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July 29, 2014

Posts in "DC Council"

July 28, 2014

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

Updated 6:01 p.m. | For all practical purposes, a federal judge’s weekend ruling that overturned local laws prohibiting District of Columbia residents from carrying guns outside of their homes has opened the door for non-residents to tote handguns into the city and has made it potentially easier for members and staffers to transport firearms across the District to the Capitol.

D.C. police have been ordered not to arrest people for carrying pistols and deadly weapons in public. Washingtonians can still face criminal charges for carrying unregistered firearms and ammunition, but the millions of people who visit the nation’s capital are exempt from those provisions under an order from Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. The chief’s guidance effectively put the District’s firearm regulations, at least for non-residents, on a par with the most permissive gun jurisdictions in the country. D.C. police got additional guidance from Lanier on Monday afternoon. She clarified that the ruling applies only to handguns, not long guns or shotguns that are still illegal, and that committing crimes with handguns remains illegal.

For non-residents, legal possession of a handgun in D.C. is based on the laws of their home jurisdiction, meaning D.C. police will be responsible for knowing and enforcing licensing and permitting restrictions from around the country. Lanier noted that additional information on gun laws in other states will be forthcoming and said that in the meantime, officers can call a 24-hour information line.

Lanier’s orders came in response to Judge Frederick Scullin Jr.’s July 26 ruling in Palmer v. District of Columbia that D.C.’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. In the 19-page decision, Scullin wrote that he was stopping enforcement of the law “unless and until” the city adopted a constitutionally valid licensing mechanism.

In her follow-up guidance to officers, Lanier nodded to the confusion. “Unfortunately, this ruling has left many unanswered legal questions that are currently being reviewed by the [Office of the Attorney General],” she stated.

Federal laws and a portion of D.C. code still prohibit people from carrying weapons on Capitol grounds, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider. But members and staffers already have weapons privileges for the Capitol campus dating back decades.  Full story

July 17, 2014

D.C. Could Become Nation’s Most Permissive Gun Jurisdiction, Under House Proposal (Video)

massie 056 050714 440x292 D.C. Could Become Nations Most Permissive Gun Jurisdiction, Under House Proposal (Video)

Massie is wading into the District’s gun laws. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of Congress’ most outspoken libertarians is the latest member to try to overturn the District of Columbia’s local gun laws. If successful, his proposal would make the District, home to cabinet officials, dignitaries from around the world and the president perhaps the most permissive gun jurisdiction in the country.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who in June rallied a bipartisan majority around an amendment to end warrantless collection of Americans’ online activities, attached language prohibiting D.C. from enforcing local firearm restrictions to the House bill funding the District.

“Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that struck down the D.C. handgun ban, as well as the unconstitutional gunlock provision, it is still difficult for D.C. residents to exercise their God-given right to bear arms,” Massie said Wednesday on the floor. “Congress has the authority to legislate in this area pursuant to article I, section 8, clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to ‘exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever’ over the District of Columbia.”

In a move decried as an assault on Home Rule, Massie tried to wield that authority Tuesday night with a similar amendment, but the measure was ruled out of order due to a procedural flaw. To the outrage of Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Council, he tried again on Wednesday and the House adopted the gun rider 241-181, with the support of 20 Democrats. Full story

July 14, 2014

D.C. Council Overrides Gray’s Veto of Yoga Tax, but Beer Language Safe

HstreetYOGA 3 083106 224x330 D.C. Council Overrides Grays Veto of Yoga Tax, but Beer Language Safe

This yoga pose just got more expensive. (CQ Roll Call File Photo.)

The District’s fiscal 2015 spending plan will likely make D.C.-brewed beer more accessible, and working out a little more expensive.

Despite warnings from Mayor Vincent Gray about the ill effects of taxing gym memberships and altering funding for a 22-mile streetcar network, no members of the D.C. Council were swayed to change their vote on the city’s fiscal 2015 spending plan.

