News and Analysis


Phil Mendelson

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.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

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.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

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.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
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.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

D.C. legislators passed a ban on public marijuana clubs Tuesday, DCist reported Tuesday.

The D.C. Council passed the ban by one vote on its first reading. Seven council members voted in favor the ban, including chairman Phil Mendelson, Judiciary Committee chair Kenyan McDuffie from Ward 5 and Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, according to DCist.

City officials extended the marijuana ban in January at Mayor Muriel Bowser’s suggestion. The council voted to allow the clubs, but Bowser did not support the legislation because the city would not be able to regulate the clubs.

The decision comes after city officials set up a task force to look into the marijuana clubs. The task force will meet for the first time on Friday, DCist reported.

Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau is a member of the task force and called the ban “a a slap in the face,” according to DCist.

“This narrative that the permanent ban can be revisited is false as long as the (Congressional) rider is in place,” she told DCist. “A task force with a 120-day timeline is supposed to be planning for the present, not the future.”

McDuffie said the task force will still be relevant and the council will likely revisit marijuana clubs.

“Until we have that ability [to regulate], we should maintain the status quo,” Mendelson told DCist.

D.C. could make almost $100 million from taxing the sale of the drug by 2020, according to a study released earlier this year.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

University Police Department officers would be able to patrol areas off campus if a bill introduced in the D.C. Council on Tuesday is passed.

Campus police officers would be able to “exercise” authority in areas off campus which the Metropolitan Police Department chief would approve ahead of time, according to the bill. The bill would impact police officers at all D.C. universities, not just GW. It comes about two years after GW first tried to empower UPD officers to patrol off campus.

Special police officers, like UPD, would also undergo additional training to work with disabled people and people with mental health conditions, according to the bill. Campus officers would also be able to assist with emergencies on other schools’ campuses if a state of emergency is declared or if the university’s president requests the additional help, according to the bill.

The bill was introduced by Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie and co-sponsored by six council members including Chairman Phil Mendelson. Mendelson had also supported GW’s proposal two years ago to send officers off campus, although he said the plan lacked specificity.

The bill would also allow campus police officers to wear their uniforms when traveling to court or between university properties. The bill was referred to the Council’s judiciary committee and would require a signature from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser before undergoing a 30-day congressional review.

UPD officers had patrolled off campus for years until it was revealed in April 2013 that they were operating outside of their jurisdiction. When officials proposed a plan to send officers off campus in the summer of 2013, officials said it would smooth relationships with neighbors in Foggy Bottom. They also hoped to work with the 13 other D.C. universities in order to present a bill to the Council, and received early support from Georgetown University.

That proposal fizzled out before it reached the Council after neighbors, students, civil liberties groups and mayoral candidates questioned why a private police force should be able to patrol off campus.

UPD’s records are closed to the public, unlike MPD or other city police departments.

This new bill is just the latest in a string of attempts to expand police power. Foggy Bottom’s Council member Jack Evans also proposed a bill in 2002, along with several other Council members, that would have expanded off-campus power and granted campus police the same arrest authority as MPD. That bill failed after opponents said it gave campus officers too much power.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

The D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser's suggestion for $23 million in additional spending Tuesday.  Jamie Finkelstein | Hatchet Photographer

The D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s suggestion for $23 million in additional spending Tuesday. Hatchet File Photo by Jamie Finkelstein.

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Kendrick Chang.

In its first legislative session in a month, the D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s request for $23 million to be added to the budget and passed legislation directed at crime prevention, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

When Bowser requested the additional funding last week, several D.C. Council members, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, asked for more details, enough of which were provided Tuesday for the Council to unanimously pass the legislation.

The funds would include funding for body cameras on police officers and expand employment assistance for young people in D.C. according to The Post. Of the additional funding, nearly half will go towards improving D.C.’s crime lab and the police body cameras.

Kenyan McDuffie, a Ward 5 Council member who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also proposed a crime prevention bill that would identify at-risk youth in the city and give them access to programming that could prevent them from entering a criminal lifestyle.

“What’s clear is we cannot arrest our way out of this crime problem,” McDuffie said.

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 Council member who represents Foggy Bottom, introduced a bill that would use funds to keep at least 4,000 police officers in the Metropolitan Police Department, which he said currently only has 3,800 officers.

Evans also introduced another bill that would require police officers, public school teachers and firefighters to live in the District, because about 80 percent of those employees live outside the city, Evans told The Post. He said this would be a way to keep D.C. tax money in the city, and said he will likely face backlash from teacher’s associations and other groups for the bill.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson said Tuesday that the Council will vote in favor of most of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget Wednesday morning, WAMU 88.5 reported.

