A story in the Sept. 30 Weekly misstated who would be eligible for a tax break on their pension benefits under a D.C. Council proposal. Residents older than age 65 would have $12,000 of their benefits shielded from city taxes. (Published 10/07/1999)

Retirees who live in the District would get to keep more of their pension dollars in their pockets under a bill just introduced by D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis.

The measure would raise the amount of retirement income exempted from local income taxes from $3,000 to $6,000 for people 62 years and older. D.C. residents younger than 65 would get an even bigger break; $12,000 of their pension benefits would be shielded from city taxes.

Jarvis's bill is one of several introduced last week by council members, who returned from their summer recess. The council also passed a resolution calling on Congress to respect the wishes of District voters and permit the enactment of a referendum permitting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The measures will be assigned to committees for further research and tweaking and will be debated at public hearings before being voted on.

Jarvis (D-Ward 4) hopes her bill would make D.C. retirees think twice before fleeing to Maryland and Virginia, which allow higher exemptions on pension pay. She said she was prompted to draft the legislation after receiving a "provocative letter" from a constituent.

"The author suggested that many D.C. residents retire and relocate to Maryland or Virginia" to escape the District's income taxes, Jarvis said. Virginia excludes as much as $12,000 of retirement benefits from state income taxes for people older than 65, while Maryland exempts as much as $15,900.

Unlike Maryland, which counts Social Security and federal railroad pensions against the state tax exemption, Jarvis's bill would not penalize D.C. residents who get those benefits.

An aide to Jarvis said the council member had no figures on the amount retirees would save or on how much the additional exemptions would cost the District. But she said the measure would help keep residents in the city.

Jarvis said her bill aims to eliminate a financial disincentive "that makes retirees feel that they must move away from lifelong friends, family and the neighborhoods they love in order to survive on their retirement income."

Another bill introduced by Jarvis would require health insurance providers to provide coverage for all prescription contraceptive drugs, devices or federally approved hormone replacement therapies.

Jarvis noted that while health insurance companies were quick to extend coverage for men who use the drug Viagra, they have been less receptive to covering the cost of birth control for women.

"Affordable family planning is a public health issue and an economic issue," Jarvis said.

A study last year by the National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that the cost of providing contraceptive coverage would cost employers $1.43 a month for each employee. Employees would pay an additional 35 cents a month for the coverage.

"This seems like a small price to pay for something that has such a tremendous personal and financial impact on women and their families," Jarvis said.

Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) introduced a bill that would require insurance companies to cover the cost of supplies and health education for diabetics. Schwartz said the District would join 35 states that have passed laws expanding insurance coverage for people who have diabetes, which affects the body's ability to produce insulin.

Schwartz also introduced a bill that would create a special license plate promoting the environment. She said revenue from the plates would be used for environmental cleanups and public education.

The council unanimously adopted an emergency resolution calling on Congress and the Clinton administration to permit the enactment of Initiative 59, the ballot question overwhelmingly approved by District voters allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Last week, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics released the results of the Nov. 3, 1998, referendum. The initiative was approved by 69 percent of the voters. Last year, Congress attached an amendment to the District's appropriations bill forbidding the city from holding a referendum on the matter. But because ballots had already been printed, the elections board let the initiative go to a vote but did not release the results.

A recent federal court ruling unsealed the results of the election, but in July Congress passed a new amendment forbidding the implementation of the law. President Clinton's drug czar also has gone on record opposing the initiative.

Council members took turns last week blasting what they called congressional interference with home rule and voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said she had an uncle who had died of cancer and who in his final days had to be given powerful painkillers. "I wish someone would tell me the difference between any other controlled substance and marijuana" when used for medical purposes, she said.

Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) criticized comments by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who likened Congress's actions to that of a state legislature. Chavous said the analogy was not accurate because D.C. residents "have no role in voting for anyone on Capitol Hill. There is no relationship between our citizens and the 535 [lawmakers] on Capitol Hill."

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said Congress's refusal to permit the bill to become law disregarded the rights of D.C. voters and the "human suffering" of seriously ill persons who might benefit from being able to use marijuana under a doctor's supervision.

"The people themselves have spoken and they've spoken clearly," Graham said. "This runs counter to the fundamental principles of representative government. We are a colony."