By a 12-1 margin, the council voted on Monday to override Gray’s veto of the $10.6-billion spending plan

While Gray declared his disappointment with the fiscal 2015 budget approved by the D.C. Council, brewery owners should be pretty happy. Tucked into the bill is a new law that establishes a permit for District breweries that will for the first time allow customers to purchase and drink the brewery’s beer while visiting the facility.

Under the Manufacturer Tasting Permit Emergency Amendment Act of 2014, a brewery can apply for the new $1,000 permit.

At the John A. Wilson building, debate focused on streetcars and tax packages, with no mention of the new beer provisions.

The lone “no” vote on the budget, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, said he feared the city was favoring income and business tax cuts over transit funding. He cited the city’s housing crisis and an “emerging transit crisis” and called the budget “shortsighted.”

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser, who represents Ward 4, said she didn’t support the 5.75 percent tax on health club services but would not back Gray’s veto.

“At the end of the day, however, I recognize so many important things in this budget, including how we fund progressive and widespread tax breaks for residents and businesses in the District of Columbia,” she said. Councilmember David Catania, an independent who is running against Bowser for the mayoral seat, also voted to override Gray’s veto.

The lame duck mayor issued a statement saying he was disappointed that the council “did not see fit to work with me to craft a reasonable compromise that serves the best interest of District residents,” and reiterating the sentiment of his July 11 veto. Gray estimates the budget would delay the planned streetcar system until 2045.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Marion Barry alleged Gray’s priorities were out of whack and the District should be investing in shelters, apartments for the homeless and schools instead of the new rail network.

Barry said he thinks the project has no cost benefit and slammed the track work that has been completed on H Street Northeast. ”I’m going to continue to fight against another penny being spent on the streetcar,” he added.

By Hannah Hess Posted at 5:02 p.m.
DC Council, DC Mayor

D.C. Council Pitches New White House Address: ’1600 D.C. Statehood Now Way’

sequester 069 031113 440x317 D.C. Council Pitches New White House Address: 1600 D.C. Statehood Now Way

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest that pass by the White House would be deemed “D.C. Statehood Now Way,” under a bill being floated by the D.C. Council.

The symbolic street rename “sends a strong message to the leader of our free nation and the millions of visitors to our nation’s capital that until D.C. achieves statehood … we are not truly free,” said Councilmember Yvette Alexander, the Ward 7 Democrat who introduced the bill. Five other members of the council are co-sponsoring the measure.

Alexander said she was inspired by the July Fourth holiday, and the Founding Fathers who “declared the independence for which they fought.”

“We in the District of Columbia continue to fight for what every other citizen of the United States has by right, whether it be medical marijuana, penalties for marijuana, guns, women’s reproductive health, our skyline, our tax base, our budget, the passage of our laws, our form of government, and our representation in the national legislature,” she said.

“We’re ultimately controlled by Congress — a body of 535 voting members who could only be there because they don’t live here,” Alexander continued. “No other state must endure the same as the citizens of the District of Columbia.”

The council has been on a street-christening kick lately. In late May, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., and some powerful members of the House asked District officials to consider renaming a street outside the Chinese Embassy in Northwest Washington to honor jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Responding to Wolf’s request, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced a resolution that would dub the four lanes of traffic that separate the East Front from the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress as “D.C. No Taxation Without Representation Way.”

Local lawmakers supported the Liu Xiaobo rename, and the message it would send about human rights abuses, but indicated that they didn’t have the power to change the name of federal property. Congress would have to do the legislative lifting.

Alexander’s proposal to symbolically rename the 1500 and 1600 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest would require an affirmative vote of the D.C. Council and approval by the mayor. Congress would then have 30 legislative days to review the White House street rename.

Ward 1 Democrat Jim Graham, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the District should use every opportunity to send a message to the people and the federal officials who have the power to grant D.C. greater autonomy. He called D.C.’s struggle for statehood the “last civil rights cause — or one of the last civil rights causes in America today for which there has been no progress whatsoever.”

