Ultimately, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton wants statehood for the District of Columbia. For now, though, she has continued to vigorously oppose and fight colleagues and others when it comes to home rule.
The longtime Democrat has called on her congressional colleagues to pursue national labeling legislation if they disagree with the merits of local labeling laws, doing so in the face of powerful multinational corporations led by Kimberly-Clark, which continue to aggressively lobby both parties in both chambers to block D.C.’s new wet-wipes labeling law with an appropriations rider.
Several cities and states have debated legislation similar to the District’s law regulating the labeling of personal hygiene products, particularly wet wipes, as safe to flush, Holmes’ office noted in a news release.
Under the Commerce Clause, Congress has the legitimate authority to regulate the labeling of consumer paper products shipped in interstate commerce, and could preempt state and local labeling laws.
“This is the first time in memory that multinational corporations have challenged a local D.C. law in Congress,” Norton said. “While we have previously faced conservative interest groups trying to bully the District, we are now confronted by companies wielding their economic power and campaign contributions to try to get [Congress] members to do their bidding.
“The District is not unique among cities and states in considering wipes labeling legislation, but it is unique in being subject to undemocratic abuse by Congress,” she said. “If members think local and state wipes labeling laws are bad policy, they should have the courage of their convictions to pursue national labeling legislation in the light of day, instead of trying to abuse Congress’ authority over the District through a hidden appropriations rider.”
The D.C. Council unanimously passed the law, the Nonwoven Disposable Products Act of 2016, and the mayor signed it, after the Council held a hearing with witnesses representing industry and wastewater utilities.
In letters to Norton, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents water utilities across the country, and DC Water expressed their strong support for D.C.’s law, indicating that wet wipes cause serious problems and create significant costs for ratepayers, the federal government, sewer systems, workers, waterways, homeowners and businesses.
In another move to defend home rule, Norton filed an amendment to the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act — H.R. 2810 — to give D.C. home-rule authority over the D.C. National Guard.
Norton’s amendment is the same text as her bill, the District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act, which would give the D.C. mayor the authority that the chief executive of states and territories have over their Guards, according to a statement.
The mayor would be able to deploy the D.C. National Guard during local emergencies, including natural disasters and civil disturbances unrelated to national or homeland security, after consultation with the Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard.
The president of the United States would retain final authority over federal matters.
Currently, the president controls the D.C. National Guard for both national and local purposes.
Norton earlier succeeded in getting authority for the Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard, rather than only the president, to deploy the Guard in order to avoid the federal bureaucracy necessary to call up the D.C. National Guard.
“D.C.’s mayor has the necessary expertise and knowledge of our city to make the best decision on when and how to deploy our National Guard for local matters, such as natural disasters,” Norton said. “My bill would make the D.C. National Guard a more localized force that is able to react quickly to local emergencies, while still keeping the Commanding General in the decision-making process, and preserving the president as the final authority over federal matters.
“All we are asking for is the same authority for the D.C.’s mayor that chief executives of states and U.S. territories have over their Guards,” she said.
The congresswoman has been advocating for years for statehood and has been at the forefront of the push for D.C.’s independence. Last month, Norton expressed disappointment that a bill contained anti-home rule riders to prohibit the District from spending its local funds on abortion services for low-income women and marijuana commercialization, as well as repealed D.C.’s budget autonomy referendum.
“While no anti-home rule riders are acceptable, the absence of several threatened riders, including on medical aid-in-dying and wet wipes, in the base bill is helpful as we prepare for markup,” Norton said. “Members who want to try to block additional local D.C. laws will now have to do so in the light of day and sign their name to the amendment.”