I know spring is trying its hardest to finally arrive, but I'm starting to get really worried that we'll go straight into summer if we're not careful. Nevertheless, in the surest sign it might be spring, I was honored to join more than 150 young baseball and softball players at the annual Capitol Hill Little League Opening Day. Of course, everyone knows that also means my annual Ward 6 Budget Town Hall is right around the corner...
How should the District spend your tax dollars? Let me know at the Ward 6 Budget Town Hall: The Ward 6 Budget Town Hall is next Monday, April 23, at Watkins Elementary School at 6:30 pm. I'd love to hear your priorities for the District's spending plan. I hold this Budget Town Hall each year to break down the budget process and hear from neighbors about what I should fight for. We are planning to stream the event live on Facebook if you can't attend in-person. Please RSVP for the event here so we know how many neighbors to prepare for.
DC Schools Residency Concerns: Like many, I’m very concerned by the ongoing reports of residency fraud in our public schools and the failures of oversight agencies in accountability. Enforcement of the residency requirements needs to give families confidence – and often it does not. This seems to be even more acute at schools where we see long wait lists and greater in-boundary pressures. To be fair, there are certainly situations where a child is dropped off at school by a caregiver or family member who may not be a DC resident, but the Inspector General's report released this week demonstrates systemic failures in the offices charged with oversight of enrollment verifications. I believe we need to push on a few fronts in this regard. First, I believe we need a comprehensive audit of enrollment verification at all DCPS and public charter schools. Next, I'd like to see our schools use a stronger enrollment process to prove residency on the front end. And third, as Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, I have been talking with our Attorney General Karl Racine to give his office more tools to pursue school residency fraud in court. I believe it may be best to grant independent authority to the Attorney General’s office to take direct reports and independently investigate claims of residency fraud. At the end of the day, though, investigating our way out of residency fraud will be lengthy and costly. I think we need a better verification system on the front end of the enrollment process so that it works the way we need.
Dangerous driving is a serious issue for too many Ward 6 neighbors: During March, I worked with neighbors and 5th District MPD Commander Fitzgerald to do some traffic enforcement along C Street, NE with Eliot-Hine Middle School and Maury Elementary School (currently in swing space at Eliot-Hine) on one side of the street and many homes on the other. The results, from very limited windows of enforcement, were jaw-dropping -- 34 drivers were caught traveling at speeds ranging from 26-30+ mph over the posted speed limit. This is flat out dangerous. And I know from talking with neighbors across Ward 6 that excessive speed and unsafe intersections are pervasive problems in our neighborhoods. At the most recent oversight hearing for DDOT, I asked Director Jeff Marootian about getting DDOT to act with greater urgency in making more residential intersections all-way stops and prioritizing the safety of pedestrians and cyclists whenever we design our streets. I posted video of my comments to the Director on Facebook.
Funding critical after-school, safety, and housing programs via the estate tax: When Congress passed a new tax law at the end of last year, it raised the District's estate tax threshold from $5.5 million to $11.2 million. I have proposed lowering the estate tax threshold back to the level we agreed on just last year as part of the tax commission's recommendations, and using that money to fund Out-Of-School-Time programs in our public schools, provide more safe housing options for survivors of domestic violence, fund more housing vouchers for low-income tenants, and fund more community grants as part of the NEAR Act. I circulated a letter to my colleagues on the Council making the case for de-coupling the District's estate tax threshold from the federal level, now set at $11.2 million. WAMU covered the story.
In its first big test, our new Anacostia River Tunnel diverted 170 million gallons of sewer overflow: The deluge Sunday night into Monday morning was the first big test of DC Water's Anacostia River Tunnel (part of the Clean Rivers Project), which opened in late March. With two inches of rain falling in about three hours, DC’s old system was overwhelmed. But the new tunnel prevented 170 million gallons of combined sewage from entering the Anacostia River - exactly what it was designed to do! You can read more about it - but this is a big milestone to celebrate during the Year of the Anacostia.
