The final days of the 98th Congress resulted in some of the District of Columbia's greatest legislative victories in a decade.
The city got strengthened home rule authority, a resolution of a longstanding controversy on St. Elizabeths Hospital, millions of dollars in increased federal funding for District programs and some improvements in the court system.
Earlier, Congress had approved seven new judgeships to help ease the crowded dockets of D.C. Superior Court and the Senate recently confirmed President Reagan's nominees for the positions.
"On the big issues, we were batting a thousand," said Pauline Schneider, D.C. director of intergovernmental relations. "On some of the other issues we care about, we have not done so well."
The District had also hoped for, but did not get, the transfer of RFK Stadium and the Employment Security Building from the federal government to the city.
It had wanted, but never expected, the Congress to take the authority to appoint D.C. judges from the president and give it to the mayor.
But the home rule issue overshadowed all others in the past year. The city was fighting for its basic ability to govern itself, a situation brought into question by a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the kind of federal legislative vetoes contained in the District's home rule act.
"It placed in jeopardy all that we had done on home rule," said D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy. "To have closed this Congress without action on the home rule cloud would have been a disaster."
That cloud over the District's authority kept the city from entering the private bond markets and led to court challenges on a number of convictions under local laws.
The Reagan administration had successfully blocked enactment of Congress' approach to the problem. But the White House had a surprising change of heart two weeks before Congress went home and the legislation made it through just one day before Congress adjourned.
The city won a new method of congressional oversight of laws the D.C. City Council passes, making it more difficult for local legislation to be overturned by requiring a majority vote of both houses and concurrence of the president. Before, to overturn the city's criminal legislation, for example, a majority vote from one house was enough.
The city got one gift from the federal government it really didn't want: St. Elizabeths Hospital, the massive 127-year-old mental institution in Southeast Washington.
But the District did get legislation approved that would commit the federal government to a certain level of funding for the hospital for a transitional period. The federal government has been trying to turn over the hospital to the city for years and has been unilaterally reducing funds for it each year.
Now, the city will be able to plan for its takeover of St. Elizabeths and development of its own comprehensive mental health system.
Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.), a member of the House District Committee, said the city's new ability to issue bonds and the resolution of the St. Elizabeths issue were "a giant step forward . . . for both the federal government and the city."
The District also did well in its fiscal 1985 appropriations bill. The federal payment, paid to the city for services and in lieu of property taxes, rose by a record $39 million to $425 million.
Congress added $20 million in federal funds for St. Elizabeths Hospital, $9.8 million to improve the city's criminal justice system, included funds for school and teachers incentive awards and a program to combat school truency, and money to replace all the motor scooters in the police department.
The Congress does require the District to pay of $10 million more than planned on its accumulated general fund deficit, and told D.C. to spend $3.5 million less than its budget for consulting and professional fees.
Congress in its final week approved a significant court reform for the District -- raising the limit on small claims cases from $750 per case to $2,000. This change will make it easier for more individuals to take cases to court without a lawyer and is expected to help relieve a large and growing backlog of civil cases in D.C. Superior Court.
The legislation also requires that retired District judges be certified as competent before they are given cases. Currently, the chief judge of the D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals can designate retired judges to hear and decide cases without a review.
Other items on the city's agenda made it half way through Congress.
The House approved a measure, long sought by the city but strongly opposed by the Reagan administration, to transfer appointment authority on D.C. judges to the mayor. The bill went nowhere in the Senate, however.
Another change the House approved in the city's criminal justice system would have given the D.C. parole board authority over about 1,200 District prisoners housed in federal facilities. Now, federal parole standards apply if the prisoner is in a federal institution.
The Senate is expected to hold hearings on it in the next Congress.
The House also passed a bill to transfer ownership of RFK Stadium to the city, but the Senate did not act on it. The D.C. Armory Board now manages and operates the stadium under a $1-a-year lease with the National Park Service