Two voter-backed referendums, one to legalize certain forms of gambling and the other to convene a District of Columbia statehood convention, may have become law in late January after passing their required 30-day congressional review period.
Or did they?
On Capitol Hill, there is an entirely different opinion as to when the two initiatives will run their 30-day course. On both the House and the Senate sides of the aisle, the unanimous feeling is that the gambling and statehood referendums had to be resubmitted and the waiting period of 30 working days started over again when the 97th Congress convened last month.
The City Council first sent the two measures up for review on Dec. 1, meaning that both became law on Jan. 29, at least in the opinion of the council's lawyer, Lawrence Mirel. Just in case, both bills were resubmitted to the new Congress on Jan. 19, meaning they still would have another three weeks left in the review cycle.
This legal wrangling would be academic -- what's an extra three weeks anyway? -- if not for the fact that there is an intense lobbying effort under way to get the Senate to kill the gambling initiative, that would legalize a city-run lottery and daily numbers game. Antigambling forces -- including the Moral Majority Christian lobby; Robert Carter, chairman of the D.C. Republican Party, and Rev. Andrew Fowler of the Committee of 100 Ministers -- all are trying to convince Republican senators to support a bill proposed by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), a born-again Christian, that would veto the gambling measure.
This poses an interesting dilemma for the council, particularly Chairman Arrington Dixon, who must decide whether to accept Mirel's legal wisdom and take a hard line on the 30-day cycle, declaring that both bills are already law. City and congressional leaders have been puzzling over the length of the congressional review period ever since the two referendums were sent to Congress.
Even if Congress accepts both referendums as passed, some D.C. officials feel that a city declaration of passage might just make Congress mad when it considers other city legislation. The feeling is that Congress may not just get mad, but get even.
All of this serves to underscore the District's still precarious form of limited home rule, under which local politicians must constantly look over their shoulders and assess the potential fall-out of a negative reaction in Congress before making any decisions. "The political question is, do we want to antagonize them [Congress] now?" said Hunter Clark, Mirel's assistant.