Council Overrides Mayoral Housing Veto, Expands Project Labor Agreements, Endorses Healthy Homes

The Council’s most recent Legislative Meeting included the usual policy progress, but was also distinctive for the number of legitimate but seldom seen procedural quirks that manifested themselves during the meeting.

Veto Override

First and foremost, at the meeting, the Council passed a veto override. In the history of Home Rule, it is fairly rare that Council legislation is vetoed by the mayor. LIMS, the Council’s legislative search engine, only includes records of 57 such vetoes occurring from 1989 (the first year digitized Council records are available) to the present day. It is even more rare that mayoral vetoes are in turn overriden by the Council.

In the most recent case, the legislation that had been vetoed by the mayor was a third iteration of an emergency COVID-era bill that allowed the subset of housing voucher applicants who are unable to produce the documents normally required of applicants to demonstrate eligibility to instead self-certify it. The bill also prohibits the Housing Authority from asking about or investigating an applicant’s immigration status or criminal record. In each of the three iterations of the emergency bill, it passed the Council unanimously. Its first prior iteration was signed by the mayor, the second was allowed by the mayor to become law without her signature, and was only vetoed after its third time through the Council. That veto has now been overriden. All parties hope that a permanent version of the legislation, with changes amenable to all parties, will soon make its way through the Council and be signed by the mayor.

Early Federal Budget Request Submission

In another interesting policy quirk with some policy heft, the Council modified its budget approval process and timetable this year in a small but unexpected way. Generally, the Council considers the multiple pieces of legislation encompassing the District’s budget across three Legislative Meetings. But this year, for the first time, that approval started early, and will stretch out across four Legislative Meetings.

In all prior years in recent memory, the Council has followed the same process. At a first Legislative Meeting the Local Budget Act (the dollars-and-cents of the budget) and the Budget Support Act (the legislative changes needed to implement the Local Budget Act) received the first of two necessary votes. At a second Legislative Meeting, the Local Budget Act receives a second vote, and two other bills each receive a single required vote: the Revised Local Budget Emergency Adjustment Act (which addresses late adjustments in the prior year’s budget) and the Federal Portion Budget Request Act (which includes the greatly diminished but not negligible portion of the District budget funded from federal sources, such as state-by-state formula funds). At a third Legislative Meeting, the Budget Support Act would receive its second and final vote.

However, this year, it was recognized that the Federal Portion Budget Request Act could be sewn up and sent along to Congress more than a month earlier than had always previously been the case. With the comparative unpredictability of the Congressional budget process from year to year, getting our federal budget request in to the federal legislature (despite our lack of voting representation there) well in advance seems prudent and perhaps will pay dividends.

Lafayette Natural Grass Field

One final bit of unexpected but perfectly legitimate procedural quirk at the most recent meeting—by practice and by rule, the Council tends to advance parallel versions of both emergency legislation (valid for 90 days, requiring a single supermajority vote, no budget impact) and temporary legislation (valid for 225 days, requiring two votes) at the same meeting. But in the case of an emergency bill requiring the installation of a natural grass field rather than an artificial turf field at the modernized Lafayette Elementary School, an implied waiver of the rules allowed for a vote on the temporary bill to be tabled until the next Legislative Meeting, in hopes that a non-legislative compromise would allow the community’s preferred grass field to be the preferred option without requiring Council action to make it so.

Second and Final Vote on Two Key Measures: Project Labor Agreements and Healthy Homes

Two key measures which received the first of two necessary votes at our prior Legislative Meeting received the second and final required votes at the most recent meeting. Prior to receiving their second approval votes, both measures were amended to ensure clarity and fairness.

The first such bill would reduce the threshold at which mandatory project labor agreements (PLA) kick in on District government construction contracts. The prior minimum was $75 million, and the newly approved limit is $50 million. Project labor agreements provide “labor peace,” meaning that the contractor agrees to the negotiated terms of the PLA, and in exchange, the involved unions agree not to strike. At the previous Legislative Meeting, some concerns were raised regarding how Certified Business Enterprises would be affected by the PLA change. An amendment approved at the second vote on the bill sought to address this concern, and maximize outreach to, and involvement by, CBEs in PLA projects.

The second such bill was the “Healthy Homes” bill that would facilitate and subsidize the installation of electric appliances (and the replacement of gas appliances) in low and moderate income residences, to ensure that the environmental and health benefits of such a change are not limited exclusively to those who can easily afford them. An amendment approved at the second vote will require an estimate of the predicted cost difference in annual energy cost between gas and electric use be provided to homeowners.

Targeting Unlawful Discriminatory Covenants in Home Deeds

Unbeknownst to many DC residents (included among them members of the current Council), the deeds on many of our homes include restrictive language intended to racially or religiously restrict who can live on or own specific properties in the District. An emergency measure passed by the Council at its most recent meeting would create a process whereby property owners could seek to have these discriminatory terms removed from their deeds. Similarly, for properties where zoning would allow an apartment or other multiple dwelling unit use but a covenant would disallow such uses, the covenants would be declared void.

Upcoming Council Schedule

Due to the mayor’s delayed submission of her budget to the Council, and the wholesale scrapping and replacement of our budget timetable that the delay then entailed, our Legislative Meeting schedule for the next two months is somewhat complicated. Here it is in summary, for your consideration.

Budget-related meetings are occurring on Wednesdays and not Tuesdays this year, due to the timetable rewrite mentioned above. The Council’s annual all-day budget work session (at which each committee chair reports out on their slice of the budget, and changes they made to that portion of the mayor’s budget proposal) will be held on May 15. On May 29, the Council will take the first of two needed votes on the Local Budget Act and the Budget Support Act. On Wednesday, June 12, the Council will take its second and final vote on the Local Budget Act. (As always, the Council’s second vote on the Budget Support Act will come a few weeks later, on a date still to be determined, at a regular Tuesday Legislative Meeting.)

The Council will also hold traditional Tuesday Legislative Meetings (and the Breakfast Meetings that proceed them) on June 11, June 25, and July 9. Committee of the Whole meetings are anticipated on June 19 and July 9.