Fall is here, even if it we set a record high temperature for October this week, I think we can finally settle in for some great weather. The Mystics are playing in the WNBA finals (heal up quick Della Donne!) and the Nats have advanced in the playoffs after some people were a little too quick to write them off earlier this year. Mea Culpa! The Council is off to a fast start after summer recess, so let's get right into what's happening:
Small Businesses Make Our Neighborhoods Special. We Need to Support Them: I introduced a pair of bills that aim to make it easier to run a small and local business here in the District of Columbia. Small businesses are what make our neighborhoods into communities -- think of Eastern Market or H Street or Shaw or Southwest and you're soon thinking about your favorite small businesses. They hire locally and keep more dollars here in the District. I believe government can't be in the position of picking winners and losers in business, but my bill proposes leveling the playing field. In a roundtable with Ward 6 small businesses and developers, I heard over and over that it's far easier to secure financing for a project with a large national chain on the lease instead of a small business -- even when the developer would rather work with a small business. So I've proposed changes that could help level the playing field and ensure we are supporting new entrepreneurs and long-time business owners who helped make our city what it is today. WAMU has the story.
First House Hearing On DC Statehood in 26 Years: Last month District residents showed up for DC in a big way at the milestone hearing in the US House of Representatives on HR 51, which would make the District of Columbia the 51st state in the United States of America. It has been 26 years since the last time the house considered such a measure and a lot has changed since then. This year's bill in the House has record support in the number of co-sponsors and has a great chance to pass the House, which has never happened before. During the hearing, we saw that opposition to the bill really doesn't have an argument to stand on. There were arguments around introducing a new state into the Union via legislation (more than 30 states have been admitted via Congress), arguments around preserving a federal district (which HR 51 does), and, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by this, concerns around where Congressional staffers would park if DC were a state (it always comes down to parking, doesn't it?).
It isn't simply happy timing that the House is holding this hearing -- it is the result of years of hard work, starting with DC's Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who chaired the event and has spent her entire career building relationships that have blossomed into support. There is more work to come, but take a moment to celebrate that the hearing and the movement to right this very basic injustice has the most momentum it's ever had. ICYMI, here's a quick video with my thoughts immediately after the hearing.
Employment for Returning Citizens = Improved Public Safety: Another bill I introduced focuses on removing barriers to employment for returning citizens in fields that require an occupational license. Let's be clear about this - returning citizens who have a steady paycheck, and the hope and personal purpose that come with it, are far less likely to commit another crime. I don't think everyone realizes just how hard it can be to find good employment with a criminal record. Nationally, one in five Americans has some sort of an occupational license as part of their livelihood in fields as diverse as being a barber, a car mechanic, a personal trainer, and more. The District currently has extremely antiquated and vague laws regarding what a licensing board can decide when someone with a criminal record applies for a license to work in a field. My bill creates one clear, consistent standard for every board and ensures an applicant isn't denied simply because of a criminal record. It doesn't guarantee anything either, but a board would need to consider if the offense is relevant to the line of work or how much time has passed. Nationally, we've seen these kinds of reforms pass in 18 other states, so DC is a little behind the game on this one. Special thanks to the Council on Court Excellence for their excellent research and work on this issue and DC Fiscal Policy Institute for endorsing the measure already.
James Forman, Jr Pens Op-Ed in Support of the Second Look Act: James Forman, Jr., who won a 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his book on mass incarceration, Locking Up Our Own, penned an op-ed in a Sunday print edition of the Washington Post to support my Second Look Amendment Act. Mr. Forman, a professor at Yale, has a long history in the District of Columbia and has become a leading voice on criminal justice reform, race, and education in America.
Downtown Bus Lanes Are Here to Stay: While not in Ward 6, I want to commend DDOT on their decision to make permanent the downtown dedicated bus lanes, including expanding the hours of their operation. I would love to see dedicated bus lanes in parts of Ward 6 to make the bus a more practical option for residents. Of course, making the lanes red and putting up signs won't be enough -- we'll need to see regular, ongoing enforcement. Thankfully, the budget which began on October 1 includes new employees to do traffic enforcement at DPW.
