Lengthy but Productive Meeting Leads to Unanimous Progress on Budget, Police Reform, Hospital, Local Business Aid

The Council’s latest Legislative Meeting stretched well into the evening, but when you consider that much of it was consumed with a discussion and initial vote on the budget, and that the budget determines how $16.7 billion is spent, on a per-minute basis, it was actually quite efficient.

The Council took the first of two required votes on two of the four component bills that, together, compromise what is commonly referred to as DC’s budget. The bills voted on at the most recent meeting were the Local Budget Act (which includes more dollars-and-cents budget line item-style information) and the Budget Support Act (which lists all the legislative changes embodied in the budget process). The second of two required votes on the Local Budget Act will be held at the Council’s next Legislative Meeting on July 21, as will the sole required votes on the bill that includes how the federal portion of the District’s budget will be spent, as well as the bill that includes mid-course changes to the budget year that is currently underway. The second vote on the Budget Support Act will be held on July 28.

Despite the profound fiscal impacts of the ongoing COVID public health crisis, the Council was still able to target funds towards critical public priorities. Among the provisions in the budget bills as considered at the most recent meeting:

  • $9 million in additional Housing Production Trust Fund money
  • $88 million in new affordable housing capacity via federal Section 108 Affordable Housing funds
  • $50 million in overdue repairs to public housing
  • over $6 million to create roughly 300 units of Local Rent Supplement Program housing units for extremely low-income families
  • over $11 million for eviction prevention and homeless services
  • an additional $5 million for an Events DC cash assistance program for undocumented immigrants
  • $9.5 million to reverse the Mayor’s cuts to the Behavioral Health rehabilitation programs
  • $4.1 million redirected from school security funds to instead pay for student social/emotional learning
  • $9.67 million redirected from the Metropolitan Police Department to violence interruption, restorative justice, and victim services
  • $1.32 million to fully fund the Racial Equity Achieves Real Change Act
  • $500,000 to fund the development of a racial equity tool/dashboard
  • $2.19 million for implementation of the Tipped Wage Worker Fairness Amendment Act
  • $1.85 million for enforcement of the Universal Paid Leave Act
  • $6.23 million for grants and programs supporting disadvantaged businesses
  • $2.7 million to restore increased library hours and $1.5 million to increase circulation
  • a 3 percent sales tax will be charged on the sale of advertisements
  • the Qualified High Technology Company tax credit was scaled back
  • DC’s gas tax will be raised to match that of Virginia

As a result of amendments to the bill during the meeting, additional funds above those referenced will go to support for undocumented workers, violence prevention, school-based mental health services, emergency rental assistance, affordable housing, child care center subsidies, mentoring, immigrant legal justice services, and other programs.

Additionally, amendments led to a virtual elimination of the Qualified High Technology Company tax credit, a decrease in the estate tax threshold from $5.6 million to $4 million, and a further delay in combined tax reporting for large corporations (which would have led to tax savings for them).

Other elements of the budget bills included the shifting of the management of the school security contract from the Metropolitan Police Department to DC Public Schools, a ten-year renewal of the District’s rent control laws (to ensure they do not expire at the end of the year, though tighter revisions to rent control could also follow this year) as well as permanent replacement of the Columbus Day holiday with an Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday.

Police and Justice Reform

At its previous Legislative Meeting, the Council unanimously passed an omnibus emergency police and justice reform bill. In the time since that earlier vote, certain refinements to the earlier bill necessitated its replacement with a substitute emergency measure. The new bill, also passed unanimously, allows five days rather than three for the police to release to the Council body camera footage and the names of officers implicated in incidents involving deadly force. For past incidents, the disclosure of body camera footage and officer names must now occur prior to August 15, six weeks later than originally planned. Additionally, the next-of-kin of those killed in deadly force incidents will now have a veto over the release of the footage. Standards for use of non-deadly force by officers are not included in the emergency reform bill, and will instead be addressed at hearings on the permanent version of the legislation. The bulk of the wide-ranging prior measure, other than these changes, will remain in place.

An additional change in the second emergency measure allows for all incarcerated District residents to be allowed to vote. Those incarcerated in the District will be eligible to do so immediately, those in federal prisons will regain their right to vote on January 1, 2021. The prior emergency bill only returned the right to vote to those imprisoned in the District.

New Hospital Bill

Also unanimously passed in the first of two necessary votes at the most recent Legislative Meeting was the long-anticipated bill to build a brand new hospital on the St. Elizabeth’s campus. This publicly-funded hospital, to be run by the same owner as George Washington University Hospital, would be scheduled to open in 2024. It would replace the current United Medical Center. The bill also requires that two urgent care centers would open in Wards 7 and 8. A second vote on the bill could come as soon as the Council’s next Legislative Meetings on July 21 or July 28. No action was taken at the most recent Legislative Meeting on a second pending hospital measure, to provide a tax abatement for a new Howard University Hospital, though a hearing has been held on the measure.

Local Business Aid

Passed unanimously as well at the most recent meeting was a local business aid bill to be funded with $100 million in federal CARES aid. Businesses expected to be recipients of this aid when rules are subsequently rolled out are those that are barred or significantly limited by the government from doing business until Phase 3 of the District’s reopening plan. Also to receive priority will be resident-owned disadvantaged businesses that might have missed out or been excluded from federal PPP or similar aid programs. Affected businesses must demonstrate a 50 percent or greater reduction in business revenue in order to qualify.

The Council will hold two more Legislative Meetings this summer: on July 21 and July 28.