July 11, 2014

Gray Vetoes D.C. Budget, Cites Yoga Tax, Streetcar Funding

gray 221 052912 440x292 Gray Vetoes D.C. Budget, Cites Yoga Tax, Streetcar Funding

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lame duck D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced Friday that he plans to veto the D.C. Council’s fiscal 2015 budget, a move that could rekindle protests against the so-called yoga tax.

Gray cited the 5.75 percent tax on health club services as one of his main beefs with the measure that cleared the council on a 12-1 vote in late June, and asked lawmakers to delay their summer recess for 30 days to work with his administration on a compromise.

“I cannot, in good conscience, sign a budget that hurts seniors, taxes wellness, dramatically delays and drives up the cost of the D.C. Streetcar system, and ties the hands of future Mayors to respond to fiscal problems,” Gray said in his Friday statement, released along with a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

One of Gray’s greatest concerns is the long-delayed D.C. Streetcar project, which he said would be delayed until 2045 under the current proposal. He also says it would increase the cost of the program by 50 percent.

Because the council only needs nine votes to override a mayoral veto, the mayor’s objections might be moot. An amendment that would have killed the tax on wellness services was defeated by a 9-4 vote.

Still, Gray maintains he could not in good conscience go along with the council’s proposal.

“Although I will not be in office when the majority of this budget is implemented, I cannot turn a blind eye to the impact that it will have on the next administration and District residents,” he said.

By Hannah Hess Posted at 3:17 p.m.
DC Council, DC Mayor

July 9, 2014

Activists Ready to Fight Rand Paul’s D.C. Gun Amendment in Senate (Updated)

Paul 12 031413 440x279 Activists Ready to Fight Rand Pauls D.C. Gun Amendment in Senate (Updated)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:12 p.m. | Activists on the national and local level are gearing up for the ensuing gun fight surrounding amendments to the Senate’s bipartisan hunting and fishing legislation, especially a proposal related to firearm control in the District of Columbia.

They view an amendment introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Tuesday afternoon that would restrict the D.C. Council’s authority to regulate firearms and handguns in the District as a threat to home rule.

“Senator Paul is at it again,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry, reacting to the news that the libertarian lawmaker and potential 2016 presidential candidate is once again pushing to uproot the District’s gun policies. In 2012, Paul’s proposed gun-related amendments helped sink a Senate bill that would have granted D.C. budget autonomy from Congress.

“He continues to be hypocritical in the fact that he’s ignoring his own local government advocacy,” Perry continued, pointing out that Paul’s proclaimed support for state’s rights and local control seemed to conflict with his drive to overturn legislation passed by District officials.

While the senator’s amendment says it would repeal D.C.’s semiautomatic ban, there is no ban on registering semiautomatic weapons in the District. Current law bans registration of sawed-off shotguns, machine guns and short-barreled rifles. Paul’s amendment would end that ban and make legal assault weapons and certain rifles considered unsafe in D.C. code.

Overall, Paul’s amendment targets D.C. gun policies that were recently reaffirmed by a federal judge as consistent with the Second Amendment. The May ruling, hailed by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Vincent Gray, was a follow-up to the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that struck down D.C.’s ban on handgun possession.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Norton accused Paul of attacking home rule and pointed out that House conservatives are waging a similar battle in the other chamber. Paul pitches the proposal as a way to enhance public safety. The text of his amendment states: “The District of Columbia has the highest per capita murder rate in the Nation, which may be attributed in part to local laws prohibiting possession of firearms by law-abiding persons who would otherwise be able to defend themselves and their loved ones in their own homes and businesses.”

Brian Malte, senior national policy director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview that Congress has “no business” trying to regulate public safety issues.

