The D.C. Council approved a $300 million pay package yesterday that will boost the salaries of police officers for the first time in nearly two years.
Police in February approved a contract that would give unionized officers a 21 percent raise over the next 31/2 years. Some of the raises in the new labor agreement will be retroactive to October 2003, and other pay increases will continue in steps. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) recommended that the city's 239 non-union senior officers receive the same pay increase.
The 3,460 officers represented by the Fraternal Order of Police had been working without a contract since Sept. 30, 2003.
Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) tried to postpone approval of the measure, saying that raises for senior officials will cost the city $28.3 million over the life of the contract when benefit and pension costs are included.
She noted that under the plan, two officials will make more than $204,000 a year, three will be paid $196,000 and, altogether, 20 senior officers will make more than $150,000 a year. Currently, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey makes $175,000, and Williams makes $145,600.
"It's an incredibly lucrative package, especially at the higher end," Patterson said.
Patterson said that when she was chairman of the council's Judiciary Committee, she pushed a plan for a comprehensive salary survey of union and non-union officials. She said the work has not been completed.
Patterson said she was also concerned about a perceived conflict of interest because some of the senior police officials were involved in union contract negotiations.
Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said pending legislation would prevent that in the next round of negotiations.
Although some of Patterson's colleagues praised her efforts as noble, they all voted against her motion to table approval of the contract by 12 to 1.
"This is already two years overdue," said council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). "We can't send a signal to our hardworking police officers that they can't get their money."
In other business, Cropp introduced legislation yesterday to reduce the high price of medical malpractice insurance in the District. Doctors complain that insurance costs are causing them to close their practices or leave the city.
Williams proposed a plan last month aimed at reducing the price of malpractice insurance by limiting lawsuits, reducing attorneys' fees and capping court-awarded damages.
Cropp's bill would not limit lawsuits or damage awards. Her bill would require regulatory approval for rate increases of greater than 7 percent, authorize refunds to doctors who have paid "excessive" rates and encourage competition among insurers. It would also make proposed rate increases public and allow doctors and consumers to challenge rate increases.
"The problem is the insurance industry and the unreasonable profit they are making from the doctors in the city," Cropp said. She said NCRIC Inc., the city's largest medical malpractice insurer, should shoulder much of the blame. "The problem is not due to lawsuits, but NCRIC wanting more dollars for overhead and profits."
Lawrence E. Smarr, president of the Physician Insurers Association of America, which represents NCRIC, said Cropp is relying on misleading information provided by trial lawyers and other opponents of capping lawsuit damages.
"NCRIC lost $7.1 million last year, so I have no concept of what they are talking about," Smarr said. "The reality is that the rates doctors have to pay is very high today. But that has to do with the increasing cost of liability payouts."
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), the chairman of the council's Health Committee, said there appears to be little interest among council members for limiting lawsuits. Catania has organized a broad-based task force on medical malpractice to come up with recommendations next month that could lead to comprehensive malpractice insurance changes.
"Caps are not nirvana," Catania said. "The evidence is that other things can also reduce the costs of premiums."
Gregory McCarthy, the mayor's top legislative aide, said taking caps off the table eliminates the key solution.
"It's like sitting the Israelis and Palestinians down at a table and telling them they can discuss anything except land," McCarthy said.