“The big picture is… the mayor will be receiving in the budget that I am proposing tomorrow 99 percent of what she’s requested,” Mendelson told WAMU 88.5.

Bowser’s proposed $12.9 billion budget included investing $100 million in affordable housing in an effort to end homelessness by 2018 and an increase of about $32 million in funding for D.C. public and charter schools.

Bowser proposed raising the sales tax in D.C. from 5.75 to 6 percent to cover the cost of her budget increases and help fund her war on homelessness, a move rejected by the Council two weeks ago. She cited a poll from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute that said 70 percent of D.C. residents supported the tax hike. Jack Evans, a Ward 2 Council member and chair of the finance committee, opposed Bowser’s sales tax increase, saying it was fiscally irresponsible and the increase should happen when D.C.’s economic growth slows down.

Mendelson said that the council will still be able to fund many of her proposed initiatives without relying on the $22 million in projected revenue from the rejected tax increase. The Council approved an increased $10 million to services for the homeless.

“We’re going above and beyond in areas where there’s a real need for citizens in the District, whether we’re dealing with homelessness, or affordable housing, or with seniors, or with victims of crime,” Mendelson said.

The Council also cut in half the number of body cameras Bowser proposed for Metropolitan Police Department Offices from a proposed 2,400 cameras with a price tag of about $5.1 million to 1,200 new cameras. Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie said a full commitment to the policy should wait until the Council agrees on issues surrounding body cameras, including who will have access to the footage.

Bowser first presented her budget in the beginning of April and the Council soon reviewed her proposal and provided criticism.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced legislation to accompany the striking down of D.C.'s handgun ban Wednesday. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced legislation Wednesday to accompany the striking down of D.C.’s handgun ban. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Robert Evans

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced legislation on Wednesday that could make concealed handgun permits a reality in certain parts of the District.

Gray, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council member Tommy Wells announced the “License to Carry a Pistol Emergency Amendment Act of 2014” after a federal judge struck down D.C.’s handgun ban in July.

The Council will consider the legislation on Sept. 23, and the provisions could go into effect as early as Oct. 22.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s press conference.

1. Personal responsibility

Mendelson highlighted the amendment’s focus on a more extensive gun safety and handling training programs for both District residents and non-residents, who can also get a license to carry in D.C. if they meet the same standards as residents.

Those who have been previously diagnosed with a mental illness or condition will not be eligible for a license, and if a person is found to be intoxicated while carrying a gun, they will face criminal and civil penalties, the legislation says.

“The responsibility lays on the person who holds the gun,” Mendelson said.

2. Wells: “We don’t know if we want to be the poster child of gun laws in America.”

Wells said that the program models those of states like New York, New Jersey and Maryland, which have adopted similar policies.

“There’s no reason why we can’t complete the process before the Council period, and move from the emergency to the permanent legislation,” he said. “We will move quickly, and I believe we will move smartly.”

The bill will create a five-member Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board appointed by the mayor to review any denial of an application for a concealed-carry license.

3. No guns in the House

It is “paramount,” the press release said, to keep the areas around government buildings, like Congress, gun-free and public officials will not allow people to carry concealed weapons in certain areas.

Gray said he was aggravated with the forced loosening of D.C. gun laws a year after the Washington Navy Yard shooting, which left 12 people dead and eight more injured.

“It’s my view that the District needs less guns, not more guns,” Gray said. “We will continue to work together as a government, not only to uphold the law, but also do the best job as we can to preserve safety here in the District of Columbia.”

  • Permalink
  • Comments

The D.C. Council voiced preliminary support for the decriminalization of marijuana Monday.

The bill, championed by Council member and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, would charge $25 fines for the possession of marijuana, but an amendment by chairman Phil Mendelson weakened the bill by not decriminalizing the use of marijuana in public.

The D.C. Council passed the decriminalization of marijuana in a preliminary vote Tuesday. Hatchet File Photo

The D.C. Council passed the decriminalization of marijuana in a preliminary vote Tuesday. Hatchet File Photo

“If the use of alcohol in public is a criminal offense, so too it should be for marijuana,” Mendelson said at the meeting.

In a letter to the D.C. Council released Tuesday, Mayor Vincent Gray voiced his support for decriminalization but supported the amendment, saying it would protect children playing outside from the smell of marijuana.

“Those of us who remember the days when open air drug markets plagued our neighborhoods do not want to see them or the violence that all too often accompanies them return,” the letter said.

The Council will hold a final vote on the bill later this month.

This post was updated Feb. 6, 2014 to reflect the following:
Correction appended
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the fine for possession of marijuana would be $100 under the new bill. The fine would actually be $25. We regret the error.

  • Permalink
  • Comments