In One Fell Swoop, Council Tackles Three Critical and Longstanding Topics












You know a TV series is drawing towards the end of a season when multiple plot lines simultaneously move towards closure. Well, the Council recess is still two full months away, but three topics that have persistently drawn the Council’s attention throughout this Council Period all took fairly conclusive steps forward yesterday.


After months of committee performance/budget oversight hearings and markups, the Council took the first of two required votes on the FY 2017 budget yesterday. Because of a 2013 referendum and a March DC Superior Court decision, the Council will modify its budget approval process, passing all budget bills two times, as is done with virtually all other District legislation (more on this below). The budget was, by and large, a consensus document, adopting much of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s initial budget proposal, and most of the subsequent amendments made by each of the committees.

As approved by first vote yesterday, the budget provided for:

  • Closure of the DC General homeless shelter (more on this below)
  • Full funding for acquisition and construction of ward-by-ward homeless shelters
  • Funding for additional homeless services programs beyond the Mayor’s request
  • Continued implementation of the 2011 Tax Revision Commission’s tax reform recommendations
  • Expanded funding for school and library projects
  • Funding for numerous pro-victim, public health-oriented anti-crime projects created under the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Amendment Act of 2016
  • The first increase in weekly unemployment insurance benefits in 11 years
  • Closure of the W Street trash transfer station, and its replacement by a brand new District Archives building
  • Full funding for the Books from Birth program
  • Funds to implement the “Made in DC” program
  • Support for numerous nutritional health programs, for families and at schools
  • Additional funds for school-based health centers
  • Additional funds to fight truancy, and for at-risk kids
  • Creation of a new G9 bus route down Rhode Island Avenue into downtown

The needed second votes on the budget will occur at an Additional Legislative Meeting on May 31.

Homeless Shelters Plan

Earlier this year, Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced her plan on how to close the DC General homeless shelter and replace it with smaller shelters in each ward. From the beginning, the members of the Council seemed to approve of the broad lines of the plan, but raised concerns regarding some specific locations, and financing.

Following a hearing on the Mayor’s plan, Chairman Mendelson introduced a proposed modified version of the homeless shelter document. Distinct from the original plan, the plan voted on yesterday would:

  • Fully fund the acquisition and construction of the shelter sites in the FY 2017 budget
  • Locate sites either on government-owned land, or seek purchase of the others
  • Through government ownership of both the land and the shelters, provide a permanent (as opposed to a long-term) shelter system for the District
  • Provide alternate shelter sites in Wards 3, 5, and 6, moving them away from locations that had proven unfeasible and/or unpopular

A second vote must still be taken on this legislation at a subsequent Legislative Meeting.

DC Budget Autonomy

In an unusual move, the Committee of the Whole meeting held yesterday had to be adjourned so that Councilmembers could participate in a press conference jointly organized by the Council, the Mayor, the Attorney General, and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. After what appeared to be a pro forma hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, that Committee yesterday passed legislation along party lines that would block DC’s budget autonomy. 

All of the speakers at yesterday’s press conference emphasized that budget autonomy is currently the law of the land. It was approved by 80% of voters in a 2013 initiative, federal courts deferred to their District counterparts, and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia found in favor of budget autonomy. Absent new law on the matter, the Council is most assuredly not taking illegal action by following proper budget autonomy rules in approving this year’s funding measure.

Once the press conference was complete, the Council returned to the Chamber to literally put their money where their mouths were, and approve the FY 2017 budget for the first of two times, as budget autonomy requires. The District has approved a balanced budget for twenty straight years.

Other Measures

Among bills introduced during yesterday’s meeting were measures to:

  • Ban District government employees from operating exploratory committees for possible future political campaigns
  • Allow censure and removal of the Mayor or Attorney General for gross misconduct
  • Create a DC Emancipation Learning Day when children would learn about the Emancipation Day holiday

For a full list of votes taken at yesterday’s meeting, click here.