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October 30, 2014

Posts in "DC Council"

October 28, 2014

D.C. Council Clears Road for Uber

taxiprotest 219 062514 440x288 D.C. Council Clears Road for Uber

Traditional taxis have railed against the measure for months, including a rolling protest around Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Taxi drivers lost a fight against for-hire ride services Tuesday, when the D.C. Council passed a bill that Uber says “provides a permanent home for UberX in the District.”

The company, which in August hired President Barack Obama’s former political strategist David Plouffe to run its political and public relations operations, praised D.C. for passing the legislation. It mandates county, federal and multi-state background checks on drivers going back seven years, $1 million primary insurance coverage from the moment a driver accepts a request and annual vehicle safety inspections by a certified mechanic. Uber said in a blog post that the bill makes D.C. a “trailblazer in the transportation industry.”

Hundreds of local taxi drivers, organized by Teamsters Local 922, planned a rolling protest around Freedom Plaza to show their opposition to the measure. They say it fails to create a level playing field with the private sedan services, who are costing the cab drivers business. A similar honking armada surrounded Capitol Hill in June.

The bill underwent some big changes as it worked its way through the council, including a name change. Lawmakers said calling the services “ridesharing” conflates them with carpooling, and other modes of transportation meant to defray costs associated with vehicle ownership or commuting. Instead of that term of art, the District opted for “private vehicle-for-hire” services.

Under the legislation, Uber, Lyft and other companies would have to comply with fare transparency provisions, like traditional taxis. The company must disclose its calculation method and applicable rates being charged, as well as offering to estimate fare. Additionally, the bill protects passengers’ pocketbooks in situations like Snowmageddon. When the mayor declares a state of emergency, the drivers are prohibited from setting exorbitant fares.

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DC Council Looks to Streamline Statehood Efforts

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Mendelson and Gray both support new statehood efforts. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In the four decades since Home Rule, elected officials in the District of Columbia have created four different commissions aimed at making the city the 51st state. Looking at the current condition of those panels, it might be obvious why the flag only has 50 stars.

Each one has no members, according to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. None one of the four have been functioning for years, “if ever,” he said Monday at a briefing previewing the council’s Tuesday legislative agenda.

Included on that agenda is a complicated piece of legislation designed to streamline more than 200 mayor-appointed boards and commissions in D.C. would consolidate and bolster the statehood effort. Introduced in January 2013 as the “Boards and Commissions Reform Act,” the council recently revamped the bill by adding “New Columbia Statehood Initiative” to the title and injecting more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars into the fight.

The bill, expected to get a final vote Tuesday, would eliminate 31 panels deemed inactive or unnecessary, including the Statehood Commission, the Statehood Compact Commission, District of Columbia Statehood Delegation Fund Commission, and the 51st State Commission. It would establish two new independent agencies: the Office of Statehood Delegation, and the New Columbia Statehood Commission. Full story

October 24, 2014

Ebola Roundtable Sparks Divisions Over District’s Preparedness

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A protester outside of the White House encourages a travel ban from Ebola-affected countries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Though national attention turned to a congressional hearing on Ebola preparedness Friday, two members of D.C. Council Committee on Health also met to assess how the District is preparing for the virus, resulting in clashes between lawmakers, hospital officials and nurses.

“We are nowhere near prepared for an Ebola patient at our hospital,” said Jowita Lyn, an emergency room nurse at Providence Hospital in Northeast D.C.

Referring to breaches in protocol that led to two nurses contracting Ebola while treating an infected patient in Dallas, Texas, Lyn said, “What happened at Texas Health Presbyterian could easily happen at Providence Hospital.”

Lyn treated one of the suspected Ebola patients in D.C. at Providence. She said she knew to ask whether the patient had traveled to an affected country because of her own research on the subject.

The nurse said the only training she received was a printout of Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Lyn also said the protective gear at the hospital were “paper thin gowns that are barely thicker than a napkin.” Full story

October 23, 2014

D.C. Board of Elections: ‘Well, We Messed Up.’

upsidedownflag 309x330 D.C. Board of Elections: Well, We Messed Up.

One week later, the board of elections is apologizing. (via @ericfidler)

One week after a lighthearted dismissal of the error, the District of Columbia’s election board issued a formal apology to voters for printing an upside down image of the D.C. flag on its official voter guide.

“Well, we messed up. BIG time,” the three-person board said Thursday in a statement that also expressed regret for “fumbling” its handling of the issue on Oct. 16.

The apology comes after a Tuesday news conference in which Mayor Vincent Gray said the flub has “tested severely” his faith in the independent agency responsible for the administration of elections, ballot access and voter registration. ”I don’t have … a lot of evidence that I can point to at this stage that would lead me to have a lot of confidence in what’s going to happen between now and, of course, Nov. 4,” Gray said. Full story

October 17, 2014

Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.’s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

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Will Gray’s successor make budget autonomy suit moot? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 40 years after President Richard M. Nixon signed the Home Rule Act, legal experts in the District of Columbia are fighting about what the feds intended.

