Newsletter: The Final Push of 2015!

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost a year since taking the oath of office! Being a new councilmember is much like being a new business owner--or a new parent: I’ve spent a lot of time putting people, systems, and infrastructure in place. We’ve even knocked down a wall (and closet)! Thanks to everyone, but particularly Chief of Staff Kitty Richards, Senior Policy Analyst (and construction chief) Sam Rosen-Amy, and Community and Communications Coordinator Ashley Fox for implementing these changes.

We’ve spent a lot of time this year laying the foundation, and now we’ve entered a very exciting time of seeing those pieces in action. This week I’m especially excited to share with you legislative efforts I consider central to our core mission of a more progressive, effective government that creates opportunity for all: universal paid family leave and elections/campaign finance reform.

LEGISLATIVE WORK


Fair and Clean Elections:
At a holiday party last weekend I was asked, “Has D.C. government gotten any less corrupt?” My interlocutor then went on to express his skepticism given recent news stories. That question has haunted me for the last week. Let me say that I do think we are a more honest, transparent government than we were a few years ago, but the interaction made me appreciate how much more work we need to do to make our residents confident in the integrity of our government and our elections.

 

Last Tuesday, I introduced legislation to further that effort. The Clean Elections Amendment Act of 2015 does two big things: (1) draws a bright line that cannot be crossed between candidates and independent expenditure groups like SuperPACs and (2) specifies that only people may make direct contributions to candidates’ political campaigns.

 

This bill was introduced at the same meeting in which my independent at-large colleague David Grosso re-introduced his bill on public financing of campaigns, which I support and was a co-introducer on his new, improved bill. I am hoping both bills will get a hearing next year in the Judiciary Committee. Thank you to Councilmembers Allen, Cheh and Nadeau for co-sponsoring our bill. You can follow its progress here and read more details about the legislation on my website.

 

Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave: Last week, Chairman Mendelson convened the first of three scheduled hearings on the Universal Paid Leave Act, which I co-introduced and co-wrote with Councilmember Grosso. The hearing was invitation only and included representatives from our largest local business, research, and advocacy organizations. Much of the focus was on how this bill would impact District competitiveness within the region. There was also a lot of discussion of the impact on small versus big businesses. I want to thank all who participated; I thought it was a great discussion.

 

One witness of the 35 or so invited to testify addressed both these issues in a real world context: Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn, who owns Bright Start Child Care and Preschool in D.C. Finn, whose business employs about 30 people, was very much in favor of the legislation precisely because she believes paid leave makes her business more competitive. And she was excited to say she would save money if DC set up a social insurance system as proposed in bill instead of trying to fund it herself, which she now does. If you are interested in reading her testimony and the testimony of others you can find it here.

 

The second hearing will invite national experts to speak on the bill. In last week’s hearing there were a number of comments about how the District’s proposed paid leave legislation aligns with those in other states. You can find information about what has worked well for other states here.

 

A third hearing for the public has been scheduled on February 11 starting at 4:00 p.m. This is open to anyone and everyone. If you are interested in testifying, you must sign up by February 8. You can call Christina Setlow at (202) 724-8196 or email csetlow@dccouncil.us.

 

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Also last Tuesday I was pleased to co-introduce, along with Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, the District of Columbia Public Assistance Amendment of 2015. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is a critical benefit to our District neighbors who are struggling with unemployment, health conditions, and other temporary situations that cause them financial stress. Under current District law, a family who has received TANF benefits is no longer eligible after five cumulative years. Unfortunately, some families continue to struggle after that five year deadline and loss of the TANF benefits can do great harm.

I support the new TANF legislation because it allows for the benefits to continue under certain hardship conditions. The reality is, if families are kicked out of the TANF program without being put on a road to self-sufficiency, they will end up in trouble and end up straining other costly programs – such as homeless services or child welfare programs. I believe passing this bill is the best way to address this problem and encourage you to add your support.

 WHERE I’VE BEEN

 

Measuring Our Progress in Education: If you have a student attending a D.C. public or charter school, you may have seen the latest round of PARCC scores released for grades 3-8. PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers) has replaced the DC CAS annual assessment and is intended to more accurately assess how prepared our students are to succeed during their first year of college. OSSE has released a series of resources for parents and educators to better understand the test results and how they will be applied to students’ learning experiences moving forward. My office attended the press briefing, and State Superintendent of Education, Hanseul Kang, shared several key takeaways:

 

  • The students in advanced courses are continuing to perform well and lead in test results.

  • The results show there are significant disparities for special education students and students of color, and there is much more work to do to address these students’ needs.

  • DCPS expects results to get better over time and will be using this year’s scores as the new benchmark for achievement. The scores from the 2015-2016 school year PARCC testing will be released in summer 2016.

 

There are also newly released resources from D.C.’s Chief Student Advocate, Faith Gibson Hubbard. The Office of the Student Advocate recently launched an online Education & Community Resource Guide. The office is tasked with guiding and supporting students, parents, families, and communities in navigating the D.C. education landscape. If you have questions for Faith’s office or about the resource guide, contact her at student.advocate@dc.gov or (202) 741-4692.

 

IN THE COMMUNITY

Toys for Tots Drive: This holiday season my office is glad to be supporting the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program. We’ll be heading to Shaw to drop off toys at Compass Coffee, founded by two former Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, on Thursday afternoon. If you would like to donate some toys for our neediest kids, Compass Coffee will be accepting new, unwrapped toy donations all day on Thursday, December 10 at 1535 7th Street NW. You even get a free cup of coffee for donating!

 

DDOT Visitor Parking Passes: My 2015 visitor pass is getting a lot of use this holiday season, and I realized I need to apply for a new one for the new year! The District Department of Transportation is currently accepting requests for 2016 Visitor Parking Passes. To request a pass, please visit the online registration form or call (202) 671-2700. DDOT no longer mails out passes automatically, but passes are still free of charge for residents that request one.

 

D.C. Arts Holiday Open House: Last week, I met with the new executive director of the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, Arthur Espinoza, to talk about upcoming arts projects in the city and opportunities to support D.C.’s rising arts scene. He asked that I help spread the word about their Holiday Hoedown happening on Thursday, December 17 at 6:30 p.m. at their office (200 I Street S.E., Suite 1400). This is a great opportunity to see what the Commission has in store for next year, learn ways to get involved with local art opportunities, and grab some tasty holiday treats!

 

Thanks so much, and have a great week.


Elissa.