CAPITOL HILL – The shooting at the congressional baseball practice halted almost all activity on The Hill last Wednesday. Votes and hearings were postponed after the incident left Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.-1) in critical condition (He has since improved to serious condition). But one hearing that did proceed was the House Judiciary Committee’s markup […]
CAPITOL HILL – The shooting at the congressional baseball practice halted almost all activity on The Hill last Wednesday.
Votes and hearings were postponed after the incident left Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.-1) in critical condition (He has since improved to serious condition). But one hearing that did proceed was the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of two companion measures that would grant Congressional approval for the creation of the Metro Safety Commission (MSC). The committee members present voted unanimously to move both resolutions forward to the full House.
House Joint (H.J.) Resolution 76 and H.J. Resolution 92 are both bipartisan measures related to the MSC, which Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are required to create to oversee the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) rail system. H.J. Res 76 contains the text of the legislation creating the MSC – spelling out its powers, membership and responsibilities – and was amended to include “standard clauses” allowing minor language differences between versions passed by the three other jurisdictions and spelling out the ability of Congress to alter or review the compact.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and for the benefit of Congress and the compacting jurisdictions, the manager’s amendment adds these clauses to the resolution,” said committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.-6).
H.J. Res. 76 was sponsored by Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.-5), who said he was happy to see his bill moving forward.
“I’m pleased that legislation to establish the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission passed out of committee last week,” he said. “The safety and reliability of WMATA remains a top priority for the National Capital Region Delegation. I hope that the House will quickly pass this resolution to get Metrorail back on track, and ensure the system regains the trust of its riders.”
Representatives said they moved the measure forward despite of the events of the morning because it is important for the jurisdictions. A 2015 federal directive requires Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to create a new oversight agency. On Feb. 9, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that it is withholding money for transportation projects in those jurisdictions until they do so.
“When Congress issued its 2015 directives, it did so with strings attached,” ranking member Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.-13) said. “Every day that goes by without action on this resolution is another day these jurisdictions are denied federal funding.”
H.J. Res. 92’s main sponsor is Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.-10), and the bill makes “needed administrative amendments” to the governing document of WMATA, the compact, according to Goodlatte.
“The amendments are required under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. That section transferred from the administrator of general services to the secretary of transportation sole authority to appoint directors to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board of directors,” he said.
No member at the hearing testified against the bill. Conyers said he was pleased the measures garnered bipartisan support.
“I support this bipartisan measure because, most importantly, this commission will help improve the safety of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which provides transportation services to millions of passengers a year,” Conyers said. “This undertaking will help ensure that the associations, passengers, as well as the communities that rely on WMATA’s service receive safe and reliable mass transit.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.-8) spoke about the history of the Metro system and its importance not just to his constituents in Montgomery County, but to the country as a whole.
“Living here, I can tell you it had a tremendous transformative effect on the whole region,” he said. “I hope that every member will take a moment to reflect on the way in which our metro system is so critical to the functioning of our federal government and the functioning of the United States.”
Raskin said about half of the federal workforce commutes using Metro each day, as do visitors from across the country and world who come to see the nation’s capital. The transit system also supports national security by keeping traffic off of the already-overcrowded roadways.
He added that Congress must also keep its commitment to funding Metro in order for the system to remain viable.