By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – The U.S. Senate voted 81-14 Wednesday to overturn the Washington, D.C. city council’s plan to lower the penalties for a range of criminal offenses. President Biden had expressed support for Congress stepping in.
As previously reported, the bill would have reduced the maximum penalties for offenses like murders, armed robberies, armed home invasion burglaries, armed carjackings, unlawful gun possession, and some sexual assault offenses.
Late Wednesday, 33 Democrat Senators voted with Republicans to block the criminal penalties reform in a rare exertion of Congress’ jurisdiction over the capital city. Total crime is up 25% in D.C. so far this year.
The plan sparked bipartisan opposition, including from the city’s Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser.
After the pushback, the city’s Council Chairman Phil Mendelson announced he was withdrawing a controversial crime law from Congressional consideration, but that didn’t stop the Senate from going through with their vote to reject the city’s bill.
According to data from the D.C. government, homicides this year are up 31%, sex abuse is up 113%, motor vehicle theft is up 110%, and arson is up 300%. Some crime categories were slightly lower or about the same.
Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee weighed in on the issue, calling for keeping “bad guys with guns in jail.”
“What we got to do, if we really want to see homicides go down, is keep bad guys with guns in jail,” Chief Contee said in a news conference. “Because when they’re in jail, they can’t be in communities shooting people. So when people talk about what we’re gonna do different, or what we should do different, what we need to do different, that’s the thing that we need to do different.”
He went on to point out that “the average homicide suspect has been arrested eleven times prior to them committing a homicide.”
Other critics of the crime reform effort have pointed to those kinds of repeat offenders.
“We see these news stories nearly every day,” the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund said in a statement. “Law enforcement officers and innocent citizens are killed by career criminals who should have been behind bars.”
In one high-profile case, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., was robbed in the elevator of her apartment building in Washington, D.C. last month and suffered minor injuries.
That same evening, police arrested 26-year-old Kendrid Hamlin, who has a lengthy criminal history with involvement in incidents often near the Capitol.
“It’s time to stop the crime,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “Time to stop the chaos – chaos that we’re seeing in cities all across our country. Republicans are united by solutions – solutions to make American communities safer. That is what this body is going to vote on today: to improve the security and the safety of those in our nation’s capital.”