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Debate on D.C. Policy Riders Continues

With appropriations season under way, local officials and activist allies launched a pre-emptive strike against Congressional attempts to insert Washington, D.C.-specific policy riders into fiscal 2013 spending bills.

At a Tuesday press conference in the Rayburn House Office Building, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka were joined by Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Julianna Gonen, policy council for federal legislation at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Norton said the marriage of local players with those on the national scene could help put pressure on Members of Congress to refrain from inserting policy riders, including those that restrict abortion funding, into appropriations bills.

“The difference between the Americans represented by these [national] organizations and us is that they have voting Members of Congress,” Norton said Tuesday. “And what they do that we cannot do is contact those voting Members of Congress who serve on the Appropriations committees of the Senate and House and essentially tell them that they will be watching to see whether or not [they] are paying attention to their own districts [and] not the rights of another district … unaccountable to them.”

As was the case last year, groups interested primarily in D.C. autonomy will pair up with national issue advocacy groups to target policy provisions that might be included in appropriation bills or spending deals.

“These organizations believe that reproductive choice, gun safety, marriage equality and HIV-AIDS prevention are important to many Americans and that those who disagree cross the line when they try to keep the city from using local taxpayer dollars” as it so chooses, Norton said.

DC Vote, along with NARAL, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Human Rights Campaign and AIDS United, sent a letter to appropriators on Tuesday urging them to reject “social-policy riders that usurp the prerogative of Washington, D.C.’s elected mayor and council and the citizens they represent.”

DC Vote has also taken steps to inform voters in other jurisdictions when their  representatives are, in the D.C. group’s eyes, encroaching on the District’s autonomy.

Most recently, the group has been targeting Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who has introduced a handful of bills in the 112th Congress that would place restrictions on abortion — among them a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia on the premise that the fetus can feel pain after that threshold.

In March, DC Vote held a demonstration at Franks’ Glendale, Ariz., office to protest that bill. Last week, after Franks held a hearing on the legislation, nearly 50 residents stormed the hallway outside his D.C. office in a tongue-in-cheek demonstration asking “Mayor Franks” to remedy problems with Metro service, public school funding and rodent infestations.

“I think it’s important to carry this message outside the District of Columbia,” Zherka said. “The event we held last week was not only covered [by media] in D.C. but also in Arizona, because guess what? Arizonans are curious to see what their Congressman is doing in Washington, D.C. And when we went out there back in March … a lot of people were shocked [Franks] would be spending any time worrying about the District of Columbia when Arizona has so many problems.”

Keenan agreed that her organization could use its leverage to protect D.C. while also protecting NARAL’s interests.

“We’re not just talking about this in Arizona with our affiliates there, we’re talking about this all over the country,” she said.

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