Family Leave, Privatized Ambulance Service Draw Attention, Shed Light on Legislative Process

The Council’s Fifteenth Legislative Meeting of the current session was a comparatively quiet one. Anyone seeing the crowd inside and outside the Chamber, as well as anyone monitoring the local media, might have thought that only two measures were on the day’s agenda. However, while two bills garnered much of the public and media attention, fully 70 bills were either introduced or received a vote at the meeting.

Much can be learned about the District’s legislative process by analyzing the meeting’s agenda, examining the two attention-getting bills, as well as spending a bit of time with the many dozen bills that passed under the radar.

Introductions: Universal Family Leave, and Others

First up on a Legislative Meeting’s agenda is the introduction of legislation from the dais. While not required, this public unveiling basically serves as a measure’s birth on the legislative stage. Once introduced and referred to a committee, bills confront diverse fates: some move through to a hearing and eventual approval, while some are never heard from again.

Of the eight bills introduced at the latest meeting, a measure providing sixteen weeks of paid family leave drew a crowd that ranged from infants to seasoned citizens. The bill funds the benefit through an assessment on businesses, and provides those employed in the District with an opportunity to care for newborn infants, severely ill relatives, or treat their own serious illnesses.

Receiving less attention, but at the same early stage in their legislative life, were, among others, measures making undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition/financial aid at the University of the District of Columbia, addressing insurance gaps related to autism/special needs coverage, and allowing a residential development to proceed due to the naming of an alley.

What these measures have in common is the lengthy legislative process that lies before them. While much media and public attention is paid to introductions, it rarely is tempered by knowledge that a long legislative process, and many likely changes, will intercede prior to a potential eventual passage. A public hearing before a Council committee and two votes of the full Council, all must occur before a bill completes its passage through the Council. Continuing along on the Legislative Meeting’s agenda, we will see other legislation that has reached these different phases.

Consent Agenda

The next segment of the day’s business, the consent agenda, includes bills that all thirteen Councilmembers agree are noncontroversial, and therefore do not require being voted on individually. They are approved en masse by a single voice vote.

A bit of an anomaly on the agenda overall is the section dedicated to ceremonial resolutions, which provide Council praise for people, organizations, places, and events.  No hearings are held on these measures, they are only voted on once by the Council, and they do not carry the force of law. Among those honored by the sixteen resolutions passed at this meeting were the author of the Exorcist, comedian John Oliver’s recent highlighting of DC’s voteless status, the late local journalist Elizabeth Wiener, and civil rights icon Julian Bond.

Also on the consent agenda are votes on first or final votes on temporary or permanent legislation, as well as votes on resolutions (which also do not require a second vote, but which are binding). The measures on this portion of the agenda at the most recent meeting included confirmations of mayoral nominees, a street renaming, a collective bargaining agreement, and other measures.

First and Final Readings: Privatized Ambulance Service, and Others

The remainder of the agenda actually constitutes the bulk of the Council’s meatiest business. These are the measures that are seen to merit at least the potential for a full public discussion, as well as a standalone vote by the Council.

Most substantive legislation must be voted on twice by the Council. Due to the necessary delays inherent in Congress’ review of our laws, most permanent legislation is accompanied by separately passed versions on an emergency (90-day), or temporary (225-day) basis.

The second of the two most attention-getting measures at the most recent meeting, involving authorization of the use of private ambulances for non-urgent medical transportation, fell into this category. However, this bill stood out in terms of the pace of its passage through the process. The Mayor first introduced the Council to the concept at the monthly Mayor/Council breakfast on September 29. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing that, among other things, addressed the measure on October 1, and the first of two Council votes on the measure were held at the most recent legislative meeting. Between this vote and its second scheduled vote on November 3, the Council will have the opportunity to further review the measure, and potentially make changes. While some Councilmembers expressed concern with the duration of the proposed program, or the concept of contracting out a core governmental service, the Council’s take on the Mayor’s proposed program passed by a unanimous vote.

Other legislation receiving votes at this legislative meeting were measures:

  • clarifying that perennially tardy students should not be treated the same by the justice system as perennially truant students are
  • extending the time available for the long-stalled Strand Theater redevelopment project
  • disallowing the practice whereby an outgoing grocery store can place a ban on any other grocery store ever locating on that same site
  • a moratorium on new vehicle spray painting facilities in Ward 5, currently home to the majority of such businesses, while options for addressing their negative effects on communities are addressed

For a full listing of all votes take at this meeting (and a chance to take a closer look at the meeting agenda around which this summary was based), click here.