A City Council member joked last week that any legislation the council passes should have an automatic delay of at least 90 days tacked onto the effective date.
The comment was prompted by the council's recent actions approving delays of six months in the implementation of compulsory no-fault auto insurance and of 90 days for the mandatory minimum sentencing law.
And this week, the council was confronted with an appeal to give the D.C. Cable Design Commission an extra 90 days to complete its work.
Soon the council will have to decide whether to delay elections this year for school board and Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats to give the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics time to straighten out the city's voter registration records.
Although the political support and practical reasons for each of the delays vary widely among the council's 13 members, some are beginning to question the effect such delays have on the council's--and the city's--image.
"There's a growing sensitivity" to the delays, one leading member of the council said Monday. Council members John Ray (D-At Large) and Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who differed on the no-fault delay, were even asked to appear on a local talk show to discuss the council's reaction to the various delays.
Ray, a longtime opponent of no-fault, called that delay justifiable because the law was poorly drafted and would have caused administrative chaos had it gone into effect. Kane, who supports the bill, renewed her charge that the delay amounted to administrative sabotage of a council-passed law.
But both agreed that the council's image is not helped by the delaying tactics.
One way out, some council members say, is to assign a uniform effective date for the city's legislation, such as Jan. 1 or July 1, a move that would eliminate a lot of confusion about implementation.
In the meantime, council staff members and government officials generally agree that the council should examine whether the deadlines it imposes are realistic.
The statehood constitution was written in 90 days--a limitation imposed by the same council members who ended up denouncing the document.
The time period for the cable commission also was set at 90 days, despite the myriad technical questions that must be answered by the unpaid commission members. Some jurisdictions have taken more than a year to do the initial design work.
Last year, the members passed a ban on drug paraphernalia that was to go into effect Jan. 1. But, as of last weekend, police were still not enforcing the law while the city's lawyers figure out how it should be interpreted.
Similarly, the council, which soundly defeated a recent emergency effort by council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) to hold a special election to fill the vacant Ward 1 seat on the school board, had to spend time on the issue again this week when new legislation was offered by member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large).
"Can't we ever just vote on something and get rid of it?," sighed one member.