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Campus Notebook: A Step Forward on D.C. Autonomy

Though the seeds of budget autonomy legislation for the District of Columbia sprouted in the House last November, the Senate could be the first to bear legislative fruit.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told Roll Call on Wednesday that he hopes his committee will consider at its next business meeting his bill to unlink D.C.’s budget from the Congressional appropriations process.

The measure is co-sponsored by ranking member Susan Collins (R) and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.

Lieberman’s commitment to the cause comes with the acknowledgement that D.C. autonomy bills have been derailed in the past by the insistence on inclusion of policy riders opposed by D.C. officials, such as those barring local funding of abortions.

That’s the reason budget autonomy legislation has been slow to move in the House, where Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has been its champion. Issa has said he is working on drafting a bill in coordination with local officials and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), but he has also said a compromise on abortion language might be necessary to make the measure palatable to the House’s anti-abortion Republican majority.

Lieberman, in moving his bill through the pipeline, has the advantage of a
Democratic-controlled Senate that generally supports abortion rights.

“The point is that the District of Columbia is not a colony and it ought to be able, like any other independent entity, like any state, to adopt its own budget,” Lieberman said. “Unfortunately, it gets wrapped up in extraneous matters, particularly abortion issues. I hope we can separate that out.”

D.C. Medical Marijuana Dispensaries One Step Closer

After several months — or several years, depending on how you’re counting — the District of Columbia Department of Health has given the green light to four medical marijuana dispensaries to apply for permits to open for business.

One, the Metropolitan Wellness Center, would have its home on Barracks Row in Capitol Hill, nestled on the top floor of a two-story walk-up that also houses a Popeye’s franchise and a tattoo parlor.

Mike Cuthriell, the organizing force behind the center, now has to apply for a business license and meet other regulatory requirements. He has spent almost two years first looking for a site for his venture and then making the rounds to assuage any neighborhood concerns that a medical marijuana dispensary would be anything but a positive contribution to the community.

D.C. voters approved a ballot initiative in 1998 endorsing a medical marijuana program in the city, but Congress blocked it from being implemented for 10 years via riders in appropriations bills.

Congress lifted the ban in 2009, setting the stage for a long and involved process.

Though the end is in sight, it will probably continue to stretch on a bit longer, especially as cultivation centers approved to grow the marijuana look to secure sites and begin producing the product.

Norton Fights for Expanded Commercial Filming on the Hill

The House passed its legislative branch appropriations bill Friday with language that would allow commercial filming at Union Square, the parcel of land at the West Front of the Capitol that was transferred to Congressional jurisdiction from the National Park Service almost six months ago.

But while Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) may be gratified by the decision to permanently grandfather in the NPS policy, she said she will continue to push to allow commercial filmmakers to turn their cameras on all areas of the Capitol.

“I have yet to hear a policy or security reason for limiting filming to Union Square, because there are none,” Norton said Wednesday. “Congress must go further and expand the permissible filming areas. It is time to bring the commercial photography and filming policy into the 21st century.”

Norton, who has argued that greater access to commercial filmmaking would be a boon for the D.C. economy, proposed an amendment to the legislative branch bill to expand permitting, but it was not made in order for House floor consideration.

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