Council Approves Cumulative COVID Emergency Bill; Hears from Mayor on Reduced Budget

Ever since the COVID public health emergency was declared, the Council has met roughly every two weeks and passed an emergency omnibus bill, each including multiple provisions meant to blunt the health and financial impacts of the pandemic. Emergency bills are a legally-authorized legislative workaround to the elaborate and lengthy process (including a mandatory Congressional review) by which the District would otherwise pass legislation under the Home Rule Charter. Emergency bills require approval by a super-majority of the Council, but after that single super-majority vote, and signature by the mayor, they become effective immediately. The downside to such bills is that they must be fundable under the current budget/financial plan, and they only remain in effect for 90 days.

With prior emergency COVID bills passed on March 17, April 7, April 21, and May 5, the often inter-connected provisions of these many bills would have begun to reach their cascading 90-day expiration dates starting in mid-June.

In an effort to combat this problem, at its most recent meeting, the Council unanimously passed what could itself be considered an omnibus of prior omnibus COVID emergency measures. Provisions on similar topics that were addressed in disparate sections across multiple bills were merged into cohesive unified bill language in the newest measure. But most importantly, by combining all the past bills into a single new piece of emergency legislation, the 90-day clock on the content of each of the prior bills will be restarted back to Day One once the mayor signs the bill. In this way, the terms of the prior bills, many of which residents have already come to depend on, will remain in effect for another 90 days, rather than intermittently expiring.

In addition to the consolidation of the prior provisions, the newest bill also included some new material. Utility providers will now be required to offer payment plans to customers, long-term care facilities will be prohibited from discharging residents, and guardianship laws will be updated to specify they apply to COVID-related events. Also, an inconsistency in the reconciling of the prior COVID emergency bills led to a lack of clarity in regards to whether landlords of five or fewer units were required to negotiate payment plans with their tenants. By amendment, the new bill states that they are.

Following the Legislative Meeting at which the emergency COVID measure was passed, the Council’s Committee of the Whole held a hearing at which Mayor Muriel Bowser presented her proposed revised budget for the remainder of the ongoing fiscal year ending September 30, and for the new fiscal year beginning on October 1. This kicks off the Council’s budget review, which will last through July. Each committee’s hearings on their portion of the budget will run from May 20 to June 16. On June 17 and 18, the Committee of the Whole will hold its marathon public hearing on the budget as a whole. Committee markups of their budget chapters will take place from June 23 to June 25, and the Council’s all-day budget work session will be on June 29. Votes on the component bills that make up the budget will occur on July 7, 21, and 28.

The Council’s next Legislative Meeting is scheduled for June 2.