The D.C. City Council, in response to an unexpected motion by Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), tabled a proposal yesterday to accelerate the parole eligibility of District prisoners who complete educational programs.
The measure, which received preliminary approval two weeks ago, drew strong criticism from D.C. Superior Court Judge Fred B. Ugast. In a letter to the council, Ugast said the bill would give the Parole Board "virtually unfettered discretion" in releasing prisoners and asked the council to delay action.
Rolark, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the measure, said after the meeting that her request to delay action was not related to the judge's request and that she wanted to give other council members more time to review proposed changes.
In another action, the council approved an emergency measure specifying that the category of small landlords who are entitled to an exemption from the city's rent control law includes four or fewer persons who together own four or fewer condominium units, regardless of where those units are located.
The D.C. Court of Appeals had ruled in the case of Feldman v. Rental Housing Commission that the small landlord exemption did not apply to rental condominium units unless they are in buildings that have four or fewer units. Before the court ruling, the condominium units generally were considered exempt. Without the council's clarifying measure, owners of thousands of condominium units could have been forced to lower rents.
In a memorandum distributed shortly before yesterday's meeting, Rolark indicated she intended to move the educational credit bill yesterday with an amendment saying the bill's provisions did not apply to prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences. She also called Ugast's request for a delay "unprecedented" and "inappropriate."
"This is squarely the task of this council," Rolark wrote, "and though it may be a politically unpleasant task, we cannot shirk or postpone it."
According to Rolark, the educational credit measure would give inmates an incentive to participate in programs that could help them to obtain jobs when they are released. She said she would ask the council to take a final vote on the issue soon.