Big Cash Payments to Child Care Professionals, Hope for a New Ward 7 Supermarket, Medical Marijuana Liberalization, and Smart Streetlights are Highlights of Latest Council Meeting

We all know that educating our youngest children isn’t child’s play. Yet the professionals who tackle this challenging and essential work have long been profoundly under-compensated for what they do. At its most recent meeting, the Council took a significant first step towards addressing this long-time injustice, queuing up payments of $10,000 or more this year.

During its budget deliberations this past summer, the Council funded a variety of social programs through a roughly 1 to 2 percent bump in tax rates for those earning $250,000 or more, effective January 1, 2022. One such program was the creation of an Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force, empowered to determine how best to rectify the long-term, systemic underpayment of such workers to instead ensure they earn a living wage. The task force, comprised of practitioners and other experts, began meeting in October and will issue two reports—one which was released last month and one coming in April. The January report focused on immediate fixes, while the April document will look at longer-term solutions.

The good news is that since the tax increase took effect in January rather than at the start of the next fiscal year, the recommended payments can also be issued during the current fiscal year, meaning by September at the latest. The emergency bill, passed unanimously by the Council at its most recent meeting, will go into effect immediately upon the mayor’s signature, and essentially green-lights the Task Force’s recommendation, allowing the payments to proceed.

Ward 7 Supermarket

In other action at the Council’s most recent meeting, a bill authorized the mayor to proceed to acquire via eminent domain a site known as the Capitol Gateway Marketplace, once slated for a Walmart. The site would otherwise have been mired in pre-existing leases and might not have seen development proceed for decades. A national grocer has indicated interest in building a store on the site once rights to the land have been freed up.

Medical Marijuana Liberalization

In an effort to assist the District’s long-standing medical marijuana dispensaries better compete with gray market storefronts that offer “gifts” of marijuana to buyers of mundane items at marked-up prices, a Council bill loosened a number of restrictions on the dispensaries. First, the Council’s bill allowed District residents age 65 or over to access the dispensaries’ wares without the need for a doctor’s recommendation. Second, for those under 65, the bill further extends the expiration date of all existing medical marijuana cards, meaning they will not need to be renewed until at least September 30. Finally, the bill creates a week-long medical marijuana sales tax holiday surrounding the marijuana quasi-holiday of 4/20 (April 20).

Smart Streetlights

Another bill passed by the Council allowed for a public/private partnership contract to move forward with a company that would replace all of the District’s 75,000 streetlights with more energy-efficient, LED streetlights by 2025. Additionally, these streetlights would self-monitor for outages, centrally reporting any out-of-order lights, with mandatory repair action required within 72 hours. The streetlights will also feature nearly 250 wifi hotspots, providing high-speed internet access to communities most in need.

A bill providing a list of Council funding priorities for an upcoming supplemental budget submission from the mayor, as well as a bill setting out a timeline for the Census-based redistricting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission boundaries, were postponed for possible consideration at the Council’s next Legislative Meeting, which will be held on February 15.