“The District of Columbia has very good and strong gun laws that are in place to protect the public,” Malte said, adding that the Brady Campaign wants to see Congress expand background checks on gun purchases, rather than dismantle existing laws.

Malte said gun safety advocates are assessing the situation right now, and would be calling up their allies to let them know about Paul’s “terrible amendment” and “other terrible amendments” that Republicans were trying to attach to the sportsmen’s bill.

During remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said he welcomes the gun debate and will offer an amendment that would stiffen penalties for those who buy a firearm for someone else who commits a crime.

“Girlfriends, wake up,” he said.

Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.

June 27, 2014

David Catania Storms Office of Andy Harris to Talk D.C. Pot Decriminalization

catania 030 060714 440x311 David Catania Storms Office of Andy Harris to Talk D.C. Pot Decriminalization

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Tensions ran a little high in Rep. Andy Harris’ office on Friday morning when D.C. Councilmember and mayoral hopeful David Catania showed up demanding to talk about the Maryland Republican’s attempt to halt the District’s marijuana decriminalization legislation.

Like most members of Congress, Harris was absent from Capitol Hill — back home in his district, according to deputy chief of staff Chris Meekins. Harris’ scheduler and chief of staff were also absent when Catania came calling shortly after 8:30 a.m., Meekins said.

“I’m here to address what has become a congressional pastime, which is interfering in the local affairs of the District of Columbia,” said Catania, who is campaigning as an independent for the November election. Full story

June 25, 2014

D.C. Taxi Revolt Disrupts Capitol Hill Traffic


taxiprotest 217 062514 440x283 D.C. Taxi Revolt Disrupts Capitol Hill Traffic

A woman tries to hail a taxi on Independence Avenue as cabbies with the D.C. Taxi Operators Association stage a rolling protest around the Capitol against app-based car services such as Lyft and Uber on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A cacophony of taxicab horns caused a clamor around Capitol Hill around 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Hundreds of cab drivers staged a protest, blasting their horns as they blocked traffic on streets surrounding the Capitol. The caravan was organized in coordination with Teamsters Local 922 to pressure the D.C. Council for regulations to help them compete with popular “ridesharing” services, such as UberX, Lyft and Sidecar.

Capitol Police attempted to help pedestrians and other drivers navigate the chaos on Independence Avenue. Horns could be heard within the halls of surrounding office buildings. Full story

June 17, 2014

Street Separating Capitol From Supreme Court Could Become ‘D.C. No Taxation Without Representation Way’

supreme court 053 100511 440x290 Street Separating Capitol From Supreme Court Could Become D.C. No Taxation Without Representation Way

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The D.C. Council answered Congress’ request to christen a city street on behalf of a pro-democracy cause with a request of its own: Let’s give streets surrounding Congress a new, pro-D.C. rights label.

A resolution introduced Tuesday would dub the four lanes of traffic that separate the East Front from the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress as ”D.C. No Taxation Without Representation Way.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson pitched the idea during a noon legislative meeting at the John A. Wilson building in downtown Washington. Full story

June 13, 2014

Wonks Go Into Warrior Pose to Defend D.C. Yoga Tax (Updated)

yoga poses 10 072210 440x230 Wonks Go Into Warrior Pose to Defend D.C. Yoga Tax (Updated)

Is that headstand about to get more expensive? (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:07 p.m. | The wonks at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute want to explain why the so-called gym tax, a 5.75 percent tax on health club services that has outraged some fitness buffs, makes sense for the District.

“Taxing health clubs isn’t anti-fitness,” according to DCFPI policy analyst Wes Rivers. Rather, it’s one piece of a larger package that will broaden the city’s base of sales tax, making it fairer and more reliable as the economy shifts from goods to services, Rivers explained in a Thursday blog post on the topic.

DCFPI points out that promised tax cuts for Washington residents and businesses — about $400 for those with incomes between $50,000 to $75,000 — will more than offset the price of an annual gym membership, and benefit gym and yoga studio owners. Full story

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