The District’s two highest elected officials are clashing again.
It wasn’t about where to put homeless shelters, which they wrangled over in May. This time, it was about a proposal for paid family leave that would make it easier for residents to take off from work and raise a child or care for a sick parent.
If approved, the bill in question would create one of the most generous paid-leave programs in the U.S. But lawmakers and advocates on all sides of the issue have disputed how best to pay for it and the proper balance between payout and cost.
Under the latest publicly available draft of the legislation, the District would tax employer payrolls and funnel the resulting revenue into a pooled fund administered by the government. Eligible workers would be entitled to up to 12 weeks of the benefit—a share of their wages that depends on their income. (Originally, it was for 16 weeks.)
At a regular breakfast meeting Tuesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson traded sharp words over the process guiding the legislation, which has yet to come up for a vote. As the Washington Post reports, Bowser alleged that council staff under Mendelson were shrouding the details of the bill in “secrecy.” “You’re not giving us the information that we need to be helpful,” she said. “So it puts all of us … in a very bad position come time to vote.”
Councilmembers Jack Evans, Anita Bonds, and Yvette Alexander also had questions about when Mendelson would share a revised paid-leave proposal, according to an administration source present at the meeting. The chairman said one would come out in mid-November.
Dec. 2 would be latest date the council could vote on the bill on first reading in order to pass it by the end of the year. Otherwise, the legislation would have to be reintroduced in January to be considered, per council rules. Proponents don’t want a delay, while critics are worried about the ultimate cost of the potential law, which must still be settled.
Bowser and Mendelson’s exchange, however, didn’t end with the morning. Later yesterday, Mendelson sent a tart letter to the mayor, questioning her administration’s cooperation with the council in regards to the paid-leave proposal.
“As I mentioned at the breakfast, my staff has had difficulty trying to work with your subordinate agency, the Department of Employment Services, because personnel there have been told not to work with the Council on this legislation,” the chairman wrote. “Although you expressed surprise, this is a challenge I have raised with you previously. In checking my notes, I find that I raised this with you at our meeting on July 11 (‘DOES won’t talk to [us]’).”
“My staff has told me repeatedly that this has been a problem, even to the point of receiving texts to the effect that ‘we have been told no contact with you without prior approval,'” he continued.
In an interview, Mendelson said Bowser’s support for the proposal “has been tepid from the start.” “There’s widespread support for this legislation,” he added. “I don’t think it’s going to play well to argue that [the legislative process] has been ‘secretive.'” He said a universal paid-leave program would benefit both workers and businesses, making it more appealing to live and operate in D.C.
Earlier this year, Bowser commissioned a “working group on jobs, wages, and benefits” to advise officials on economic policy, including ways to “attract and retain businesses and employees [and] protect and promote commercial diversity.” The group is composed of private-sector leaders, labor organizers, government appointees, and others.
City Paper has reached out to the mayor’s office for comment on Mendelson’s letter and will update this post if we hear back.