But the council found ways to pay for other priorities, including voting to establish a $1 million fund to reimburse residents of the Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park neighborhoods whose homes have been affected by frequent flooding and sewer backups.
To fund it, the council approved a surcharge on DC Water bills, which could increase monthly bills by an average of 30 cents. The council enacted the fee even though DC Water reported a $20.5 million surplus this summer and the District government ended fiscal 2012 with a $140 million surplus.
Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the only member to oppose the bill, questioned the need for a citywide “water tax” that would do little to solve the underlying issue of aging water pipes. Gray is also skeptical of the surcharge, fearing it could set a precedent and have other residents expecting the government to reimburse them for storm-related damages.
“That is why you have flood insurance,” Gray said. “Are we becoming an insurance company, too?”
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who represents Bloomingdale, countered that the surcharge amounts “to 1 cent per day” for ratepayers.
The council also approved a comprehensive rewrite of alcohol laws Tuesday night, but only after members stripped out a provision that would have limited residents’ ability to protest liquor licenses. It also voted to stiffen criminal penalties for synthetic marijuana, despite some members’ concerns that it would lead to more drug arrests.
Later, the council rejected on a tie vote red-top meters that would have been reserved for motorists with handicapped placards. The D.C. Department of Transportation hoped to designate about 10 percent of city meters to be converted to red tops to increase accessibility for the disabled while reducing the abuse of handicapped placards for free parking.
But opponents were concerned that the proposal required handicapped motorists to pay for parking and reduced available on-street parking for non-disabled motorists.
But the most intense debate of the day-long meeting, which continued after 10 p.m., centered around Barry’s ex-offender bill.
Under the proposal, employers could rescind offers only if the applicant’s convictions were directly relevant to the job. If denied a job, applicants could appeal decisions to the Office of Human Rights — in effect giving formerly incarcerated residents protections afforded to other minority groups.
Mendelson successfully fought the bill, a priority of Barry’s, after business leaders said it would lead to a flood of lawsuits.
“This is an invitation to endless litigation,” Mendelson said.
Barry and council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said Mendelson was turning his back on the estimated 60,000 D.C. residents with a criminal record.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Barry said. “In 2012, there are people on the dais who oppose a measure giving some semblance of rights to returning citizens.”
Instead of Barry’s bill, the council approved a lesser measure that encourages employers to hire ex-offenders and offers certificates of good standing to former inmates not believed to pose a risk to future employers. But several members said the council can revisit the ex-offender debate in coming years. “We can’t write off a significant number of this population who have crimes and served their time,” Bowser said.”