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D.C. Council

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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The D.C. Council passed an eight week universal paid leave act after 15 months of public debate Monday.

With a vote of 9 to 4, the Council sent the bill to Mayor Muriel Bowser for her signature.
If signed, the bill would give all workers in the District the opportunity to take an eight week parental leave, a six week leave to assist a sick family member and a two week personal medical leave.

The paid leave will be funded by a 0.62 percent increase in employer payroll taxes, which is expected to raise $250 million.

These approved paid leave amounts were dramatically cut down from the original proposed bill, which would have given 16 weeks of paid leave to employees experiencing events like caring for a sick relative or having a baby.

Council chair Phil Mendelson said the leave coverage for all D.C. workers, including Maryland and Virginia residents, was important to bring workers to D.C.

“This is a benefit program for every employer in the District that people who want to work will be attracted to working for them,” he said.

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans has previously brought up concerns for funding paid leave for those who live outside of the city, including during the last Council meeting, claiming it could drain funds intended for D.C. residents.

Under the original bill first proposed last year, employees could have 16 weeks of paid leave. After a little more than a year of negotiations, the family paid leave time was reduced to eight weeks.

Previously, GW teamed up with other universities and businesses to promote an employer mandate program as an alternative to the proposed paid leave plan.

Similarly, an amendment Evans and Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh’s proposed would have funded the leave through an employer mandate, but provided the same amount of leave for workers. Bowser supported the amendment more than the unamended plan, The Washington Post reported.

In this system, small businesses would receive a tax credit to fund leave programs and have the opportunity to a hardship petition if they are having trouble funding the leave, instead of raising the employer payroll taxes and with a goal of decreasing government bureaucracy.

Evans, along with Council members Yvette Alexander of Ward 7, Brandon Todd of Ward 4 and LaRuby May of Ward 8, voted against the legislation after his and Cheh’s amendment failed.

“I can’t support raising the tax,” Evans said. “I can’t support paying this money to Virginia and Maryland people.”

Cheh of Ward 3 decided to “reluctantly” support the bill to guarantee paid leave to workers by the end of the meeting.

“I thought the amendment that we offered was much better,” she said. “I will vote for this, but I do not think it is the best way to go.”

She was the only Council member to vote for her and Evan’s amendment and for the legislation.

May said she would call on Bowser to veto the bill once it passed.

“It’s upsetting that we’re more focused on helping folk outside the city than the District itself,” she said.

At-large Council member Robert White supported the legislation and said he hopes the nation follows D.C.’s lead in the future.

“This bill although it is not perfect – it will move the District in the right direction for now,” he said.

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The D.C. Council approved a bill that would allow eights of paid maternity leave Tuesday. Charlie Lee | Senior Staff Photographer

The D.C. Council approved a bill that would allow eights of paid maternity leave Tuesday. Charlie Lee | Senior Staff Photographer

This post was written by reporter Chase Smith.

The D.C. Council voted 11 to 2 in support of a watered down version of what could still be one of the nation’s most generous paid family leave offerings Tuesday evening.

The Council will cast their final vote on the bill on Dec. 20. If the measure passes then, it will go on to Mayor Muriel Bowser to sign it into law.

The Council amended the bill, which was introduced late last year, at a Committee of the Whole session Tuesday morning. Council members voted to reduce the amount of paid time off after a birth or adoption from 11 to eight weeks and provide six weeks of family leave and two weeks of medical leave.

The original 2015 bill would have offered 16 weeks of paid leave, which has been gradually lowered over the course of the past year.

The costs of the bill would be covered by a tax from all District businesses. However, some council members voiced concerns about the bill. Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, who is also the chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said he is critical of the bill because it will also cover District workers who live in Maryland and Virginia.

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans was one of the two legislators to vote "no" on the proposed paid leave bill Tuesday. Charlie Lee | Senior Staff Photographer

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans was one of the two legislators to vote “no” on the proposed paid leave bill Tuesday. Charlie Lee | Senior Staff Photographer

“I just cannot justify paying $166 million to people who live in Maryland and Virginia to pay 80 million to our own residents,” he said. “I recognize that our own workers will get paid, but at what cost are we doing that?”

