Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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On Tuesday, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie punctured bike and pedestrian proponents’ hopes of moving forward a bill that would have reformed D.C.’s contributory negligence laws by punting the scheduled vote until July 12.

Without offering additional comments, McDuffie, who chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary, initially attempted to withdraw the bill from consideration. Ward 3 Councilmember and transportation committee Chair Mary Cheh, who’s led the charge from within the Wilson Building to get the legislation passed, claimed McDuffie’s motion was “improper.”

“This action by Mr. McDuffie has seriously frustrated all of those that have worked for years” to make the laws governing compensation for vehicle crashes more accommodating of non-drivers, Cheh commented. “I find it quite objectionable.”

Currently, D.C. is one of a handful of jurisdictions that prohibits pedestrians and cyclists from receiving crash damages if they’re found to be even one percent at fault. The “Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act” would have changed that set-up by allowing victims to seek compensation when they are determined to be up to half responsible for a given incident. Advocates for motorists, including AAA Mid-Atlantic, opposed the legislation, arguing that insurance costs would climb.

But because of today’s procedural kerfuffle, lawmakers will have another two weeks to consider those claims. Chairman Phil Mendelson ruled McDuffie’s withdrawal in order, saying Cheh hadn’t registered an official objection to it. He added that the legislation was not yet “the property of the full Council,” since McDuffie, as a committee chair, had to transmute it.

So Cheh appealed Mendelson’s ruling after the Council’s 13 members had dealt with a couple other measures. In a turn of events, the legislature voted 7-6 to vacate it. McDuffie then successfully moved to postpone the vote until July 12.

“There’s absolutely no reason not to go forward today,” Cheh said. “This is just a delaying tactic.” The motion passed 9-4.

On Twitter, several apparent supporters of the bill voiced discontent that it was being pushed back—if only temporarily:

https://twitter.com/NellePierson/status/747819951797346304https://twitter.com/NellePierson/status/747832684546686977https://twitter.com/beyonddc/status/747830476782604288https://twitter.com/mattheweide/status/747828559620644864https://twitter.com/gregbilling/status/747832893326659584

Had McDuffie’s withdrawal stood, the Council wouldn’t have considered the legislation until October, at its next “regular meeting.” (Summer recess is coming up.) In any case, the July 12 vote will be the first of two needed to pass the legislation. 

The bill could get amended, given the controversy. In an email, John Townsend, an AAA Mid-Atlantic manager, said many had concerns since “there was never a public hearing on the measure, short-circulating the democratic process.”

“We ordinarily don’t get hung up on this kind of procedural stuff,” Mendelson said at one point during Tuesday’s session.