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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Constituent Day for “Mayor Franks”

By Greta Foster and Jonathan Silberman

On Wednesday, May 23rd DC Vote, an educational and advocacy organization, held “DC Constituent Service Day” to protest the recent attacks on DC home rule. Last week, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) presided over a hearing regarding his bill (HR 3803 “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”), which would ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. The bill, which also features a companion in the Senate, has 196 co-sponsors.

Although hearings regarding social issues are not uncommon, the lack of congressional courtesy presented to D.C Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton is. During the hearing, Norton was not allowed to speak after her request to testify was rejected. Normally, congressional members are given the opportunity to testify during a hearing if it pertains to their district and constituents. While the hearing featured testimonies from D.C resident Christie Zink and medical professionals, the lack of respect towards Norton sparked contempt among congressional members Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and D.C Mayor Vincent Gray (D).

Ilir Zherka brought a plunger
to "Mayor Franks'" office
Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of DC Vote, called on D.C residents to show their disdain for Rep. Franks’ comments and actions by participating in “D.C Constituent Service Day.” About 50 D.C residents, along with supporters from other organizations, rallied outside Rep. Franks' office. While the group wanted to speak with staffers concerning issues related to D.C, due to the office being closed, residents chose to make a video recording voicing their concern to “Mayor Franks” regarding a litany of issues. Complaints ranged from safety bike lanes, pest infestations, and public transportation cost to voter disenfranchisement and college tuition expenses. Surprisingly, abortion rights was not a staple issue.

The U.S Constitution grants Congress the ability to “exercise exclusive legislation” (Art. I, Sec. 8) in D.C, which Rep. Franks referred to during the hearing on May 17th; however, residents showed his office that they would much rather legislate theirs own affairs.

Rep. Franks has not yet issued a comment responding to the protestors. The Senate companion bill (S.2103), introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), has 23 co-sponsors. Both bills are in subcommittee pending further action.

This was not the first attempt by this Congress to undermine D.C Home Rule. The 112th Congress has already attempted on three separate occasions to undermine D.C’s gun safety laws. It also eliminated D.C’s right to vote in the Committee of the Whole, twice attempted to ban needle exchange programs in the District, and prevented the D.C government from funding abortions for low-income women.

DC Vote will be uploading the video clips on Youtube for public display. Also, they will be sending letters detailing issues affecting D.C residents to Rep. Franks. To get involved, click here.

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