Some major items, such as the update to the District’s comprehensive plan — a blueprint for the city’s development — and a permanent version of a policing overhaul bill, already are expected to extend into 2021.
But after a year shaped by the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice protests, with lawmakers for months meeting over Zoom rather than at city hall, the 13-member council is determined to move other bills, with business and criminal justice matters among the most contentious on the agenda.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) is feuding with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce over legislation that would make it easier for the city to claim unpaid taxes from businesses. Among other things, the bill encourages company insiders to report the tax fraud to the government by allowing them to claim a portion of any taxes recovered.
The chamber urged its members to lobby against the bill, contending it would subject businesses to frivolous litigation by allowing “third parties” to initiate proceedings.
Mendelson, normally an ally to the business community, struck back with an unusual public statement blasting the chamber for spreading “lies.” Any tax-fraud lawsuit brought under the bill would need the approval of the D.C. attorney general’s office.
“It’s a cute trick we’ve learned from the White House: to state falsehoods as truth, and stir up your base,” Mendelson said in a statement on Sunday.
“The Chamber should be ashamed,” he said.
The chamber, in a statement provided by a spokeswoman, said that its position had been misrepresented and that it supports “responsible tax collection.”
Bowser appeared to side with the chamber at a news conference Monday, saying lawmakers should be mindful how businesses are “dealing with uncertainty” during the pandemic. She also said lawmakers should be wary of launching new government initiatives with another round of budget cuts potentially looming.
“We have to be very careful about growing the government,” Bowser said.
Another major business regulation coming before the council has not sparked the same kind of resistance: a ban on cashless restaurants and other retailers. The bill, first proposed more than two years ago, would require businesses to accept cash payments even as the growing popularity of credit and debit cards and payment apps fuels a global cashless movement.
Supporters of the ban say cashless businesses shut out poor people who don’t have bank accounts and undocumented immigrants.
The ban would not take effect until after the public health emergency is lifted — an acknowledgment of public concerns about exchanging currency while the coronavirus is spreading. Bowser said the bill gives her pause and pledged to carefully review the exceptions.
“Businesses are dealing with a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “I will look at all the bills before the council in the hopes the council isn’t introducing more regulation or uncertainty on their operations at this time.”
The council is also set to cast final votes Tuesday on an effort to add more statues of “diverse Washingtonians” in all eight wards of the city, and to reestablish a tax commission to conduct a sweeping review of the tax code.
And lawmakers have scheduled a first vote Tuesday on a measure that would allow early release for prisoners incarcerated for crimes they committed before the age of 25, once they have served at least 15 years. Prosecutors have fiercely opposed the bill.
Here’s a rundown of other major bills the council is scheduled to consider Tuesday:
The council has the opportunity to enshrine two new worker protections in law over the opposition of business groups.
The first would require employers to reinstate workers who lost positions during the pandemic, once their businesses start resuming normal operations. Mendelson said the legislation originated from hotel workers wanting to ensure they could regain their old jobs.
The language applies to entertainment, hospitality, dining and events businesses with more than 35 workers, and does not require employees to prove they lost their jobs specifically because of the pandemic.
Another bill, by council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), would ban “noncompete” clauses that prohibit employees from leaving one business and swiftly joining a competitor.
Businesses say these provisions are needed to prevent workers from taking sensitive information and knowledge to rivals. But critics say noncompete clauses are overly broad and limit workers’ career options.
In addition to the early-release bill, the council will vote on emergency legislation extending until April a deadline for the D.C. Police Reform Commission, established in the aftermath of racial justice protests this summer, to release its recommendations.
The commission was originally supposed to present recommendations in December.
The new date may overlap with the search for a new police chief, after Chief Peter Newsham announced that he will leave following the January presidential inauguration to become the Prince William County police chief.
The council is also set to cast its first vote on legislation sought by LGBTQ activists to ban the so-called gay panic defense in criminal cases. It would bar defendants from claiming that they were justified in harming or killing another because they were in a state of extreme distress as the result of a gay or transgender person making sexual advances.
Another piece of legislation would make it easier for ex-offenders to secure licenses for such jobs as barbers and medical technicians that have historically barred people with criminal records.
The District has set a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2032. The last bills of 2020 include measures to help meet this goal.
Under one bill, new building projects creating three or more new parking spots would have to equip at least a fifth of new spots — or one spot if fewer than five are created — to be able to charge electrical vehicles. That matches with standards in other major cities, including New York City and Atlanta.
Another piece of legislation would allow the city to tie its energy and water efficiency standards — governing how fast a water faucet can flow and how bright a lamp can shine — to regulations in California instead of neighboring Maryland and Virginia.
This would let the District have some of the nation’s most stringent environmental standards without requiring global manufacturers to adjust their products solely for a city of about 700,000 people.
Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.