Council Targets Dangerous Driving, Establishes Enforcement Against Unlicensed Cannabis Shops

In its first Legislative Meeting of 2024, the Council took action against dangerous driving, in an effort to achieve safer streets in the District and to help make progress on our Vision Zero goals. Under the current system, only tickets issued by law enforcement personnel generate “points” that count towards driver’s license suspension or revocation. Automated traffic enforcement technology (traffic cameras) can issue monetary fines but have no traffic safety component. This was originally done by design, since automated tickets pinpoint violations by vehicles without establishing who specifically is driving that vehicle. However, in the present day situation where many vehicles have wracked up dozens of violations and five-figure if not six-figure unpaid fines, the safety implications of allowing vehicles with such long rap sheets to continue driving without any safety consequences had grown untenable.

Under the Strengthening Traffic Enforcement, Education, and Responsibility (STEER) Act, for the first time, repeated incidents of traffic safety violations, even if captured exclusively by traffic cameras, will generate their own parallel system of point penalties. However, in the case of STEER Act violations, the points will count not towards the suspension or revocation of an individual’s driver’s license, but instead will count towards the booting or towing of an implicated vehicle. Speeding eleven or more miles an hour over the speed limit, as well as reckless driving, would generate points, and ten points accumulated in less than six months would lead to a vehicle being booted or towed.

Another element of the bill would allow for a pilot program so that speed governing technology could be installed in the vehicles of frequent violators. The technology would use geolocated speed limit data to set a maximum speed for that vehicle on each specific road. Additionally, since the ultimate goal of speeding tickets is to promote safer driving rather than simply to generate revenue, the bill would allow drivers to waive up to $500 in ticket fines a year by attending safe driving classes to be offered by the DMV.

Enforcement Against Unlicensed Marijuana Establishments

Due to a longstanding Congressional budget rider that forbids the District from taxing or regulating the sale of recreational marijuana, a system of gray market marijuana “gifting” establishments has proliferated. Since these establishments exist in the fringes of the law, the Council passed legislation in 2022 that would essentially provide amnesty to those “gifting” establishments that applied to transition into the more highly regulated medical marijuana dispensary legal framework. That law indicated that “gifting” establishments that did not opt into such a conversion would face civil penalties, but the details of how and by whom were not specified.

At the most recent Legislative Meeting, this penalty system was put into place via emergency legislation. The Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Board will have primary authority. After January 31, if an unlicensed “gifting” establishment continues its prior operations without applying to be legalized, after receiving a written warning, fines of $10,000 or more will be issued.

Additionally, if District police, fire, licensing, or taxing agencies issue a citation or file an incident report related to any licensed establishment, these incidents must be reported to the ABC Board. The bill also provides that if an unlicensed establishment applies for a license, the relevant Councilmember and Advisory Neighborhood Commission must be notified and allowed the opportunity to protest its issuance. Unlicensed establishments will also not be able to have any decorations, signage, or imagery related to marijuana visible from outside the store.

Budget Season Schedule Released

Also at the most recent Legislative Meeting, the initial schedule for FY 2023 and 2024 Performance Oversight hearings was released. The hearings will run from January 18 through March 1. The mayor will transmit her FY 2025 budget to the Council on March 20. The agency-by-agency budget oversight hearing schedule will be released later. Council votes on the FY 2025 budget will occur on May 14, May 28, and a third date yet to be announced. For more information on the budget schedule, click here.

Other Items

Two measures originally on the meeting agenda were not voted on. A measure authorizing the Council’s General Counsel to take initial steps towards initiating or joining a lawsuit against the mayor for disobeying the law regarding the implementation of an extension of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program funds was not voted on at the most recent Legislative Meeting. This was done in order to give the mayor a chance to start implementing the law, as she had more recently promised to do. The Council would again consider the measure if that promise is not kept.

A measure to appoint Joel Castón to the DC Sentencing Commission was not voted on in order to allow Councilmembers and the public to first learn more about the Commission at a Council Administrative Meeting that will occur on January 23.

At the most recent Legislative Meeting, the Council also approved two school namings/renamings. On the second of two needed votes, John Tyler Elementary School was renamed as Shirley Chisholm Elementary School. On the first of two needed votes, MacArthur High School was for the first time formally named, after its MacArthur Boulevard location.

The Council’s next scheduled Legislative Meeting will be held on February 6.