Consumer and Employment Protections Headline Latest Council Meeting

While the Council’s next two Legislative Meetings will be monopolized by discussion and votes on the multi-billion dollar behemoth bills and policies that compose the District’s budget, the most recent Legislative Meeting dealt with the more day-to-day, meat-and-potatoes topics that nevertheless have deep impacts on our daily lives.

One measure that received the first of two necessary votes at the most recent meeting aims to protect consumers from unjust debt collection. In its broad scope, the bill prohibits jailing consumers for unpaid commercial debt, strengthens a ban on abusive or misleading debt collection communication, limits the frequency and means of debt collector contacts with consumers, and bans debt collectors from notifying employers, friends, family, or neighbors about an individual’s indebtedness.

Also passed at the most recent meeting was legislation to extend the DC Housing Finance Agency’s Reverse Mortgage Insurance and Tax Payment Program. Often, longtime homeowners who have entered into reverse mortgage loans can face default and foreclosure in the event of nonpayment of even very small-dollar amounts of property taxes, condo/coop fees, and the like. This program provides zero-interest loans to help bridge such short-term deficits, avoid foreclosure, and the loss of family homes.

Another measure that received its first vote at the most recent meeting would ban marijuana testing as a condition for new or ongoing employment, except in safety-related jobs or where required by federal law. Given that marijuana use is legal in the District, any such testing (outside the exceptions listed above) has no legal justification.

The second and final vote was taken on a bill to strengthen and clarify the District’s laws concerning the identification and removal of abandoned vehicles on our public streets. The bill also removed imprisonment as a potential penalty for abandoned vehicle violations.

The first of two votes was taken on a bill to provide emergency access to restrooms in private businesses for those individuals with a documented medical necessity to use them. Prior to the second vote on the measure, some final details will be worked out regarding exactly how one demonstrates their qualification for the necessary credential, as well as which District agencies will issue the credential and enforce the measure.

The Council also took the first of two needed votes to exercise the District’s eminent domain authority to acquire the Capitol Gateway property. Ever since Walmart backed out of its plans to open a store on the site, the property has stood fallow and no redevelopment has occurred. District ownership of the site will unlock needed development at this key location.

Finally, while the Council did allow a dozen contracts to proceed through the approval process, councilmembers took the opportunity at the latest meeting to hold the Administration to account for unnecessarily delaying and complicating the contracts’ renewal. Rather than pursuing a timely, expected exercise of the option years on already-approved contracts, the Administration instead issued partial-year contracts that fell below the $1 million figure that triggers Council review, then sought approval for the remainder of the option year. Although the contracts themselves were uncontroversial, and were related to critical infrastructure such as schools, the process chosen by the Administration unnecessarily increased the number of contracts and the complexity of their approval, neglecting the Council’s role as a co-equal branch of government.

On May 10 and May 24, the Council will hold Additional Legislative Meetings and consider the various bills that comprise the District’s budget. The Council’s next regularly scheduled Legislative Meeting will be held on June 7.