Government of the District of Columbia
The Government of the District of Columbia operates under Article One of the United States Constitution and the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which devolves certain powers of the United States Congress to the Mayor and thirteen-member Council. However, Congress retains the right to review and overturn laws created by the council and intervene in local affairs.
The Mayor of the District of Columbia is the head of the executive branch. The Mayor has the duty to enforce city laws, and the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the Council. In addition, the Mayor oversees all city services, public property, police and fire protection, most public agencies, and the District of Columbia Public Schools. The mayor's office oversees an annual city budget of $8.8 billion.
The Council of the District of Columbia is the legislative branch. Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council and residents elect four at-large members to represent the District as a whole. The council chair is also elected at-large.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions
There are 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) elected by small neighborhood districts. ANCs can issue recommendations on all issues that affect residents; government agencies take their advice under careful consideration.
The Attorney General of the District of Columbia is the chief legal officer of the District. Currently appointed by the Mayor, District voters approved a charter amendment in 2010 that will make the Attorney General an elected position starting in 2014.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the highest court. Established in 1970, it is equivalent to a state supreme court, except that its authority is derived from the United States Congress rather than from the inherent sovereignty of the states. The Court of Appeals should not be confused with the District's federal appellate court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Court of Appeals is authorized to review all final orders, judgments, and specified interlocutory orders of the associate judges of the Superior Court, to review decisions of administrative agencies, boards, and commissions of the District government, and to answers questions of law presented by the Supreme Court of the United States, a United States court of appeals, or the highest appellate court of any state. The court consists of a chief judge and eight associate judges. The court is assisted by the service of retired judges who have been recommended and approved as senior judges. Despite being the District's local appellate court, judges are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for 15-year terms.
The Superior Court of the District of Columbia is the local trial court. It hears cases involving criminal and civil law. The court also handles specialized cases in the following areas: family court, landlord and tenant, probate, tax, and traffic offenses. All appeals of Superior Court decisions go to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The Court consists of a chief judge and 61 associate judges. The Court is assisted by the service of 24 magistrate judges, as well as retired judges who have been recommended and approved as senior judges. Judges are appointed to the court by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for fifteen-year terms.
The Secretary of the District of Columbia is one of the officers of the government.
The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) is the local, traditional public school system. The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (PCSB) was created in 1996 by the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995 as a second, independent authorizer of public charter schools. The DC Council passed legislation in 2007 giving the DC Mayor direct authority over the DCPS and transferred the oversight responsibility for the charter schools previously authorized by the DC Board of Education to the PCSB.
The District of Columbia Board of Elections (BOE) is the independent agency responsible for the administration of elections, ballot access and voter registration. The BOE consists of three active board members and an Executive Director.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABRA) is an independent adjudicatory body responsible for overseeing the District's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration and hiring its director, conducting investigations, the licensing process, handling complaints, keeping of records, and referral of evidence of criminal misconduct to the proper authorities. The Board is composed of seven members, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council of the District of Columbia, who serve four-year terms.
Other agencies include:
- DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
- Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
- District Department of the Environment
- District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
- District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation
- District of Columbia Department of Transportation
- District of Columbia Housing Authority Office of Public Safety
- District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department
- District of Columbia Public Library
- District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority
The mayor and council set local taxes and a budget, which must be approved by the Congress.
The District of Columbia Code is the subject compilation of enacted legislation, and also contains federal statutes which have an impact on the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) is the publication and compilation of the current regulations. The District of Columbia Register (DCR) gives brief information of actions of the Council of the District of Columbia (such as resolutions and notices of council hearings), and Actions of the Executive Branch and Independent Agencies (such as proposed rulemaking and emergency rulemaking).
Washington, D.C., observes all federal holidays and also celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16, which commemorates the end of slavery in the District. The flag of Washington, D.C., was adopted in 1938 and is a variation on George Washington's family coat of arms.
The city's local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Marion Barry, was criticized for mismanagement and waste. During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the District had "the worst city government in America." In 1995, at the start of Barry's fourth term, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending. Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998 and oversaw a period of urban renewal and budget surpluses. The District regained control over its finances in 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.
The Government Accountability Office and other analysts have estimated that the city's high percentage of tax-exempt property and the Congressional prohibition of commuter taxes create a structural deficit in the District's local budget of anywhere between $470 million and over $1 billion per year. Congress typically provides additional grants for federal programs such as Medicaid and the operation of the local justice system; however, analysts claim that the payments do not fully resolve the imbalance.
Voting rights debate
The District is not a U.S. state and therefore has no voting representation in the Congress. D.C. residents elect a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C. At-Large), who may sit on committees, participate in debate, and introduce legislation, but cannot vote on the House floor. The District has no official representation in the United States Senate. Neither chamber seats the District's elected "shadow" representative or senators. Unlike residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam, which also have non-voting delegates, D.C. residents are subject to all U.S. federal taxes. In the financial year 2012, D.C. residents and businesses paid $20.7 billion in federal taxes; more than the taxes collected from 19 states and the highest federal taxes per capita.
A 2005 poll found that 78% of Americans did not know that residents of the District of Columbia have less representation in Congress than residents of the 50 states. Efforts to raise awareness about the issue have included campaigns by grassroots organizations and featuring the city's unofficial motto, "Taxation Without Representation", on D.C. vehicle license plates. There is evidence of nationwide approval for D.C. voting rights; various polls indicate that 61 to 82% of Americans believe that D.C. should have voting representation in Congress. Despite public support, attempts to grant the District voting representation, including the D.C. statehood movement and the proposed District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, have been unsuccessful.
Opponents of D.C. voting rights propose that the Founding Fathers never intended for District residents to have a vote in Congress since the Constitution makes clear that representation must come from the states. Those opposed to making D.C. a state claim that such a move would destroy the notion of a separate national capital and that statehood would unfairly grant Senate representation to a single city.
- Elections in the District of Columbia
- Political party strength in Washington, D.C.
- List of District of Columbia symbols
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- DC Official Code from LexisNexis