SEN. THOMAS F. EAGLETON (D-Mo.) is making a mistake. He is trying to attach a restriction of the District council's authority to use emergency legislation to a bill that would resolve the city's current mortgage problem. That bill would waive the 30-day congressional review period on a council bill to raise the District's usury rate.
The senator's concern for the council's use -- or abuse -- of emergency legislation is understandable. But the mortgage problem is a real emergency. There is little or no mortgage money available. A judge has ruled that the emergency procedure used by the council to approve the last interest-ceiling law was illegal. That ruling is under appeal. But the usury law problem should be dealt with before the Senate looks at the less urgent problems of the council's legislative procedures.
There is, however, good reason to look at the council's use of emergency legislation. Since its creation, the council has passed more "emergency" laws thann permanent laws. Close to 70 percent of the legislation passed this year alone has been on an emergency, 90-day basis. Some emergency laws have been extended more than once. Even alley closings and licensing of educational institutions have been treated in this fashion.
Council members say they do not use the permanent legislation procedure regularly because they don't want to wait the 30 congressional working days for review before legislation they see as necessary can become law. What they have done instead is to circumvent the home rule charter when they please, rather than seek to change it.
Now Congress has noticed. And now that Congress is showing some interest, the council and other local politicians should press for an end to the 30-day review altogether. The city should be free from this unnecessary and burdensome congressional oversight.
But that should be tackled only after the real emergency -- usury law restriction -- is dealt with.