Evans was the only Council member to vote no on the preliminary vote during the Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday afternoon. During the legislative meeting later in the evening, Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander also voted no, warning that she will not vote for the bill until it addresses her concerns about the bill including non-D.C. residents.

Evans went on to tweet throughout the day about how he supports paid leave, just not this bill.

Leaders at GW and other universities in the District have also been skeptical of the bill, worrying about having to cut budgets and financial aid to pay for the paid leave. Business leaders additionally have been worried and called upon the Council earlier this year to further study the financial impact of the bill.

At-large Council member David Grosso addressed this concern during the meeting this morning, stating that the Council “now knows the fiscal and economic impact” moving forward after spending 14 months studying them.

He added that although the number of paid weeks decreased along with the wage replacement and salary cap, it is a step in the right direction for the District.

“It will be good for our businesses and our economy in the District,” he said. “It will make the District of Columbia a city where people want to work and have children.”

Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau said many voices were heard over the past year.

“Although, I know we have come to a place at which not everyone agrees, I do think we have come to a place where everyone has been heard and every concern has been considered,” Nadeau said. “Just because a piece of legislation does not reflect someone’s specific concern does not mean it hasn’t been heard.”

At the meeting, At-large Council member Elissa Silverman also proposed an amendment adding personal emergencies back to the bill, which was taken out during the many changes to the bill.

Silverman’s amendment unanimously passed the preliminary vote during the Committee of the Whole meeting.

“I met a woman who told me she had to quit her job to make chemo appointments,” she said. “With this amendment, our most vulnerable workers will have help when they need it the most.”

Grosso said “self-care coverage” was an integral part of the original legislation, and adding it back in was the “right thing to do.”

“By adding self-care coverage back into the legislation, we are making this bill more universal and covering more workers who do not want their own care to be pigeon-holed,” Grosso said.

Debra Ness, the president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, released a statement following the vote expressing her pleasure that personal emergencies were added.

“We are especially pleased that the Council amended the Universal Paid Leave Act to include personal medical leave, recognizing that whether workers are caring for a new child, a seriously ill family member or are seriously ill themselves, they need time away from work without jeopardizing their ability to cover their basic expenses,” the release read.

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The District will most likely take a leap toward 11 weeks of family paid leave, which would be the longest paid leave offered in the nation.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson proposed the plan Monday, which would provide parents of newborn and adopted children with 11 weeks of paid leave and those with dying parents or grandparents with 8 weeks, The Washington Post reported.

With a cap of $1,000, D.C. workers could obtain up to 90 percent of their pay during leave, according to The Post. Businesses would take the brunt of the costs with a 0.62 percent increase in payroll taxes.

The Council will vote on the measure Tuesday and a final vote will occur on Dec. 20. Because the Council has been wrestling with different proposals involving paid leave for more than a year, the proposal is expected to be approved, The Post reported.

Last year, the Council supported a plan to increase paid leave to 16 weeks in private businesses. After businesses questioned the $15 million cost to put the plan in place, Mendelson changed the bill to cover 12 weeks of paid leave.

Unlike the previous proposal last year, this plan would not offer paid leave for employees dealing with their own health problems, unless it is related to pregnancy.

GW and other businesses have lobbied against the legislation, in favor of an “employer mandate” proposal they created which would give workers eight weeks of paid time off instead of 12.

GW currently offers full-time staff members six continuous weeks of paid parental leave, according to the University Human Resources website.

The 12-week design required businesses to set aside 1 percent of the total salaries through a payroll tax in order to finance the plan. Mendelson and the Council then adjusted the plan again for 11 weeks.

“We worked our way to this number,” he told The Post. “The business community is very opposed to a 1 percent tax, and we wanted to come in – I wanted to come in – substantially lower, and that’s the reason why this has been so confidential, because I want them to be surprised.”

Mendelson also told The Post the plan would take about three years to implement and would expect it to be in place in January 2020.