Despite strong laws, wage theft is still happening: Despite the District having some of the strongest wage theft laws in the country, wage theft (which is whenever an employee does not receive their payment or other benefits such as sick leave for their work) remains a problem, particularly in fields like construction and the service industry. I attended the Stand With Workers Town Hall last week to hear directly from workers affected by wage theft, and discuss ways we can ensure our laws are followed and enforced. It's why I was proud to work hard to get the Paid Family Leave Act passed, why I pushed to ensure the Council adopted even stronger wage theft laws in 2015, and why I fought to include funding for positions in the Office of the Attorney General to focus on prosecuting wage theft full-time. You shouldn't have to fight for dignity and respect in earning a fair wage for a fair day's work. If you have been a victim of wage theft, or if you think you know someone who has, learn more here: https://oag.dc.gov/workers-rights
Hill East neighbors organize monthly trash clean-up: On Saturday, April 7, I joined neighbors in Hill East to clean up litter and trash for an hour. This neighbor-organized effort to keep our neighborhoods clean will take place one Saturday each month -- I know they'd love to have you join in. And save the date for April 21 for a citywide clean-up event hosted by Mayor Bowser.
I introduced a bill to push DC's power grid to purchase more renewable energy - a lot more: Last week, I introduced a complicated bill with two simple goals - 1) to help District residents understand exactly how much energy is used in real-time, and 2) to create a viable marketplace where our public utility can buy more renewably-sourced energy such as solar, wind, green batteries, and more. The bill is called the Distributed Energy Resource Authority Act of 2018, named after the new Distributed Energy Resource (DER) authority it would create to serve as a central hub for all of the District's energy usage data. It would allow homeowners to access their energy use in real time and help the city and Pepco to have a much clearer picture of how much energy the city actually uses. With a clearer understanding of how much energy we need to buy as a city, the DER would also evaluate for all energy-related infrastructure projects with an estimated cost of $25 million or more and when it makes sense, consider bids to have that energy need met with renewable energy, creating many new jobs and bringing hundreds of millions of dollars of investment back into the District. If that seems confusing, think about it this way: right now, District residents send $1.8 billion dollars out of the District every year to purchase fossil fuels from other states. Why aren't we supporting DC businesses employing DC residents by creating power from our wind, sun, and other renewable sources?
DC residents ages 16 and 17 should be able to vote: Last week, I introduced a bill to lower the voting age in the District of Columbia. Starting at the age of 16, we trust these young adults to be legally liable to drive and work and pay taxes. Why shouldn't they have a voice in determining who represents them? If there was a lesson to take away from the Rally for DC Lives and March for Our Lives, it's that young people are already paying attention. In DC, policies on gun violence, education, economic development, and more already affect these District residents. Of the nearly 11,000 residents ages 16 and 17, nearly 70 percent are African American. As we look to tackle these issues and build a more just and fair city, it seems to me like we're missing some key voices in our political process. I discussed the issue on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Monday. Over the weekend, the Washington Post Editorial Board supported the idea.
Public hearing on bill to manage use of DC's waterways: Last October, I introduced the District Waterways Management Act of 2017, a bill that would help establish an office to regulate and manage DC's waterways as we anticipate more and more people getting out on the water. It is very important to be sure we're thinking through public safety as well protecting access to the water for everyone. A hearing on the bill has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 16, at 11 am -- more information here if you'd like to testify.
Volunteer Capitol Hill: Join me at Volunteer Capitol Hill 2018 on Saturday, April 28 to learn about ways to get involved and volunteer right here in your community with a wide-range of wonderful nonprofit organizations. More than 30 organizations will be attending and looking for a few more neighbors ready to contribute. More information here.
DPW Food Waste Sites Re-Open on Earth Day: Though the hardy team at Eastern Market was open throughout the winter, the District's highly popular food waste drop-off sites will re-open across the city on Earth Day (Saturday, April 21). All the info you need here on this great program that diverts food waste from landfills to support compost for our local community gardens.
Thanks as always and I hope to see you in the neighborhood soon,
Southwest Office Hours - Friday, April 20, 8-9:30 am, Waterfront Starbucks