Related: WMATA has released proposed changes to bus lines, including the 74. I wrote a letter to WMATA asking questions about a proposed extension of the 74 bus line to serve Buzzard Point and Audi Field that also reduces the hours of service and creates longer headways between buses. What are the priorities here? I think extending the line for game day crowds is a good idea, but it shouldn't be at the detriment of daily riders in the neighborhood.
Southwest Resident Thelma Jones Wins Health Hero Award: I was thrilled to nominate Thelma Jones, long an active and engaged Southwest community member, to receive an award for her work as a cancer survivor and advocate and supporter for others. Thelma was honored at the District of Columbia Hospital Association's Health Heroes Award Luncheon and was delighted to hear she had won (pictured center with my staff Jeanne and Naomi)! Neighbors who live in Southwest know Thelma's commitment to her community as well as her work as a community breast cancer navigator. I am so, so thrilled for her on this recognition.
Illegal Gun Trafficking Hearing Thursday: The ongoing gun violence in our city and in Ward 6 is dangerous and unacceptable. The District of Columbia has some of the strongest gun laws in the region and the nation. Yet illegal firearms are often used in the commission of crimes in DC neighborhoods. The violence tears apart families and communities, and leaves countless folks living with trauma. I've led efforts to strengthen the penalties around possessing an extended clip magazine and created the District's own Red Flag Law in the past year. In the budget, I tripled the funding for violence interruption programs (being mindful these programs need time to scale up) and took steps to ensure MPD can retain its most senior officers. But we need to zoom out and better understand what is happening regionally. Even as MPD confiscates 20-30 illegal guns each week, how and why are more coming into the city? The hearing focused on the big picture and what more we can do to push all levers to reduce violence and heal communities. But I was disappointed that the US Attorney's Office, as the federal prosecutor for the District, declined our invitation to provide their insights.
Hate Crime Prosecutions & LGBT Panic Defense Bills Hearing: On October 23, I will be holding a public hearing on two bills that would ban what is commonly known as the "LGBT panic defense." These bills propose banning using self-defense as a justification for violence based on their victim's sexual identity. The Washington Blade has a write-up. During the same meeting, I will also hold an oversight roundtable to look at why the US Attorney's Office, the federal office charged with prosecuting all adult crimes in the District, has overseen a record-breaking decline in the number of crimes prosecuted as a hate crime, even as MPD has made a record-breaking number of arrests in reported hate crimes. The Washington Post had a lengthy report examining the data and I think DC residents deserve an answer from the US Attorney -- do these victims' trauma and experiences matter when USAO declines to prosecute a hate crime using the full weight of the law available to them? Here's information on how to follow along or testify about either issue.
Checking in on the District's Body-Worn Camera Program After Five Years: I wanted to share the re-scheduled and updated oversight roundtable examining where we are five years after the District first instituted a body-worn camera program for MPD officers. The roundtable will take place on Monday, October 21, at 10:30 am. Now that we have a few years of data and experience, what's working? What isn't? What have we learned from the program and where do we go from here?
WaPo Covers the Movement to Bring Open Captions to the Big Screen: Regular readers know I've introduced legislation several times to expand the number of movie showings that include open captions to ensure our deaf and hard of hearing neighbors can enjoy a trip to the movies. The Washington Post spent some time inside the movement to make movies more accessible to everyone.
Walk to School Day: For plenty of Ward 6 families, every day is walk to school day. But once a year, we come together to celebrate, and en mass, head to school from Lincoln Park. The day is always a fun one with kids running around and parents sipping coffee before grouping up by school and heading off. And its a great opportunity to remember how important it is to have streets with clear crosswalks and visible stop signs and sidewalks that make it possible for families to walk to school rather than feeling the need to drive.
