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David Grosso

This post was written by staff writer Catherine Moran.

D.C. Council members proposed various pieces legislation during their first legislative meeting of the year Tuesday, from building up the Metropolitan Police Department to full marijuana legalization.

Here are the top three proposed laws you should know.

1. Fully legalizing marijuana

At-large Council member David Grosso proposed a bill that would fully legalize marijuana in the District. While marijuana was decriminalized in D.C. and voters approved adult recreational use in 2014, Grosso’s legislation addresses past congressional intervention that prevented the city from regulating and taxing marijuana.

In June, Congress, which has jurisdiction over D.C., blocked an amendment that would have allowed the city to use funds for a legal marijuana retail market, according to Extract, a website focused on marijuana coverage.

“We know the war on drugs is and was a failure,” Grosso said, adding that it contributed to an increase in mass incarceration and is “racial in its implementation.”

Grosso said that his act is the logical next step in setting up a strong tax and regulatory system. The Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will now work on and address the legislation.

2. Increasing law enforcement numbers

Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray proposed a bill to increase D.C. police staffing, saying that MPD staffing is at the “lowest level in a decade.” MPD has more than 4,000 sworn and civilian members, according MPD, but Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham told Fox News in October that the number of sworn officers was slightly above 3,700.

Gray said former D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier emphasized meeting the 3,800 minimum officer threshold for several years as officer retention plagued the department.

The alumnus and former mayor said the city’s population surge requires increasing the number of sworn officers from 4,000 to 4,200, saying it was important to “increase the number of officers deployed to help neighborhoods most plagued by violent crime.”

The proposed legislation would set aside “adequate” funding in the budget for MPD, which would help to cover the cost of hiring, training and equipping officers, Gray said.

3. Access to free Wi-Fi

Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd introduced legislation to create a taskforce that will work to provide and oversee construction for free wireless internet access in the District. Todd said free Wi-Fi will be beneficial to D.C.’s economy. People with lower incomes can miss the chance to pursue other opportunities without access to the internet, where most job applications are now hosted, he said.

“Today high-speed broadband is not a luxury – it’s a necessity,” Todd said, “The internet divide is an economic divide.”

Todd said cities like New York and Boston have increased accessibility to free Wi-Fi. New York recently added free Wi-Fi and cellphone service in the subway system, according to The New York Times.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced their plans to add Wi-Fi to all underground Metro stations in December.

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This post was written by Hatchet reporter Savannah Shepard.

The GW chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a group that pushes for progressive legislation, hosted representatives from Jews United for Justice Tuesday to discuss ways students can advocate for the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015.

The bill, which was proposed by Council member David Grosso in the D.C. Council last week, would offer 16 weeks of paid leave to employees who either live or work in D.C. It would be the most generous paid leave plan in the country, and would include GW employees.

Representatives in attendance were Joanna Blotner from Jews United for Justice’s Paid Family Leave Campaign, Jeremiah Lowery, a former Restaurant Opportunities Center activist, and Hannah Weilbacher, a community organizer with Jews United for Justice.

The event was co-sponsored by the Feminist Student Union and the Progressive Student Union.

Here are some key takeaways about the discussion:

1. Key points of a bill

Currently, 12 perecent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, according to a pamphlet handed out at the meeting. In addition, only 40 percent of people have access to personal medical leave through short term disability insurance provided through their jobs, Blotner said.

The bill would help D.C. residents “have access to these basic support structures,” and not “left to privilege or luck,” Blotner said. It would also cover men and women and incentivizes them to take leave to support their families and personal lives. Employees would get their full pay, up to $3,000 a week while they are on leave.

The bill is an “all encompassing, personal medical leave as well, so it affects everyone,” Blotner said.

2. Importance of the bill

Surveys of new parents demonstrate that four, six, or even 12 weeks is not enough time for paid leave, Blotner said. Parents could take off to care for a new child, both after giving birth and after newly adopting, to take care of sick relatives and for sick leave.

“Fundamental development happens in the first few weeks of a child’s life,” and without parents to guide that advancement, “a child can never recover,” Blotner said.

3. Ways to lobby the D.C. Council

The bill, though it was co-sponsored by seven of the 13 Council members in D.C., has only been introduced into the D.C. Council and may not necessarily be enacted as a law. The group discussed ways to lobby Council members to support the bill and give it the best chance for passing.

“It’s more to think and create a bill, [we] need real grassroots pressure to the DC council,” Weilbacher said.

Weilbacher recommended lobbying Council members by writing letters, requesting to meet face-to-face and making phone calls. The organizers also suggested lobbying the chair of the D.C. Council, Phil Mendelson, and Jack Evans, the Council member who represents Ward 2, which includes GW’s campus.

Weilbacher added that it would be helpful to the cause to “pack the D.C. Council Hall, be there, be supportive, and share stories that make this issue personal to you.”

Representatives at the meeting also recommended giving attention to the cause through social media and using related hashtags, like #PaidLeave4DC and #LeadOnLeave.

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This post was written by Hatchet reporter Grace Gannon.

The D.C. Council proposed a bill Tuesday that would require city health care professionals to receive LGBT sensitivity training.

At-Large Council member David Grosso and Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander introduced the bill that would amend current laws and require health care practitioners – including doctors and mental health specialists – to complete training in “attitudes, knowledge, and skills that enable a health care professional to care effectively for patients who identify as LGBTQ”, according to a copy of the bill.