Federal appeals court judges listened to more than an hour of oral arguments Friday in the case pitting the District’s executive branch against its legislative branch. It’s round two of a legal battle launched in April.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia A. Millett pressed a politically potent question for this time of year. Will the entire suit be “moot” after Nov. 4, when the city casts ballots for a new mayor and its first elected attorney general?

If the new administration chooses to comply with the local budget autonomy law signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in February 2013, and approved by 83 percent of voters two months later, there’s “at least a possibility that what we have right now [might] no longer be what the courts call a case or controversy,” said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed.

“The court could say, ‘Well, the case is over,’ dismiss the appeal and vacate the decision,” Smith said in an interview after the arguments. As the legal architect behind the charter amendment, he supports the D.C. Council’s appeal to require Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt to comply with the law.

Budget autonomy referendum backers claim Congress provided a pathway for the District to amend the budget process via its charter. In court documents, lawyers for the D.C. Council cited House staff memos and notes from 1973 conference negotiations with the Senate to discern lawmaker’s intentions. They noted that in 1984, Congress made it easier to amend the charter.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan counters that Capitol Hill “put it off limits” for the council to to change its budget process. Nathan insisted the panel go “back to the merits” and uphold U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s May 19 ruling that the city does not have the right to spend its local revenues without seeking an annual appropriation from Congress. He wants “common sense” to prevail.

Both sides say they believe the District deserves budget autonomy, but the executive branch agrees with the House GOP and the Government Accountability Office: The city can’t cut its own purse strings.

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser and independent candidate David Catania are both members of the D.C. Council, which voted unanimously to adopt the local budget autonomy law. Bowser, Catania and Carol Schwartz — another independent challenger for mayor and a former councilmember — have all expressed support for budget autonomy.

Paul Zukerberg, an attorney general contender, attended Friday’s arguments as a supporter of the D.C. Council. He told CQ Roll Call that, if elected, he would enforce the local budget autonomy law, but that might not be the end of the legal battle.

“There’s also a provision that would require the appointment of independent counsel for Jeff DeWitt or the mayor if they had different opinions,” Zukerberg said. “The CFO is independent so if he persisted there would still be an attorney representing him, so it wouldn’t necessarily mean the case is over.”

This hypothetical scenario is something Smith differed on. He said the CFO is still a member of the executive branch. A new attorney general’s opinion may be “binding on every District of Columbia official,” Smith said.

The appeals court has no set timeline to decide the appeal, but advocates of budget autonomy hope for a fresh start after Nov. 4.

DC Vote spokesman James Jones said he looks forward to having an elected attorney general who balances “the responsibility to uphold the law” with “viewing the people of the District as a client.”

Related:

D.C. Budget Autonomy Ruling Is Just the Beginning of Local Control Fight

D.C. Budget Autonomy Amicus Brief Takes Slap at Congress

D.C. Council to Mayor: See You in Court

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Warns Local Budget Autonomy Law Puts Home Rule at Risk

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October 10, 2014

Gray Signs D.C. Handgun Law to ‘Cure Alleged Constitutional Flaws’

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Gray signed the D.C. handgun licensing law to comply with federal ruling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With little fanfare, Mayor Vincent Gray signed legislation Thursday evening legalizing the concealed carry of handguns in the District of Columbia in response to a lawsuit brought against the city by Second Amendment advocates.

Under the terms of a stay in the Palmer v. District of Columbia ruling, District officials have until Oct. 22 to issue regulations related to the law, including how they will enforce a provision that outlaws carrying guns within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. The July 26 ruling briefly wiped the city’s ban on handguns from the books, something the House tried to do this summer with an appropriations rider.

“This law maintains our commitment to keeping guns out of the wrong hands and ensures the safety of all within the District of Columbia, while fully respecting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said in a joint statement.

They say the law “cures the alleged constitutional flaws in the District’s licensing laws,” but the plaintiffs in the Palmer lawsuit are dissatisfied. Opponents say D.C. is flying in the face of the court by crafting policies that are too restrictive.

The law allows D.C. residents who own registered handguns and non-residents who have state-issued carry licenses to apply to the police for carry permits. Applicants would have to demonstrate the need for carrying a gun, and undergo more extensive training.

On Oct. 2, about a week after the D.C. Council grudgingly approved the emergency measure, attorney Alan Gura asked the court for a permanent injunction on the city’s handgun carry ban. Gura claims the city fails to treat carrying handguns as an individual right, and objects to multiple elements of the new law.