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Members of the D.C. Council supported a bill that would provide overtime pay during snow emergencies. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer

Members of the D.C. Council supported a bill that would provide overtime pay during snow emergencies. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer

Updated: Nov. 18, 2016 at 10:40 a.m.

This post was written by reporter Chase Smith.

In an effort to provide better walkability during snow emergencies like January 2016’s “snowzilla,” D.C. Council members met at the John A. Wilson building to hear testimony for proposed amendments to current snow and ice removal legislation.

The District spent $55.3 million in response to the January blizzard, or eight years worth of snow removal budgets in response to the emergency. This new legislation would authorize Mayor Muriel Bowser to enter into an agreement with the Business Improvement Districts and Main Streets programs for snow and ice removal from sidewalks, curb cuts and crosswalks in their district or program area during a snow emergency.

Ward 6 Council Member Charles Allen, who proposed the amendment, said representatives from BIDs and Main Streets programs worked to clear snow and ice for the businesses and residents in their areas voluntarily. The D.C. organizations help improve conditions for people working in D.C. businesses and using District streets.

However, the BIDs and Main Street programs were not compensated for extra hours of snow and ice removal and instead millions were paid to contractors with little to none of it going to sidewalk shoveling.

Allen said he would like to see this conversation about pedestrian accessibility to be moved along because he has seen many people walking and not driving in the first few days of a snow emergency.

“I would love to be able to say out of that 55 million, five percent went to making sure we had clear pedestrian paths,” Allen said. “I would wager not even five percent, I would be surprised if even one percent, went to that pedestrian experience for clean and safe sidewalks.”

Representatives from the Main Streets programs in D.C. and BIDs testified in approval of the proposed amendment at the hearing.

Charlie Whitaker, the CEO of Career Path D.C., said the new amendment would allow his team to purchase more ice melt in snow emergencies, because last year’s blizzard saw them exhaust their whole years supply of ice melt in two hours.

“I love to see kids go to school on time every day,” Whitaker said. “If we could remove snow at a faster rate and more efficiently, we can keep our government open, our kids can get to school on time and we won’t have to worry so much about our seniors slipping and falling.”

Kyle Todd, Executive Director of Rhode Island Ave. Main Streets program, said his team rose to the occasion and removed “tons” of snow during the blizzard in January.

“However, when it came time to pay them overtime, well, that’s why we’re here today,” he said.

He added they could have removed the snow very quickly with the appropriate equipment and that it should be purchased in advance so his team can have proper training before the next big winter storm hits.

Natalie Avery, the executive director of the D.C. BID Council, said the current situation of D.C. prioritizing road clearing instead of sidewalk clearing should be changed.

Avery expressed frustration with street plows that push snow back onto already cleared sidewalks, which “erases hours of work.”

Ana Harvey, the director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development, testified in support of the proposed legislation on behalf of Bowser.

Harvey said the January snowstorm taught the city that they need to be ready for unexpected snow emergencies while also thoughtful of budgetary considerations.

“This bill explores a potential solution by allowing the Mayor to enter into agreements with BIDs or Main Street programs for snow and ice removal and improving efficiency by utilizing existing government resources,” she said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the Ward 6 Council member as John Allen. His name is Charles Allen. We regret this error.

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Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 1:54 a.m.

Former mayor, alumnus wins D.C. Council seat

Former mayor and alumnus Vincent Gray won a D.C. Council seat on his 74th birthday. Max Wang | Hatchet Photographer

Former mayor and alumnus Vincent Gray won a D.C. Council seat on his 74th birthday. Max Wang | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by staff writer Catherine Moran.

Alumnus and former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray won the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat on his 74th birthday in a landslide.

Gray, a Democrat, defeated his two Independent opponents with 87 percent of the vote, according to the D.C. Board of Elections.

People were already waiting outside the The Chateau on Benning Road NE more than 45 minutes before the watch party began. Inside, the large room quickly filled up with more than 100 people standing at the bar counter and banquet or conversing at the dozens of tables with sky blue tablecloths and candles. Pop music blasted across the room, and posters for Gray and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton decorated the room.