The trainings would also teach health care workers to use appropriate terminology with LGBT patients, understand risk factors for their health, and train support staff to also work with LGBT patients and maintain their confidentiality, according to the bill.

Alexander, who is the chair of the Council’s health and human services committee, said she hopes to hold a hearing on the bill soon. Nine Council members co-signed the bill during the legislative meeting Tuesday, the Washington Blade reported.

Grosso said in an interview that the bill would help eliminate stereotypes about LGBT people and teach health care workers to interact with the patients sensitively. There are 66,000 individuals who identify as LGBT in D.C., Grosso said.

“All we’re saying is that we think they deserve to have medical professionals who are sensitive, too, and knowledgeable about the unique health needs of their community,” Grosso said in a phone interview.

LGBT people who struggle to access resources are at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, Grosso added.

Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a press release that mandatory training is crucial to reducing disparities in health care for LGBT people.

“LGBT people face substantial systemic discrimination in health care due to a lack of understanding of the unique needs and challenges faced by the community,” Warbelow said in the release.

About 56 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 70 percent of transgender people say they have faced some type of discrimination in health care, causing some to postpone seeking help when they are sick, according to the release.

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Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 11:27 p.m.

D.C. voters approve marijuana legalization

D.C voters chose to legalize marijuana in the city Tuesday night. Hatchet File Photo

D.C voters chose to legalize marijuana in the city Tuesday night. Hatchet File Photo

Updated: Nov. 5, 2014 at 11:19 a.m.

D.C. voters passed a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the city on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported.

At least 68 percent of voters approved of legalizing possession of less than two ounces of marijuana for those over 21. The initiative is expected to pass in all eight wards, including Foggy Bottom.

With the D.C. Board of Election reporting about 18 percent of the vote in Ward 2, about 71 percent of Foggy Bottom voters were in favor of the initiative.

Before marijuana becomes legal in D.C., the initiative must be approved by the city government and pass a 60-day period in which Congress can review the measure.

The University has said that even if marijuana was legalized in D.C. it would continue to ban marijuana use on campus. If it did not, it could risk losing federal funding.

Last week, the D.C. Council discussed how to roll out legalization, and pinpointed the challenges of how to tax the drug, as well as the potential health risks. Council member David Grosso, who introduced legalization legislation last year, said then that the tax revenue from selling marijuana legally could go toward education efforts to raise awareness of the drug’s potential harms.

Student leaders have lobbied for legalizing the drug since the referendum was placed on the ballot in August. GW’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter encouraged students to vote, and members have said that once marijuana was legalized, they would urge the University to relax the current penalties for on-campus marijuana use.

Since decriminalization took effect in the city in July, those caught with less than one ounce of marijuana face just a $25 fine.

Before the referendum made it on the ballot, the D.C. Cannabis Campaign circulated a petition that secured 57,000 signatures. That was twice the amount needed to place it on the ballot.

At least 63 percent of D.C. residents supported legalization, according to a Washington Post poll released in January.

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Council member Jack Evans hears testimony on marijuana legalization in D.C.  Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Council member Jack Evans hears testimony on marijuana legalization in D.C.
Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Regina Park. 

D.C. voters haven’t decided whether they will back legalizing marijuana at the polls next week, but D.C. Council held a joint public hearing to plan out its potential roll out.

Planning how to legalize the use and possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in a city would need a lot of collaboration across departments and organizations, Council members said. The Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Committee on Finance and Revenue heard opinions about the consequences of legalizing the drug through the ballot referendum.

Council member Jack Evans, who represents Foggy Bottom, and Council member Vincent Orange led the hearing, which heard from policy makers, marijuana activists and other Council members. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the hearing.

1. A potentially complex roll out

Most of the hearing focused on the details of how marijuana legalization would be implemented in D.C. if the measure were to pass on Election Day.

Council members and experts discussed whether marijuana would be taxed at the same rate as alcohol in D.C., and Orange asked if the packaging and sale of the drug would also reflect the policies in place for alcohol.

The hearing also focused on the policies other states that have legalized marijuana have dealt with the rollout of the law.

“Marijuana legalization is a policy that has become very popular among policy makers.” Robert J. Capecchi, Deputy Director of State Policies of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “A vast majority of the states are considering legalization of marijuana.”

2. Extra income for the city

The marijuana market in D.C. would be a $130 million industry, according to The Washington Post. If marijuana is legalized, Evans said the taxes levied from marijuana could add some surplus cash to the state budget.

“Taxes on marijuana could be nearly $20 million a year.” Evans said.

Malik Burnett, policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the money should aid development in the largely African American neighborhoods hit hardest by marijuana arrests.

“Nine out of ten people arrested for possession of marijuana were African Americans,” he said.

3. The effect on youth

Some Council members like Orange, who chairs the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, voiced concern over whether legalization would send the message that marijuana use was not harmful to those under 21.

“Can we legalize marijuana without sending the message to youths that it’s risk-free?” he said.

Orange also said there are still harmful health effects for those using marijuana, citing a weakened immune systems and memory loss.

Council member At-Large David Grosso, who sponsored the referendum, countered and said the city could use the revenue gained from taxes on the drug to fund education programs about the negative impacts of marijuana.

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