Newsletter: Fall Back to Legislating!
It’s been a busy week, kicking off our fall legislative agenda. More on this below. DC Auditor Kathy Patterson released a report this week on another policy area we are working hard to improve: vacant and blighted properties. As our loyal readers know, we introduced a bill that became law last year trying to streamline putting vacant properties on the list and adding more manpower resources to enforcement of the law. We were asked by the Auditor to share our knowledge of this policy area as her team began their investigation, and we will continue to work to make sure these properties are not a blight on our neighborhoods.
This past week also welcomed a new year, 5778, for me and others who observe Rosh Hashanah. L’shanah tovah and best wishes for a healthy, happy, and peaceful year ahead for all of us whether you celebrate the holiday or not.
Creating a Small Business Advisory Council: At Tuesday’s legislative session, I introduced a series of bills to help make the District more responsive, affordable, and transparent. Special thanks to Anne Stom, owner of Annie’s Ace Hardware in Petworth, for planting the idea for the first bill, the Small Business Advisory Council Act of 2017. Anne and other Petworth businesses said that it would be helpful to have a body composed of various District agencies to address and troubleshoot small business issues—and that’s what this bill does.
The Small Business Advisory Council (modeled after the successful pedestrian and bicycle advisory councils) would include one small business owner nominated by each Council member, in addition to a representative from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Office of Tax and Revenue, the Department of Employment Services, and the Department of Small and Local Business Development. As a legislator, I’m at my best when I hear ideas and feedback on what works and what doesn’t across the city. I hope this council will help improve the city’s regulatory processes and address systemic issues small businesses continue to face with District agencies. The bill was referred to the Committee on Business and Economic Development.
Helping Seniors and Disabled Residents Keep Their Homes: While I hear a number of concerns about operating small businesses in the District, affordable housing continues to top the list. I am focused on making sure DC remains an affordable city for all ages and incomes. That’s why I also introduced the Senior Tenants and Residents with Disabilities Rental Assistance Program Amendment Act of 2017 to provide up to $500 per month to elderly residents and residents with disabilities who are currently on the DC Housing Authority’s housing waiting lists. Qualifying District households would include at least one person 62 years or older or one person who has a disability, with either being at or below 80% of the Area Median Income. This bill was actually one of the six recommendations from the Housing Preservation Strike Force, of which I was a member. The bill was referred to the Committee on Housing and Community Development.
Increasing Transparency in District Spending: Government accountability also continues to be a priority for me, which is why I introduced a bill Tuesday to create a public database detailing the $800 million (Yes, $800 million!) in grants awarded annually by the District. The Grants Transparency Amendment Act of 2017 establishes a database for residents to search grants across fiscal years and access information about the grant amount, recipient, length of award, awarding agency, and purpose. The District lags far behind every other state in spending transparency, and residents deserve to know how their taxpayer dollars are being allocated. We’ve seen from other states that modern spending transparency practices build public trust and ultimately save the city money. I’m hopeful that this database can later include other types of information about spending too, like contracts, tax incentives, and subsidies. The bill was referred the Committee on Finance and Revenue.
What’s Happening with Paid Family Leave: You may be asking yourself, “Didn’t we pass paid family leave already?” The answer is yes, and the paid family leave program we passed is currently District law. I have spoken with City Administrator Rashad Young, and he told me that he is currently considering recommendations on how to move forward with the program.
So why are you reading about another hearing on the program happening Tuesday, October 10? Earlier this year, some of my colleagues introduced bills to fundamentally change the program and Chairman Mendelson, who introduced one of the bills, agreed to hold a hearing. Changing the bill to an employer mandate, which several colleagues have proposed, radically changes the program and raises questions about the financial impact on employers who don’t already provide up to eight weeks of compensated leave out of pocket. It also raises concerns about whether workers will actually be able to use the benefit.
Another proposal that has gotten attention is one that would share the tax burden between employers and employees, addressing the issue that Maryland and Virginia residents would benefit from the program. Make no mistake: This is a big issue that concerns whether the District can tax commuters. As many of you know, the DC Home Rule Act prohibits DC from taxing income earned in the city by non-District residents. As much I support challenging this prohibition, taking this approach will mean we won’t see a family leave program implemented for years and years as Maryland and Virginia have a vested interest in keeping the commuter tax ban in place.
That’s why I need your support at the hearing on October 10. You can sign up to testify with other advocates online, email email@example.com, or call (202) 724-4865 to be added to the witness list. If you can’t attend in-person, you can submit a written statement to the Committee of the Whole through October 24.
Joining Neighbors Across the City: Thanks to each of you who stopped to say hi or grab a pair of Silverman sunglasses the other week at the Celebrate Petworth Festival in Ward 4! Some of you now know that I’ve been practicing a new skill—balloon art! I had so much fun making balloon hats and swords last weekend at the H Street Festival in Ward 6. I’ve been practicing this week and am ready to take more requests this weekend at the Barracks Row Fall Festival! Stop by my table!
Hope to see you there, and check out other upcoming community events below:
- Barracks Row Fall Festival: Saturday, September 23, from 11:00am-5:00pm along 8th Street SE (between Pennsylvania Ave. SE and I St. SE)
- 8th Annual DC State Fair: Sunday, September 24, from 11:00am-8:00pm at the Waterfront Station (375 and 425 M St. SW).
- District Public Schools Master Facilities Plan Meeting: Monday, September 25, from 6:30-8:30pm at The Thurgood Marshall Center (1816 12th St. NW, Conference Room #1)
- Labor and Workforce Development Hearing on System Transparency: Tuesday, September 26, at 11:00am at the John A. Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Room 123)
Metro Open House and Hearing on Service Changes: Tuesday, September 26, beginning at 5:30pm followed by a public hearing from 6:00–7:00pm at Metro Headquarters (600 Fifth St. NW)
- Speaker registration is onsite only. You may also provide feedback in an online survey through Monday, October 2.
- Deaf Awareness Day: Wednesday, September 27, from 3:00-7:00pm at the Old Council Chambers (441 4th St. NW)
- Silverman Night with the Nationals: Thursday, September 28, at 7:05pm at Nationals Park (1500 S Capitol St. SE)
- Rhode Island Avenue Fall Fest: Saturday, September 30, from 10:00am-4:00pm along the Rhode Island Ave. NE Main St. corridor
- DPR Rec Day: Saturday, September 30, from 11:00am-4:00pm at Randall Field (South Capitol and I St. SW)
- Hillcrest Day: Saturday, September 30, from 11:00am-3:00pm at Hillcrest Recreation Center (32nd and Denver St. SE)
- Takoma Street Festival: Sunday, October 1, from 10:00am-5:00pm from Carroll Ave. in Takoma Park, MD to Carroll St. NW in Takoma, DC
- Annual Family Day Concert: Sunday, October 1, from 4:00-6:00pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE)
- Organizing for Equity Panel Discussion: Saturday, October 7, at 5:00pm at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (641 D St. NW)
Thanks so much for reading.