- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The D.C. Council’s public safety chair said Tuesday that she would give a hearing to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s amended version of the massive criminal code rewrite.

“As I have said from the beginning, I will continue working with the Mayor to strengthen the legislation and give a full hearing to any proposed legislation regarding the criminal code that is presented to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety,” Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto said in a statement to The Washington Times.

Ms. Pinto did not say when she would offer the hearing. She made clear that her immediate attention is on the efforts of House Republicans to thwart the law’s enshrinement.

House GOP members are using their majority to lead a disapproval vote of the revised criminal code during a constitutionally-required period of congressional review. 

The GOP-led formal rebuke of the District’s code — which Republicans knock for being too soft on violent criminals — is expected to pass the House on Thursday, but will likely be ignored in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

House Republicans share the same concerns as some District residents, which Ms. Bowser sought to address in the amended code rewrite she pitched during a Monday press conference.

Harsher penalties for burglary and armed carjacking, as well as for felons caught illegally carrying guns, have all been restored in her version of the code.

“While no one believes that penalties alone will solve crime and violence, right now, we must be very intentional about the messages we’re sending to our community, including prosecutors and judges,” Ms. Bowser said. “We are united around this message: If you bring harm to our city, you must be held accountable.”

The mayor also removed the provision that expanded jury eligibility to all misdemeanor cases in her amended version of the code. She cited the judiciary’s challenges such as its backlog of court cases, judicial vacancies and low juror response rate as her reasoning.

Further, Ms. Bowser wants victims to be able to weigh in on the expanded eligibility of the Second Look Act. The provision would allow offenders over 25 to petition to be released from prison after serving 20 years of their sentence.

For both the jury eligibility and the Second Look expansion, the mayor believes they should have their own hearings and not be lumped into the code rewrite.

Lastly, she wants the code’s implementation date to be delayed until January 2027. If the law makes it through congressional review unchanged, it would take effect in October 2025.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said during a separate press conference Monday that while he hasn’t seen the actual text of the mayor’s legislation, he believes that it should have its own hearing. But Mr. Mendelson, like Ms. Pinto, thinks the focus should be on rebuffing the efforts of House Republicans.

“I’m reasonably certain that no member of the House of Representatives has read the bill, so they don’t know what’s in that bill,” the council chairman said. “All we’re getting is political rhetoric as a run-up to the 2024 election.”

The D.C. Council overrode the mayor’s veto to the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 last month by a 12-1 vote. The criminal code was unanimously passed last fall.

Supporters of the legislation argue that the changes will more clearly define crimes and offer more proportional penalties for offenders.

The heavy penalties in the current code are not deterrents for criminal behavior either, advocates argue.

Critics argue the new code is too generous to serious offenders, offering criminals early release from prison and removing most mandatory minimums in sentencing.

Those same critics have also said that the Superior Court is reluctant to hand out harsh sentences in the first place.

Tom Howell, Jr. and Haris Alic contributed to this report.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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