D.C. Council members introduced a host of proposals Tuesday, including one to help the poor find jobs and buy homes and another to force the local electric utility to provide delinquent account holders with the power necessary for air conditioning during heat waves.
With this year’s budget battle behind them, council members focused on a wide range of pet causes at their meeting Tuesday.
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) introduced a bill to prohibit employers from screening a prospective worker’s credit history until late in the hiring process. Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) proposed that any District resident with a general equivalency diploma be granted a “D.C. diploma” to escape the “stigma” of listing an equivalency diploma on a job application.
The D.C. Council also approved an emergency measure to roll back restrictions on developers. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) said it had been applied too broadly and had held up home sales for low-income residents.
Even as the council moved on from weeks of budget negotiations, the status of the city’s $13 billion spending plan remained unsettled.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said lawmakers would convene in private next week to decide how to press forward with implementing a ballot proposal, approved by voters, that would change the way city budgets are enacted.
The measure, which would limit the ability of Congress to meddle in most city spending decisions, was revived by a federal appeals court last week. Mendelson said he hopes to persuade the council to pursue the issue when it convenes next week.
On Tuesday, council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) introduced a bill that would allow residents to purchase D.C. flags that have that been flown ceremonially over the city’s John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Allen said the practice, traditional with flags flown over state capitols, could help raise awareness and funds to promote D.C. statehood.
The council passed 11 pieces of emergency legislation — bills that expire after 90 days but that enable the District to bypass the time-consuming congressional approval process required for permanent legislation.
One such bill allows the District to pay its recycling bill; another makes it temporarily illegal for Pepco, the electric utility, to shut off power when the temperature is forecast to rise above 95 degrees. The latter bill has been passed in nearly identical form five summers in a row, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said.
“District law currently prohibits utilities from disconnecting service when the forecast predicts the temperature will be 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below during the next 24 hours,” Cheh said. “Extreme heat, however, is just as, if not more, dangerous as extreme cold.”
But there is no permanent legislation on the books. Cheh said that one effort to introduce permanent legislation fell apart after she received “some pushback from the electric company.” She said she would now try again.
Six other emergency items involved contract modifications proposed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). Bowser criticized then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) for relying heavily on the procedure during his tenure but has employed the same practice repeatedly since taking office.
Contract changes involving school construction provoked a protest from council member David A. Grosso (I-At Large) during the council’s pre-legislative breakfast Tuesday morning.
“It seems to me there’s a constant issue — and we go over this regularly — around these contracts that come before us, and they’re often retroactive, and there’s very little conversation and debate around how this money is being spent,” said Grosso, who chairs the Education Committee.
Grosso complained that contract modifications should have been included in the budget that the council passed last week, and he said council members should not be expected to vote on modifications with little or no warning.
“You talk about waste and abuse, and you wonder: How do these school contracts get to be so big?” he said.
Mendelson agreed that the process needed to be examined. He pointed to the situation at Roosevelt High School, where what started as a $15 million modernization project has grown well beyond $125 million over the course of six change orders — the latest approved Tuesday.
“But,” Mendelson said Tuesday, “I don’t think we’re in a position where we want to say, in the middle of Roosevelt, that we want to put it off for a month.”
The council also announced committee appointments for its two newest members, LaRuby May (D-Ward 8) and Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4).
May, who has worked previously in affordable housing development, joined the committees on Housing and Community Development; Health and Human Services; and the Judiciary.
Todd joined the committees on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs; Education; and Transportation and the Environment.