When the D.C. City Council decided this week to do some more homework on its proposed rent control revisions before actually taking a vote, it highlighted what some believe is a significant problem with the city's fledgling home-rule government: too much legislation is passed too quickly.
The bulky, 73-page rent control bill was approved by the council's housing committee three weeks ago in less than 15 minutes, after several weeks of discussion. Still, it wasn't until a week later that council members were able to see a section-by-section analysis of the measure.
The legislation, which affects more than half the city's residents, could have come to a floor vote this week. But on Monday, council member Nadine Winter (D-Six), a major sponsor, decided instead to send the measure back to committee. That maneuver probably salvaged the bill's chances for passage later.
In addition to saving some council members the agony of a hasty vote on hot political issue - a few said they just didn't have time now to deal with rent control - the 11th hour maneuver may have also saved the city some administrative headaches.
The present rent control legislation is seen by many as unworkable and ineffective, and some feared that the new bill, as drafted, could have been even worse.
Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr., the city's chief lawyer, believes the problem is this: "Too many measures are presented and voted upon far too quickly. Sufficient time is not allowed to think through all of the implications. That doesn't make for very good legislation all too often."
In th his office to receive a flurry of bills rushed through before the council takes its August recess. "Some of it's going to be absolutely idiotic," Risher predicts.
To be sure, there is no love lost between Risher and the council. However, even Council Chairman Sterling Tucker has acknowledge publicly that perhaps too many laws are being introduced. And several council members have expressed dissatisfaction with some legislation they believe is inadequately prepared when it comes before them for a vote.
When compared to at least one other council in a similar size city - Cleveland, Ohio - D.C. legislators appear to use their law-making powers sparingly. Cleveland's 33 council members introduced an average of 66 measures each last year, while here the average was only about 40 per council member. (A total of 1,047 acts and resolutions were introduced into the D.C. City Council during the 1975-1976 legislative session.)
The D.C. average is also lower than the U.S. House of Representatives (44) and about the same as the Baltimore City Council (37). But it is considerably higher than three other legistative session.)
The D.C. average is also lower than the U.S. House of Representatives (44) and about the same as the Baltimore City Council (37). But it is considerably higher than three other legislative bodies - the U.S. Senate (15), the Maryland State Legislature (21) and the Indianapolis City Council (21).
What is also interesting about the legislative record in Indianapolis l ast year 590 - or 97 per cent - passed.
The volume of work created by the vigorous law-making appears to have overloaded the council's small staff or lawyers. And on some occasion, the continual game of legislative pingpong between the council and the mayor over the wording of regislation has made the aready lengthy lawmaking process in this city even longer.
To the city's credit, no one of the 230 acts approved by the mayor and council has been rejected by Congress, which has the power to do so if it pleases. Still, some council leaders say they would feel a lot better if the city's legislative process could be sharpened up a bit.
One of the things that's becoming a standard feature of the "Walter Washington May Be Running for Reelection" show and revue that's been appearing throughout the city recently is the mayor's regular introduction of Fire Chief Burton Johnson as the first black to head a fire department in a major U.S. city.
It sounds good, but it isn't true. And the mayor should know better.
Washington's appointment of Johnson as D.C. fire chief in April, 1973 occurred nearly eight years after the November 23, 1965 appointment by New York City Mayor-elect John V. Lindsay of Robert O. Lowery, a black, as fire commissioner. Three years later, Lindsay appointed one Walter E. Washington as chairman of the New York City Housing Authority - while Lowery was still fire commissioner.
Sometimes in politics, memories are kind of short.