The D.C. Council tentatively approved a bill yesterday that would allow women to join exclusive clubs and delayed action on a measure that would prohibit some landlords from submetering apartment buildings.
Also, in its last meeting before a two-month summer recess, the council voted to increase the District's gross receipts tax on utilities and broadened the eligibility requirements for the government's sluggish program of tenant assistance.
The club discrimination bill, introduced by council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) and supported by a variety of women's rights groups and civil libertarians, would affect only a few Washington institutions, chief among them the Cosmos and Metropolitan clubs.
Such institutions, which have more than 350 members and regularly serve meals, are not "distinctly private," supporters of the legislation have argued, and must comply with antidiscrimination provisions in D.C. human rights law.
"When those in our community with power, prestige and money are allowed to discriminate against a group irrespective of individual merit, they legitimize discrimination in the eyes of the public," Nathanson said. A final vote on the measure is to be taken when the council returns in the fall.
The utilities tax, which received final approval yesterday, would raise nearly $20 million annually through imposition of a surcharge on long-distance phone use. The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. has estimated that the bill would cost the company $7 million to $10 million per year.
The lengthiest debate yesterday was reserved for the submetering measure, which as originally drafted would have allowed landlords in the District to install separate utility meters in leased dwellings and charge tenants individually for gas, electric or water use.
But the council's Public Services Committee, chaired by Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), amended the bill to reverse its intent so that its practical effect would be to prohibit submetering in residential buildings, with the exception of condominiums and cooperatives.
The sponsors of the measure as it was first drafted, H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) and Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), expressed outrage yesterday that their bill had been turned inside out.
"To act today would be acting prematurely," said Crawford, who argued that officials in Maryland and Virginia have not reported problems since laws similar to the one he and Kane proposed were enacted in those jurisdictions.
"What is troubling is that we're going to allow this for some renters and prohibit it for others," said council member John Ray (D-At Large). The council agreed to exempt new construction from the prohibition before moving to table the legislation until the fall.
The District's Tenant Assistance Program is supposed to receive a boost from altered regulations passed yesterday. Ray said that by allowing families to use government rental assistance to defray costs where they now live, more people will qualify for the program.