The John A. Wilson Building in Washington, D.C.
The John A. Wilson Building. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/FILE

The D.C. Council returned from its summer recess Tuesday. Lawmakers have about three months to take care of pending legislation before the end of the two-year session, when all lingering bills will die. Some of the big issues include funding for D.C. schools, police reforms, free Metro passes, and a rewrite of the criminal code. Here are details on two major bills councilmembers approved Tuesday:

Migrant Office Politics 

Roughly six months after Texas and Arizona started busing migrants to D.C., the city finally has established a new Office of Migrant Services that will coordinate support for new arrivals. Yet at the Wilson Building Tuesday, much of the debate was about urgency.

Mayor Muriel Bowser asked the Council to formalize some of her actions standing up the new agency as soon as lawmakers returned from its summer recess, and it ultimately agreed to do so on a 12-0 vote (Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George voted present). Never mind the fact that Bowser spent months unsuccessfully pursuing federal interventions instead, lawmakers still saw the need to pass legislation quickly to get the new office functioning. As the advocacy group Sanctuary DMV put it in a tweet after the vote, “after five months of inaction, urgency isn’t a very believable argument.”

Councilmembers generally agreed on the bill’s basics: The new office will provide short-term aid to people in the city temporarily, arranging for staples like food, clothing, and shelter for migrants as they sort out their futures. The disagreements (and arguments about timing) came over the legislation’s details, with language excluding migrants from receiving the same aid as other homeless people becoming a particular sticking point.

Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto backed an amendment that would have removed those limitations, ensuring that migrants would be eligible for all the same homeless services as others (for instance, providing that families have a right to be placed in private rooms instead of congregate settings). The amendment attracted the support of a broad array of left-leaning advocacy groups in a case of some very odd bedfellows—since when do you see Democratic Socialists tweeting nice things about Pinto?

Yet Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who chairs the human services committee and introduced the bill, pushed back forcefully against the amendment and argued that the Council “shouldn’t rush these changes.” She pledged to consider them more fully when she holds a hearing on a permanent version of this legislation next month. It made for a bit of an odd dichotomy with previous arguments about the speed required for the full bill, but her colleagues generally agreed with the sentiment—only the unusual grouping of Pinto, Lewis George, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, and Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray backed the amendment.

Look for the debate to flare up again when this emergency legislation expires 90 days from now, so long as Republican governors haven’t chosen a new, anti-Biden stunt by then. —Alex Koma

Red Light District

Another major piece of legislation the Council moved Tuesday came from Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh. The “Safer Streets Amendment Act” passed 13-0 yesterday and changes road rules in two significant ways.

First, the bill allows bicyclists to move through intersections more quickly and ahead of traffic by treating stop signs as yield signs. Commonly referred to as the “Idaho Stop,” the new policy is designed to allow bicyclists to maintain momentum as long as it’s safe to do so. Pedestrians and vehicles with the green light still have the right of way.

The law also applies to people riding e-bikes, scooters, and other “personal mobility devices,” but does not apply to mopeds or motorcycles.

“Allowing cyclists and other riders to maintain momentum reduces their exposure to traffic, making their ride more predictable and safer,” Cheh writes in a letter introducing her bill. 

The bill also bans drivers from turning right at red lights by 2025, with an exemption for intersections where the D.C. Department of Transportation determines that a right-on-red turn would “improve safety.” New York City has also banned right turns on red. Cheh notes in her letter that right-on-red turns date back to 1979 in D.C., when there was a worldwide fuel shortage. But, she says, now rising traffic-related deaths signal a need to improve traffic safety. Eliminating right turns at red lights could help, she says. The Council still must vote a second time before the bill goes to Bowser’s desk; lawmakers will also need to find $3.4 million in the budget to implement its policies.

Chairman Phil Mendelson voted in favor of the bill, but expressed skepticism about the ban, saying that despite efforts to improve traffic safety, accidents and fatalities continue to climb. Last year, 40 people were killed in traffic-related incidents; 24 have been killed so far this year.

Mitch Ryals (tips?

  • To see today’s COVID-19 data, visit our coronavirus tracker.
  • An old report revealed issues with Metro’s tracks that went unaddressed and that may have contributed to recent derailments of 7000 series rail cars. Investigators with the Washington Metro Safety Commission point to the 2015 report as evidence that issues may extend to the rail transit system as a whole, not just rail cars. [Post]
  • Elias Eldabbagh was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his attempt to steal more than $31 million in pandemic relief funds. The D.C. man pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced in federal court Tuesday. [Fox5, DOJ]
  • More than 300 security cameras spread throughout 60 D.C. Public School buildings are broken. [WUSA9]

By City Paper staff (tips?

  • A congressional committee advanced a bill from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton that would amount to one of the largest expansions of home rule for D.C. in decades, giving the city full authority to prosecute crimes and manage parole. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans remain firmly opposed. [WTOP]
  • Attorney General Karl Racine is fighting to keep people from carrying guns on Metro, calling public transit stations a “sensitive place” that should be exempt from the legal system’s increasingly expansive vision of where people have the right to bear arms. [DCist]
  • Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White is agitating for more regular Council meetings with Mayor Bowser and her deputies on crime, as similar meetings on COVID become less frequent. [Twitter]

By Alex Koma (tips?

  • More advice on tipping everyone from the DoorDash and Instacart delivery people to baristas and sandwich makers. [Washingtonian]
  • Some D.C.-area restaurants are raising funds to help victims of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico. [Washingtonian]
  • Watch Chef Peter Chang make his Peking duck. [NBC Washington]
  • It’s Salmon Week in D.C., and seven local restaurants are featuring wild salmon from Bristol Bay in Alaska through Sept. 23. [Bristol Bay Sockeye]

By City Paper staff (tips?

  • MahoganyBooks, the family-run independent bookstore known for amplifying Black authors, is coming to DCA in an attempt to add more local flare to the airport. [DCist]
  • Thought screamo was dead? Think again: Virginia’s City of Caterpillar have reunited and plans to release a new album this fall. [Post]
  • It’s been two years, but Theatre Week is back this weekend to kick off the District’s 2022-2023 theater season. Find out what that means and what not to miss. [Washingtonian]

By Sarah Marloff (tips?

  • Despite the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” the league continues to deny head coaching jobs to Black coaches. Since 1990, only 11 percent of full-time head coaches have been Black—that’s 20 Black men compared to 154 White men. [Post]
  • The Caps’ 2022 first round pick Ivan Miroshnichenko is expected to play in Russia, in the KHL, this season after he’s medically cleared. The Caps drafted the right forward 20th overall in the 2022 draft after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He has undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy and is getting back into playing shape. [Russian Machine Never Breaks]
  • Nats’ lefty Patrick Corbin was lifted from the game against Atlanta Tuesday after just 12 pitches. He is reportedly suffering from back spasms. Corbin has plummeted from his role as a key piece of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series win. He’s approaching a 20-loss season, a dubious feat not seen in the MLB since 2003. [Federal Baseball, NY Post]

By City Paper staff (tips?

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