At last, power for D.C.: House bill lets the city make decisions for itself.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

THE OMNIBUS spending bill passed by the House on Thursday was a great boon for the District of Columbia. That's not because of any cash outlays but because of the long-sought autonomy it gives the city to set policy and use its own money without congressional interference for abortion, medical marijuana and needle-exchange programs.

The legislation, which is expected to pass the Senate, would finally allow the District to use its own money to fund abortions for poor women. States now have that right. It would also permit use of doctor-prescribed medical marijuana. District voters approved it by referendum with 69 percent of the vote in 1998 -- but Robert L. Barr Jr., then a Republican representative from Georgia, blocked it from going into effect. And the District would be permitted to use its own funds and federal funds to operate needle-exchange programs. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) was defeated in his attempts to place limits on such programs that were so restrictive that they would be illegal just about everywhere. In a city that is in the grips of a harrowing AIDS epidemic, Mr. Kingston's move was unconscionable.

No other jurisdiction in the country must contend with the obstruction that residents of the District face from Capitol Hill. These three programs are no doubt controversial. But the duly elected representatives of the people of the District -- in the case of medical marijuana, the people themselves -- made the decision to support them. That they are close to becoming law gives us hope that other victories are in the offing. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is pushing to get budget and governance autonomy for the District.

The city will be a ward of Capitol Hill as long as Congress is permitted to meddle in its affairs. We applaud the efforts of Ms. Norton and her allies to change this. But as happy as we are about their persistent efforts to ease the federal reins on city government, we remain deeply disappointed that the same tenacity is not being applied to securing full voting rights for the District. The votes are there in the House and the Senate to make it happen. All that's missing are the political will and guts to get it done.


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