In addition to giving the police chief discretion over handgun licensing, the law establishes a “Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board” and lays out basic rules for its operation. The mayor and attorney general would have the power to appoint three of its five members. Gura argues the board “is tilted entirely toward those with a government, law enforcement, and prosecutorial background.”

Gura makes multiple references throughout the 31-page memo to the court that city leaders are acting “hostile” to the idea of handgun carrying.

In an Oct. 8 hearing on police oversight, one councilmember took some by surprise by suggesting officers should not be armed.

“My staff won’t let me tell you that I think we oughta get rid of guns in the city and that police shouldn’t have guns, so I’m not gonna tell you that,” said David Grosso, an at-large independent, according to WNEW, which first reported the comment.

Proponents of the carry legislation point out that the bill is modeled after gun laws in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. They say each of those states’ licensing laws have withstood constitutional challenges in multiple federal appeals courts.

If the new permit law stays in place, officials say it is hard to estimate how many concealed carry permits will be issued.

“Since [District of Columbia v. Heller] allowed registration of handguns in 2008, I believe there’s about 6,000 previously registered firearm owners,” Lanier told reporters in September. She said she did not expect a large number of people to request the permits. “This is [one] of the lessons learned from Heller. I think everybody anticipated we’d be flooded with people trying to register the handguns in their home and we just didn’t see that. That never happened.”

While the District works out the details of its new regulations, carrying a gun in public remains a criminal offense.

Related Stories:

In D.C., Response to Judge’s Handgun Ruling Is Mixed and Muddled (Updated)

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Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

By Hannah Hess Posted at 3:45 p.m.
DC Council, DC Mayor

September 26, 2014

‘Women Who Make a Difference’ Honored in D.C.

tlod 240x180 Women Who Make a Difference Honored in D.C.

(Clark Mindock/CQ Roll Call)

An audience of mostly women filled the banquet hall of the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Northwest D.C. Thursday evening to honor four women in the first Women Who Make a Difference awards, organized by the Top Ladies of Distinction D.C. chapter.

The honorees represented a spectrum of public service in the nation’s capital, from the rising political career of D.C. mayoral front-runner Muriel Bowser to the first female African American U.S. senator, former Ambassador to New Zealand Carol Moseley Braun.

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From left: Bowser, Girton-Mitchell, Moseley Braun, during the Top Ladies of Distinction awards ceremony Thursday night. (Clark Mindock/CQ Roll Call)

“It’s very humbling, because I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” said another honoree, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “To have people wanting to recognize that is very extraordinary,” she added. Full story

September 25, 2014

Yoga Community Argues ‘Yoga Tax’ Does Not Apply to Studios

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(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The D.C. yoga community is working to convince lawmakers that the district’s so-called “yoga tax” does not actually apply to yoga studios.

The law states the 5.75 percent sales tax, which takes effect Oct. 1, will apply to membership of a health club, defined as a “facility for the purpose of physical exercise.” Yoga instructors are arguing that physical exercise is not the purpose of yoga, and therefore a yoga studio does not qualify as a health club and would not be subject to the tax.

Members of the yoga community made their case to representatives from the Office of Tax and Revenue last week and, on Tuesday, they launched an effort to lobby D.C. council members. Full story

September 23, 2014

Norton to Congress: Hands Off D.C.’s New Gun Law

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Norton vowed to defend D.C.’s narrowly crafted gun law. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Emergency legislation legalizing the carry of concealed handguns in the District cleared the D.C. Council unanimously on Tuesday afternoon, setting up a temporary “may-issue” permitting scheme.

Under the legislation, guns are not allowed near Congress. Guns are outlawed within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. They are also banned near the White House in Northwest Washington, in an area bound by Constitution Avenue, H Street and 15th and 17th streets, and on most federal property, including the Capitol grounds. The law puts into place many other requirements and restrictions.

Opponents like Alan Gura, the lawyer who argued against the city’s ban on handguns in Palmer v. District of Columbia, argue the law gives the Metropolitan Police Department too much subjective discretion over who will be able to carry a gun. Full story

September 22, 2014

D.C. Council Considering Handgun Permit Bill

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Gray worked with law enforcement and D.C. councilmembers to craft a new gun law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

District of Columbia officials have grudgingly taken up the task of putting in place a handgun permit system in response to a July 26 federal court ruling that struck down the local ban on carrying pistols outside the home.

Last week, during a southeast Washington memorial ceremony marking the one year anniversary of the deadly Navy Yard shooting, Mayor Vincent Gray lamented the violence that ”happened right within the view of the Capitol Dome,” and called on Congress to come up with a solution.

“We have tough gun laws in the District of Columbia, which probably will have to be relaxed to some extent because of the Palmer case,” Gray said, referring to the decision by Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. in the case against the city. Gun control laws, he said, ”are now under attack by Second Amendment advocates who believe in putting the right of gun owners before community safety.” Full story

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