A big white sheet cake with a big blue icing letter “7” on top sat untouched on a table off to the side of the podium.

Gray said he decided run because he sees himself as a public servant and wanted to work on “troubling” topics in Ward 7. Gray said that while economic development, education and crime are his top priorities, he will listen to his constituents first and foremost.

“I have to be able to understand what is important to them,” Gray said.

Gray talked about how he wants to eliminate property taxes for people who are “financially strapped” or above a certain age, referencing a bill he worked on with Council member Anita Bonds.

Gray thanked the people that helped with phone banking and greeted people at the polls.

“We have lots of work ahead of us,” he said.

Gray also announced a summit on Dec. 3 to help establish priorities for the city, citing the large turnout for a similar summit he help when he was mayor.

“People told us what was important and we worked to craft that plan into the future of the city,” Gray said. “I still have copies at home of the One City Action Plan. And frankly that helped us shape the ensuring work over the next four years.”

“What I hope comes out of the summit is a we have an opportunity to state what we as the people of ward 7 want to see this ward become,” he said.

Gray, who grew up in D.C., was the first African American to join the Jewish fraternity Tau Epsilon Phi while he was at GW, and became the first chapter fraternity president to serve two consecutive terms.

“I had a great time at GW,” Gray said. “I met a lot of good friends.” He added that some of those friends were at the watch party.

Gray beat the incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010, but lost reelection in 2014 to Muriel Bowser, who won the Democratic primary, after a slew of campaign finance scandals.

Colicchio Proctor, one of Gray’s cousins, said that she is “very, very, very proud” of Gray at his watch party. Proctor said that she’d like to see more restaurants and businesses like Walmart or Target come to Ward 7.

“They have it in Northwest, but we need it in Southeast as well,” Proctor said. “I like the things I see in Georgetown.”

ANC Commissioner Edward Rhodes, who worked on Bowser’s mayoral campaign, said he supports Gray because he helped to create more jobs while mayor.

“He did a wonderful job as mayor,” Rhodes said. “Vincent Gray is gonna win, winning by a landslide, because he’s done what a lot of his constituents wanted him to do.”

Rhodes said that he voted a week ago and “will always vote.”

“If I was upon my death bed I’m going to crawl to the voting place and I’ll try to vote to let me die in peace,” Rhodes said. “So many died and worked so hard so that I can vote.”

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Eve Zhurbinskiy, a commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission,  plans to submit written testimony in support of a D.C. Council bill that will remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.  Jillian DiPersio | Hatchet Photographer

Eve Zhurbinskiy, a commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, plans to submit a written testimony in support of a D.C. Council bill that will remove the sales taxes from feminine hygiene products. Hatchet file photo by Jillian DiPersio | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Honora Gibbons.

D.C. Council members and women’s advocates testified Wednesday in favor of a proposed bill that would eliminate sales taxes on feminine hygiene products and diapers.

The Feminine Hygiene and Diapers Sales Tax Exemption Amendment, introduced in the spring by Council members Anita Bonds, Mary Cheh and LaRuby May, would make feminine hygiene products, like pads and tampons, and diapers exempt from D.C. sales taxes. During the the first public hearing Wednesday, the Council heard from people in support of the bill who said it will relieve burdens on women and promote gender equality.

The bill is listed as under review by the D.C. Council on the Council’s legislative website.

Bonds, an at-large Council member, said during the public hearing that she supports the bill because it promotes gender equity, which she has focused on throughout her time as a Council member.

“This bill seeks to garner attention in an issue that is increasing in interest around the country and is a first step to gender equity,” Bonds said.

Some states have preceded D.C. in exempting feminine hygiene products and diapers from additional sales taxes. Eight states have repealed taxes on tampons, Bonds said at the hearing. She added that another seven states also exempt diapers, including adult diapers, from sales taxes.

Junior Eve Zhurbinskiy planned to testify on behalf of students in support of the bill but was unable to attend the hearing. Zhurbinskiy, who is also a commissioner for the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said she plans to submit a written testimony, in which she calls the current taxes on feminine hygiene products discriminatory against women.