Park(ing) Day: September 20 was Park(ing) Day - a day set aside to raise awareness of how much public space we dedicate to parking cars. At the Wilson Building, my colleagues and I freed up our parking spaces in order for Washington Parks & People and the Nature Conservancy DMV to build out a small park, complete with real grass, tables, chairs, and more. I realize for many people, driving is part of daily life, even in a city with multiple modes of transportation. What I love about Park(ing) Day is that it helps us visualize what that trade-off looks like when we dedicate public space (yes, almost all on-street parking is owned by the public) to storing cars. For one day, it becomes green space that brings our community together instead of set aside for car parking.
Greta Thunberg Joins Local Students Calling on Climate Crisis Action: She's been in the news quite a bit lately as the face of the student-led global movement to strike and protest until elected leaders and major corporations take serious steps to lower carbon emissions and ward off the worst possible outcomes of the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg was in town to address Congressional leaders, but first she stopped by a local, weekly student-led protest outside of the White House. While Greta gets a lot of attention, remember we have some great young leaders here in the District who are stepping up to raise awareness and call for change as well, and I am proud of them all.
Related: Climate crisis got you stressed out? DCist did a nice write-up on ways to help reduce your family's carbon footprint locally. The only one I'll add that's missing is purchasing your home's energy from renewable sources with both Pepco and Washington Gas -- it's easy to switch and both renters and homeowners can make the switch.
One Year After the Fire, Seniors from Arthur Capper Reunite: It was my pleasure to join seniors who lived at the Arthur Capper Senior Housing Building for a party and a reunion to mark one year since the tragic fire that destroyed their homes. I am happy to report everyone is settled into new homes, with many staying nearby in Ward 6. I am still in awe of the resiliency, strength, and sense of community that continues. I want to give a special shout-out to Otis and the other DPR staff at Arthur Capper Community Center who went above and beyond for a special party to bring everyone together. While that night last year was a scary one and the days that followed were full of uncertainty, I am proud of how far everyone has come together since then.
Funds are Available to Replace Lead Service Pipes to Your Home: As part of the new fiscal year, the Council set aside funding to help households replace lead service pipes that connect households with the main service lines from DC Water. Households that have a lead service line are automatically eligible for 50 percent support, if not more based on what your household's income is. If you find you have a lead service pipe, this is a great opportunity to replace it, even if your water is currently lead free.
Here's The Deal With The Heritage Trees and Sursum Corda: While the matter resolved itself, I wanted to make sure Ward 6 residents understood the very specific issue I have been working to resolve with the Sursum Corda redevelopment and the need to remove eight trees on the site. I posted a long explanation on Facebook which I hope helps you understand the context that was missing from much of the initial reporting and Casey Tree's email blast. As someone who is proud of the work I've done with Casey Trees and in passing legislation to protect and expand the District's tree canopy, I remain a steadfast champion of protecting our trees and also honoring our promise to displaced residents who are waiting on badly needed affordable housing. Petula Dvorak with the Post wrote about the issue.
Office Hours are Back! The full schedule for my regular Friday morning office hours is up on my website. Remember, this is time set aside for me to meet with Ward 6 neighbors. There's no set agenda or program -- just a chance to chat over coffee about whatever is on your mind.
Thank you, Myisha: Last, but certainly not least, sharing some news. After 18 years serving as the first person to greet anyone who walks into the Ward 6 office or calls us on the phone, Myisha Atchison was presented with a great new professional opportunity in DC government and made the leap. Myisha worked as receptionist and scheduler for me since I took office, and had done similar work for former Ward 6 Councilmembers Sharon Ambrose and Tommy Wells. I have had the pleasure of working with Myisha for nearly 14 years, dating back to my time as Chief of Staff for Tommy Wells. We've been through so much together, and it truly is bittersweet to see her take on a great new opportunity. I already miss her, but I know she's going to do great. Thank you for years of hard work on behalf of the residents of Ward 6, Myisha!
Hope you have a great week,