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Fireworks Ban Fizzles In D.C. Council Vote

Tommy Wells
Tommy Wells (Jacquelyn Martin - AP)

Wells and Graham were the lone dissenters.

In other business, the council gave final approval to a significantly tweaked noise bill in a 9 to 4 vote after a hard-hitting lobbying campaign by labor unions that several council members described as mean-spirited and unfairly targeted at two members up for reelection.

The Noise Control Amendment Act was so changed from its initial draft that the main supporters -- Wells and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) -- abandoned it. They were joined by David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large).

Under the amended legislation, noncommercial public speech during the day would be restricted to no more than 80 decibels, or 10 decibels above the ambient noise level when measured from inside the nearest occupied dwelling in low-density residential zones.

In short, people can still get really loud with amplified noise, particularly downtown.

The vote marked a significant turn of events with a bill that Wells began pushing last year, initially seeking relief from street preachers for residents in the H Street neighborhood and finding that other neighborhoods were suffering.

David Klavitter, the H Street area resident who started his "Quest for Quiet" blog to push for the legislation, quickly posted a message yesterday that said, "The District of Columbia has a new and toothless noise bill."

After the vote, there were hugs and high-fives among members of labor unions that argued that the proposed noise law could endanger their right to protest. Under an umbrella group dubbed the Speak and Be Heard Coalition, they launched a radio ad that chided council members Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Brown. Both are seeking reelection and sponsored an amendment last month that they said was a compromise, pushing the proposed noise level from 70 to 80 decibels.

Some legislators said the radio ad went too far.

"I don't think politicians need to take it personally," said Rita Leiphart, a banquet server at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. "What's important is that we were fighting for free speech."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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