“In a city that values human rights, no one should be taxed for who they are,” she wrote in the testimony. “And for adults who struggle with incontinence, this tax acts as an unnecessary barrier to fulfilling basic healthcare needs.”

Zhurbinskiy also suggested in her testimony that the bill include “period underwear” under the list of products that are tax-exempt.

Other D.C. residents who testified in favor of the bill said taxes place an unfair burden on women.

Law students from the University of the District of Columbia testified, saying that otherwise affordable products become expensive with the taxes.

“These products come at a considerable price, which is exacerbated by the additional tax,” Aysha Iqbal, a law student at The University of the District of Columbia, said.

Aisha N. Braveboy, a manager at the Children’s National Health System, said the bill “promotes parity” for women’s and children’s health. The bill would especially benefit young or single mothers, she added.

“These products are essential to basic survival, and it’s really difficult for a lot of families to afford the cost of these items,” Braveboy said.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016 12:46 p.m.

D.C. Council votes to raise minimum wage to $15

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to raise minimum wage in the District to $15, the Washington Post reported. Mayor Muriel Bowser pledged to sign the measure into law.

The measure passed on Tuesday will increase the minimum wage, which is $10.50, by 70 cents each year until it reaches $15 in 2020. Then the wage will increase automatically based on inflation. A similar plan will apply to wages for tipped workers, raising them from $2.77 to $5.

The D.C. Council’s action is waiting for confirmation from a final vote. The Post reported that the move “appeared to forestall” a November ballot measure that would have raised the minimum wage to $15 for both low-wage and tipped workers.

This move will put D.C. in line with New York and California, states that are already serving as models for the “Fight for $15” campaign led by unions across the country. The movement began with a push by fast-food workers a few years ago, the Post reported.

Lawmakers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey are also currently considering raising the wage to $15, according to the Post.

Advocates for a higher minimum wage, who polls show are mostly Democrats, say that the $15 standard will combat income inequality. Federal data shows that D.C. has the largest income gap compared to every other state, according to the Post.

Bowser said Tuesday that high cost of living in D.C. makes it difficult for people to support themselves and their families on the current minimum wage.

“When I see how much it costs to live in Washington, D.C. — and that cost is only going up — we know that it takes more money for every household to be able to afford to live,” Bowser said. “There are families working day in and day out, sometimes two or three jobs but barely making ends meet.”

Critics of the higher wage, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, say that the higher labor costs will drive businesses out of the District.

Ryan said Tuesday that the decision would price entry-level jobs away from people, and “do more harm than good.”

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The D.C. Council approved a revised version of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to replace the D.C. General homeless shelter Tuesday. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor.

The D.C. Council approved a revised version of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to replace the D.C. General homeless shelter Tuesday. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor.

Updated: May 18, 2016 at 10:06 a.m.

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to tweak Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to close the D.C. General homeless shelter, which drew criticism from the mayor.

Bowser’s proposed plan to close the much-maligned D.C. General homeless shelter required the city to put up smaller shelters in each of the D.C.’s eight wards. Residents in some wards complained of the shelters’ locations the cost of the overall plan.

The Council’s unanimous revision of the plan stipulates that each of the ward’s new shelters must be on city-owned property, Washington City Paper reported Tuesday. The Council’s plan would save the District $160 million.

Only two of Bowser’s proposed shelters were owned by the city – in Wards 7 and 8. Bowser would have to change the proposed sites, buy the land or use “eminent domain” under the Council’s plan.

Ward 8 Council member LaRuby May proposed another amendment to the plan that would require a minimum of 50 units in each shelter, which was shot down by the Council in a four-to-eight vote.

Earlier in the day, Council chair Phil Mendelson said Bowser’s plan was “hampered by obfuscation and misinformation,” according to Washington City Paper.

“These problems would all have been avoided if there had been more collaboration…[and] there would not be questions about credibility,” Mendelson said.

Bowser cursed at Mendelson about his comments in a hallway in the Wilson building, according to Washington City Paper.

“You’re a fucking liar! You know it can’t close in 2018,” she told Mendelson, according to Washington City Paper.

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