Compromise is Cornerstone of Productive Twentieth Legislative Meeting


One year into Council Period 21, the ability of the thirteen members of the present Council to find their way to a compromise outcome was on clear display.

With three major pieces of legislation on the agenda that were quite contentious right up until the time of the meeting, expectations were high that divisions on the Council could lead to a combative session.

However, in the end, the three principal measures considered today were all passed unanimously.

One such measure was the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results, or NEAR, Amendment Act. This bill is a comprehensive anti-crime measure that has at its core a health care approach to criminal justice. Traditionally, most criminal justice action comes in the form of post facto response to crime. In contrast, the NEAR Act addresses what leads up to the crime, with hopes of preventing it from occurring in the first place. Through risk assessment, improved mental health services, youth mentoring, and a broader involvement of government agencies (other than the Metropolitan Police Department) in addressing pre-crime symptoms, the bill utilizes best practices that have succeeded in other jurisdictions. Sub-elements of the bill that had proved divisive among Councilmembers, and with the Administration, were worked out prior to the introduction of the bill text as passed today.

A second potentially divisive measure that in the end passed unanimously dealt with the concept of private clubs where marijuana could legally be smoked. This eventuality was not originally addressed by the Council in 2014, but when the potential concept arose, it was banned by temporary legislation. Permanent legislation banning such clubs had been moving through the legislative process, but because of an intrusive Congressional budget rider, the Council is banned from ever scaling back penalties for marijuana offenses. As a result, there is an added incentive for the Council to “get it right the first time,” since the rider will tie legislative hands moving forward.

Prior to today, some Councilmembers had advocated for a permanent ban on private marijuana clubs, while others supported the creation of a limited number of such establishments. In the end, the Council approved the creation of a task force that will consider whether to open such clubs, and issues surrounding their potential creation, including their quantity, location, and access rules. The task force will need to be formed, meet, and act prior to the expiration of the temporary legislation banning such clubs.

The final measure that seemed rife for dispute, but which also passed without opposition, was a measure that continued last year’s pilot extension of the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program to those aged 22 to 24. Councilmembers agreed that this program provided much-appreciated government assistance to a group with strong need for services. However, some Councilmembers felt that the program should be made permanent, and possibly offered to a larger number of participants. Others indicated in statements from the dais that the program was lacking in a longer-term focus, was not sufficiently targeted, and lacked needed data to prove its effectiveness. In the end, the program was extended for two additional years, to 1,000 individuals aged 22 to 24, just as was done this past summer. During these two years, the effectiveness of the program will be monitored with an eye towards potential changes if needed.

A number of new pieces of legislation were also introduced today. They included measures that:

  • Tighten restrictions on, and incentivized quick redevelopment of, vacant properties

  • Assist enforcement of equal pay legislation

  • Support the African American Book Festival

  • Express the Sense of the Council urging President Obama to develop a comprehensive immigration policy

  • Provide free driver’s licenses for veterans

  • Reorganize and provide legislative framework for interscholastic athletics

  • Express the Sense of the Council in support of past tenants’ “right to return” to areas redeveloped through the New Communities Initiative

  • Allow relatives of those addicted to opioids to possess a medication that can treat emergency overdoses

  • Create a Foster Parent Statement of Rights and Responsibilities

For a complete listing of all votes taken, and all measures considered, at this meeting, please click here.