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November 24, 2014

Posts in "DC Council"

November 23, 2014

Marion Barry, 4-Term Mayor and D.C. Councilmember, Dies at 78

barry 001 112314 440x292 Marion Barry, 4 Term Mayor and D.C. Councilmember, Dies at 78

A “Thank You” card to Marion Barry sits on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, DC’s City Hall, on Nov. 23. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former D.C. Mayor and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry died Sunday at the age of 78.

Barry’s family did not indicate the cause of his death in a statement released Sunday morning, but said Barry passed away at United Medical Center early Sunday after having previously been hospitalized at Howard University Hospital on Saturday.

“Marion was not just a colleague but also was a friend with whom I shared many fond moments about governing the city,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in a statement. “He loved the District of Columbia and so many Washingtonians loved him.” Full story

November 7, 2014

Not Everyone Loves the New Columbia Statehood Commission

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D.C. Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown, right, fears his office is being “nickeled and dimed.” (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown fears legislation packaged as an effort to streamline the statehood movement will effectively turn the District of Columbia’s two shadow senators and shadow representative into “employees” of the D.C. government, instead of elected officials.

For the past eight years, Brown has effectively served as a pro bono statehood lobbyist with no voting power in Congress. In that time, he believes the debate has shifted from whether the District becomes the 51st state to when. Brown is proud of the progress a New Columbia statehood bill with a record number of sponsors has made in Congress, and warns “interfering with the movement is not going to help it.”

Leaders in the executive and legislative branches of the District government say they are trying to bring coherence and new resources to the unpaid statehood delegation. The trio currently works out of a small office in the basement of the John A. Wilson building, with no salary, and no formal coordination with Mayor Vincent Gray or the 13 members of the D.C. Council. Full story

November 5, 2014

D.C. Faces Statehood, Marijuana Challenges With Republican Congress

chess 066 050714 440x291 D.C. Faces Statehood, Marijuana Challenges With Republican Congress

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., with Norton. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Republican wave didn’t crash in the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t mean the victors won’t have to contend with the GOP Congress.

As local Democrat Muriel Bowser celebrated a double-digit victory in the mayoral contest over independent challenger David Catania, she also took time to speak with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., about the makeup of the House and Senate.

Bowser has promised statehood and legislative autonomy would both be priorities when working with Capitol Hill, and told CQ Roll Call she supported the D.C. Council’s attempt to force Mayor Vincent Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt to comply with the local Budget Autonomy Act via the court system.

“Well I supported the council’s action in that,” Bowser said Tuesday. “I would expect that to be my policy as well.”

That might put her at odds with the newly elected top lawyer in the District, though. Voters chose veteran attorney Karl A. Racine to serve as the city’s first elected attorney general, who said the lawsuit is “not a winning case” during an Oct. 23 debate. The former associate White House counsel under President Bill Clinton defeated Paul Zukerberg, the attorney who appealed to the courts to get the race on the ballot, and three other candidates who also ran as Democrats. Full story

October 30, 2014

D.C. Council Talks Marijuana Legalization, ‘Rookie Cookies’

 

harris 271 091312 440x312 D.C. Council Talks Marijuana Legalization, Rookie Cookies

Harris has already vowed to fight legalization. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Votes on pot legalization have yet to be tallied, but the D.C. Council is already talking about “Rookie Cookies.”

Five days before Washingtonians head to the polls, the council’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and Committee on Finance and Revenue held a joint public hearing to explore how the District of Columbia would tax and regulate its marijuana industry. Officials have indicated they intend to send the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana to Congress without delay for its mandatory 60-day review period, and they fully expect it to take effect next April.

“Rookie Cookies,” and other marijuana edibles are one of the products they will need to learn to regulate, according to Cathy Jolley, who came from Nashville to talk about her experience working with state and national players on behalf of Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting and Compliance. She said a strong regulatory model has been “key” to keeping the federal government out of Colorado’s marijuana market. Full story

October 28, 2014

D.C. Council Clears Road for Uber

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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’

gun presser014 071714 440x292 Gray Signs D.C. Handgun Law to Cure Alleged Constitutional Flaws

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)

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

Scarce Prospects for Senate Shooting Down D.C. Gun Control

D.C. Council Considering Handgun Permit Bill

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

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