and reduce the maximum penalties for offenses such as burglaries, carjackings and robberies. Law enforcement leaders had expressed concern that it could burden an already stretched court system and would send the wrong message to residents at a time when the city is struggling with gun violence.

“This bill does not make us safer,” Bowser wrote in a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), announcing her veto.

The current criminal code in Washington was imposed on the city in 1901. But Bowser thought the council should get it right.

“It is irresponsible for the mayor to have characterized this as ‘This bill does not make us safer,’” council president Phil Mendelson said at Tuesday’s meeting. “That is irresponsible rhetoric, and it plays into folks like the Freedom Caucus in Congress who are going to use the mayor’s veto and her rhetoric against us when this bill goes up towards Congress.”

He used the word “irresponsible” twice because he knows Bowser has gotten to the nub of the problem. In a city racked by violent crime, why bother to rewrite the criminal code if it’s not going to make residents safer?

Twelve of the 13 council members voted to override Bower’s veto. Who’s “irresponsible” now?

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