The D.C. Council faced an end-of-year deadline Tuesday. Bills had to get their first of two votes, otherwise they’d be dead for the remainder of the year. Here is some of what councilmembers approved:      

Return To Work 

The Displaced Workers Right to Reinstatement and Retention Amendment Act, introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson on behalf of the labor union Unite Here Local 25, would require employers to offer workers that lost their jobs during the pandemic their positions back.   

While lawmakers approved the bill on first reading, expect changes ahead of the second vote on Dec. 15. Multiple members expressed concern about the practical effects this bill has on small businesses. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, for example, said smaller businesses likely need to make hiring decisions faster than larger ones. He also noted differences between hotels and restaurants.   

“I’m supporting this today with the understanding that you are going to be working with members and industries impacted. I support the underlying goals,” said Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie to Mendelson.We don’t support our workers if we burden the businesses that employ them.” Mendelson said he is amenable to making changes. 

Cashless Businesses 

The bill would prohibit retail establishments from discriminating against cash customers. “By denying patrons the ability to use cash as a form of payment, businesses are effectively telling lower-income, undocumented, and young patrons that they are not welcome in their establishments,” said At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, who first introduced the bill in 2018.  

When asked about this bill during a Monday press conference, Mayor Muriel Bowser said “it gives me pause knowing what I know about what our businesses and workers are dealing with.” And later in a letter to the Council, Bowser asked members to “step back and consider the cost and impact of the measures being advanced,” collectively. She named the cashless bill, along with bills to break up the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and outlaw noncompete agreements. “Though some of these measures may have merit independently, taken together they inject heightened levels of uncertainty into our business climate,” she wrote.  

Poverty Commission

The bill, first introduced by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White in 2019, would create a 19-member commission that would evaluate anti-poverty programs to determine how effective they are and make recommendations for improvement. “We need a dedicated body to study the issue and make recommendations to the mayor and Council to really move the needle,” said At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman.

Noncompete Clause 

The bill would ban the use of noncompete clauses in employment agreements and workplace policies. After hearing from various hospital associations, Silverman moved an amendment that would carve out an exception for when a noncompete agreement can be used: doctors earning more than $250,000. “When these noncompete agreements are used, the hospital employer would be required to give that physician advanced notice of the noncompete,” said Silverman. 

The bill passed unanimously, though Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh recused herself because she works as a professor at George Washington University and the bill impacts the university’s hospital.  

Second Look Act 

The bill was part of an omnibus justice and safety bill which banned ghost guns and strengthened D.C.’s “red flag” law. The Second Look Amendment Act would allow anyone convicted of a serious violent crime before they were 25 to petition for early release after they serve 15 years. The bill builds upon the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, which passed unanimously in 2016. For the first time, women serving long sentences will be able to petition. (While women could apply under IRAA, none were eligible. Increasing the age limit makes some incarcerated women eligible.)

“At the end of the day, this is still about a system that is just so disproportionately unfair to people of color, particularly Black people,” said McDuffie, a former prosecutor and councilmember who authored IRAA. “The best way to support victims is to work harder to address the root causes that compel young people to pick up guns and shoot people to resolve disputes.”   

Cheh introduced amendments that would have undermined the Second Look Amendment Act. They failed while the package passed unanimously. The debate offered insight into lawmakers’ thinking of criminal justice reform. Read about that debate HERE

 —Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com )

This post has been updated to correct that Silverman never introduced the poverty commission bill.

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