Some Council legislative responsibilities are longstanding and recurring. Other times, the Council may think a problem has been resolved, but then must take further action to truly accomplish the original task. In other instances, the Council must act rapidly on a narrow but urgent threat. And other times, bills that have not made it all the way through the legislative process in numerous attempts suddenly do.
At the most recent Legislative Meeting, all of these aspects of the Council’s legislative role came into play. Most prominent at the meeting was the second of two necessary Council votes to approve the broad, thematic “framework” element of the District’s Comprehensive Plan. The Plan as a whole lays out a plan for the District’s future, what it is critical to preserve and what changes must occur. It has been amended or rewritten a half-dozen times in the past three decades. In the previous two-year Council Period, an epic marathon hearing was held on the topic, and a broad, two-year extensive all-hands-on-deck effort to truly rework the document was undertaken across the last two Council Periods.
In the end, the most distinct change in the document passed by the Council was the new, unwavering emphasis on the importance of affordable housing and protections against the displacement of vulnerable residents. Other newly highlighted themes and critical values include racial equity and sustainability. The measure passed unanimously, with several councilmembers complimenting the inclusivity of the rewrite, and stating that their focus areas had been appropriately incorporated into the final document.
In other instances, the Council must once again take up an issue that it had considered resolved. The District has long been a sanctuary city, and District corrections officials have for many years been limited by law in how they could cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and extend the detention of individuals. However, nothing restricted corrections officials from simply notifying ICE about the pending release of individuals. A measure passed at the most recent Legislative Meeting more clearly stated the Council’s original intent, that no cooperation or notification should occur absent a formal judicial warrant or order.
Separation of Powers
Whereas updating the Comprehensive Plan is a perennial responsibility of the Council, other situations require a nimble Council responding quickly to an emerging need. One such instance was in play at the most recent Legislative Meeting. In its most recent budget, the Council stated that management of the District’s automated traffic enforcement program should not be moved from the Metropolitan Police Department to the Department of Transportation without a prior public discussion of the topic and/or Council support. When the Executive undertook this very transfer just recently using a rarely-used loophole or stretch interpretation of the law, not only was the stated intent of the Council (included in a budget the Council passed and the mayor signed) contravened, but the very integrity of the Council was obliquely questioned. Building on a decades-old effort by a prior Council to short-circuit mayoral end runs around the Council via budget reprogrammings, the current Council voted unanimously at the most recent meeting to similarly shut down such efforts that rely on another tool, the intra-district transfer.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day
A final action taken by the Council at its most recent meeting was the approval of short-term legislation to change the name of the legal holiday celebrated on the second Monday in October from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” If the bill is signed in time by the mayor, the 2019 iteration of the holiday would be renamed, but absent further action, those in subsequent years would not be.
Earlier in the meeting, Ceremonial Resolutions were presented to centenarian milliner Vanilla Beane, longtime Council and DC Public Libraries employee Archie Williams. In addition, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and National Co-op Month were also recognized.
Measures introduced at the most recent Legislative Meeting, if passed, would:
- Permit service animals being trained by their owner to legally enter public accommodations
- Allow schools to pay stipends to outside drama advisors
- Allow for pre-qualification for DC housing tax credits so that affordability will be based on a homeowner’s actual property tax burden, and other administrative tweaks to reflect an accurate reflection of true affordability
- Implement instant run-off, rank choice voting in DC elections
- Allow permanent residents who are not citizens to vote in local elections
- Expand the District’s legislature by making it bicameral, with a 9-seat Senate and a 27-seat House of Delegates
- Ban the use of non-compete agreements for those earning up to three times the minimum wage
- Replace the sales tax on sweetened beverages with an excise tax
- Instead of basing access to the District’s top-ranked high school on PARCC results, the top 15 percent of each middle school’s students would be considered
- Analyze all DC government buildings and property to determine where alternative energy generators, like solar panels or wind turbines, could be placed
- Clarifies that those who have more than one protected trait under the DC Human Rights Act cannot be discriminated against for having both traits
- Enhance the penalties for repeat violations by housing providers
The Committee of the Whole will meet on October 22, with the possibility that an Additional Legislative Meeting will be added on this date as well. The next scheduled Legislative Meeting will be held on November 5.