Council Allows Mayor’s Closure of Washington Metropolitan, Places Limits on Games of Skill

At the Council’s 24th Legislative Meeting, an effort to halt Mayor Bowser’s planned closure of the Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy, an alternative school in Ward 1, fell short by one vote. With the Mayor and DC Public Schools having announced a decision to close the school, legislation to halt the closure would have required passage of emergency legislation by the Council. Emergency bills require a two-thirds vote of the Council, which usually means nine votes, but with one current Council vacancy, only eight votes were required. Seven were cast in favor.

The Council moved on an emergency basis to place limits on the burgeoning industry of “games of skill.” These games resemble video games, but provide cash recompense for successful play. In other states, including neighboring Virginia, large numbers of these games have been distributed in fast order in many businesses statewide, in an effort to beat regulators to the punch.  With an interest in thinking through the details and regulation of this new industry, but simultaneously wanting to avoid closing the barn door after the horse already got out, the Council put into place emergency and temporary legislation that temporarily limits where these machines can be used, by whom, and under what circumstances. Liquor-licensed establishments seeking to install these machines will be required to request and receive a special endorsement on their liquor license, advertising for the machines will be limited, warning signs will be required to be posted, and those under 18 will not be allowed to play.

Although no standalone vote on the measure occurred, the second of two required approvals for making go-go the official music of the District occurred as part of the Council’s approval of the consent agenda of uncontroversial measures.

The second of two required votes was also taken on a housing bill that would impose a fee on developers who reduce the number of housing units in a project, and fine developers who vacate a unit with the intent of personally occupying it, only to leave it vacant prior to putting it back on the market. A clarification was made in the measure prior to the second vote, stating that no fee would be collected from homeowners who converted a basement into an apartment, then brought that space back into the initial home footprint.

Two measures continued to clear the way for the eminent domain purchase of the W Street trash transfer station, and its eventual conversion into a local government warehousing facility.

Three Sense of the Council measures garnered attention at the meeting. One urged more equitable funding for schools in Wards 7 and 8, after those schools took funding cuts in the Mayor’s prior year budget, while other schools saw funding increases. A second measure encouraged the Department of Transportation to make “Bus to Work Day” (conveniently occurring this year on the very day of the Legislative Meeting) a recurring annual event. A third measure expressed the Council’s support for a Federal City Council-run bid to renovate and operate a number of federally-owned golf and tennis facilities in the District. Discussion on this last matter clarified that this was an effort to back what could be the only locally-owned and managed bidder in the process, but that it did not preclude possible future Council action to support other local bidders were they to come forward.

Earlier in the meeting, Ceremonial Resolutions were presented to the Metropolitan Women’s Democratic Club on the occasion of the Club’s 60th Anniversary, and the Missionary Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Washington, DC and Vicinity on the occasion of the Conference’s 135th anniversary.

Measures introduced at the most recent meeting, if enacted, would:

  • Ensure transparency and customer rights at DC Water through clarified and formalized rate change and complaint procedures
  • Allow for flexibility in pricing and timing for DDOT’s “performance parking plan” program, so that it can fulfill its original intent
  • Mandate inclusion of African American cultural studies in the curriculum of DC high schools
  • Require that landlords provide air conditioning to elderly and disabled tenants
  • Ensure “net neutrality” for DC residents and businesses
  • Tighten restrictions on councilmember conflicts of interest and appearances of such conflicts and ban councilmembers’ outside employment as a lobbyist or consultant on business before the Council
  • Create a task force to study and implement social emotional learning
  • Create a pilot program to help avoid adverse childhood experiences, shown to negatively impact education and future success for affected children
  • Provide financial assistance to homeowners in financial need who are required by law to remove and replace a hazardous tree
  • Encourage expansion of Career and Technical Education programs in the District

For a full list of votes taken at the most recent meeting, please click here.

The next scheduled Legislative Meeting will be held on March 3.