Council Overrides Two Mayoral Vetoes to Ensure Breakup of DCRA, Creation of the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children

In the history of Home Rule, it is fairly rare that Council legislation is vetoed by the Mayor. LIMS, the Council’s online legislative search engine, only includes records of 56 such vetoes occurring from 1989 (the first year digitized Council records are available) to the present day. It is even more rare that mayoral vetoes are in turn overridden by the Council.

At its most recent Legislative Meeting, not one but two such veto overrides occurred. The first was on a measure to break the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) into two agencies—a Department of Buildings that would oversee construction, housing safety, and property maintenance, and a Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection that would oversee DCRA’s other former responsibilities, including consumer-facing services and occupational licensing. The intent of the Mayor’s veto was to block such a breakup; because of the override, the breakup will proceed once the measure is funded.

The second veto override concerned a measure that establishes an independent Office of the Ombudsperson for Children. This office would be responsible to the Council and would have as its mission the improvement of outcomes for children previously or currently involved with, or known to, the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). The Mayor’s veto would have blocked the creation of this office, but because of the Council’s override vote, the office will be created once the measure is funded.

Also at the most recent meeting, an omnibus COVID workplace safety measure was passed on an emergency basis, expanding on previous measures passed earlier in the pandemic. Among its many elements, the bill:

  • requires employers to establish workplace safety measures that adhere to all Mayor’s Orders related to COVID
  • prevents retaliation against employees for their COVID status, family COVID status, personal COVID safety measures, or pointing out COVID safety violations
  • allows employees who quit their jobs due to a COVID-unsafe work environment to remain eligible for unemployment insurance

This COVID measure will go into effect immediately upon action by the Mayor, and will remain in effect for 90 days while action on permanent legislation proceeds.

In other action at the meeting, the Council approved an emergency measure that will require third-party food delivery apps/services to receive a restaurant’s approval prior to beginning to deliver their food to customers. The measure will go into effect immediately upon action by the Mayor, and will remain in effect for 90 days while action on permanent legislation proceeds.

Finally, one measure on the agenda which had received public attention was tabled so that it could potentially be expanded and considered at a future meeting. What had begun as a legislative response to a DC Public Schools employee being told she did not qualify for paid leave after a stillbirth evolved into a potential expansion of bereavement leave for all DC government employees. The shift in the potential scope of the measure (from one that would have provided two weeks of leave to those suffering the loss of a minor child, a stillbirth, or a late-term miscarriage to one that would have provided those same two weeks’ leave for the loss of any close family member) meant that the required estimate of the bill’s cost could not be completed in time for the most recent meeting. Once the scope of the bill, and the extent of its costs, are locked into place, the bill will likely return for subsequent Council consideration.

The Council’s next Legislative Meeting will be held on March 2.