Seven acts passed by the D.C. City Council this year, including a major bill to establish unemployment tax rates and benefits, will not become law until the spring because Congress adjourned before the bills made it through a 30-day layover period.
Besides the unemployment compensation bill, the acts include a measure for raising fees for attorneys representing indigents in child neglect cases, two bills to revise tax procedures, a library record confidentiality act, requirements for mandatory mail receptacles, and an alley closing.
The anticipated six-month delay in implementation of these city-passed laws is not expected to have great direct impact, but some unemployed workers and destitute families may have to wait for improved legal assistance as a result.
All District legislation, after being approved by the City Council and signed by the mayor, must go through a congressional review period of 30 legislative days when either the Senate or the House is in session. During that period, Congress can overturn legislation under simplified procedures.
Since home rule for the city was enacted, however, Congress has done so only twice.
The seven bills will be resubmitted to the next Congress in January, and the 30-day period will begin again. It probably will be the end of March or beginning of April before the review period is complete and the laws go into effect, congressional aides estimated.
Although the practical impact of the delay is not great this year, D.C. City Council Chairman David A. Clarke said it shows how congressional adjournment creates a problem for District legislation because of the long review period.
In some cases, the City Council may have to approve the same bill on an "emergency" basis several times to implement essential provisions during the gap, Clarke said.
The unemployment compensation act establishes a long-range plan for eliminating a $70 million deficit in the unemployment fund through higher permanent employer taxes and lower worker benefits.
Some of these rates are in effect under temporary legislation that will continue until the permanent law is enacted. Other changes had later implementation dates anyway, so the effect of the delay overall will be minimal, said Department of Employment Services Director Matthew Shannon.
The law creates an "advocacy fund" to give legal assistance to workers and employers making appeals on unemployment claims, and this was set to begin Jan. 1.
Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, said yesterday that about 3,500 to 4,000 unemployed D.C. workers a year have their claims contested and need legal representation to make appeals.
Clarke and Williams said the mayor may be able to establish the fund administratively before the law is enacted.
Lawyers representing indigent parents and children in child neglect cases were voted large raises in fees this year, in an attempt to attract more attorneys to these cases.
The lawyers now are paid $30 per hearing and up to $100 per case. The new law will raise the rates to $35 per hour.
Now, only about 60 to 70 lawyers regularly represent these clients, and they may have 80 to 90 cases at a time to deal with, said Claudia Schlosberg, former president of the Superior Court Family Division Trial Lawyers Association.
"It means people aren't being represented the way they should be," and some cases were never brought to trial that should have been, Schlosberg said. The higher fees "will immediately alleviate the problem" when they go into effect, she predicted.
The tax bills establish procedures for setting property tax rates and for appealing assessments. Enactment in the spring would be early enough for the next round of assessments and tax rate changes.
The mandatory mail receptacles act for apartment buildings is in effect under emergency legislation. The library confidentiality measure establishes as law the current library policy on not disclosing circulation records of individuals.