Summer and vacations are in full swing, but down at the Council, we're advancing legislation on several key issues this week. I know many folks are hopefully taking some time off, but before you tune out for a bit, here's a quick update on what I've been working on and some insight into the different bills coming out of the Council. Also a big thank you to everyone who joined me for coffee at Hype Café last Friday - I enjoyed the chance to connect. I'll be at The Roost next Friday morning, one of many Ward 6 Week events coming up (more on that below).
Public Safety Update
This week, the Council passed three emergency bills to strengthen the District's ability to fight violent crime. In the last two years, we’ve seen far too much violence. I’ve sat in living rooms with many concerned Ward 6 neighbors. I’ve helped neighbors who were victims of carjackings or assaults and worked with those rattled after gunshots rang out on their block. And just last night, I joined neighbors and MPD along H Street NE to work on a few site-specific solutions. It’s a top priority, and we need both immediate and long-term results.
So what steps did we take at the Wilson Building in this week's legislative meeting? Quite a few. I posted a longer video (click the screenshot to the right to go to it), but I'll run through them here, as well. Let’s start with the first bill we passed that is probably the one you’ve been hearing about: the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Act, introduced by Councilmember Brooke Pinto.
I worked closely with Councilmember Pinto on the language to get it right. My entire focus with this bill was on what could make us safer immediately and with sustainable, long-term reductions. Some main provisions in what passed:
- Gives judges more ability to hold detain adults and children pre-trial who have been charged with serious, violent crimes;
- Expands the Private Security Camera Program, a program I am proud to have created in one of my first bills as a Councilmember;
- Creates a new offense for when someone fires a gun in public, but not specifically targeting anyone or anything (which had been passed by the Council as part of the Revised Criminal Code I moved in the fall, along with several other measures included here);
- Allows GPS records for defendants on pre-trial supervision to be admissible evidence in court;
- Makes misdemeanor arrest warrants extraditable when someone leaves the District; and
- Requires more data reporting on firearms and ghost guns recovered in the District.
Quickly, I also want to share some details on an amendment I added to the bill to go even further in coordinating between public safety agencies and the community. My amendment creates bi-monthly whole-of-government shooting reviews that include police, prosecutors, supervision agencies, violence interrupters in the community, and social services agencies. The goal is to identify dynamics of the shooting, immediately step in to prevent retaliation, bring in relocation services, if necessary, and rush in with both law enforcement and social services to stabilize the situation. This is a key component of what's called a "focused deterrence" model of gun violence reduction - an evidence-based model implemented in many major cities to focus on the "hot people" who commit most gun violence and the "hot places" where it most often occurs. Here's a great deep dive into this proven model that my amendment is going to move us toward. And my amendment also requires new data reporting on case closures, another key part of holding offenders accountable.
In a second bill, we clarified existing law on when MPD officers can engage in a vehicular pursuit while ensuring strong protections for public safety. It’s a risk versus risk calculation the officer has to make, and we want to help them make the right call in a tense situation. Vehicular pursuits are generally allowed when a violent crime happens or someone is immediately endangered, the pursuit is necessary, and it won't put innocent people at risk. That’s always been the case, but we’ve clarified it now in partnership with MPD.
Finally, in a third bill, we required our 911 call center to be more transparent in sharing errors in dispatch, the number of shifts below minimum staffing levels (a major issue right now is hiring enough people to work in the call center), and call-to-answer times. I've heard from a number of Ward 6 neighbors who did not get through to 911 quickly during several different calls. It's a serious issue that needs a lot more attention. We also required that the Office of Unified Communications, which runs the 911 call center, share the number of calls it was able to divert away from our emergency response to better suited non-emergency responses.
These bills are just the most recent effort by the Council to support a safe, smart, and just public safety response. I’m also focused on solving other serious challenges that harm public safety, like getting our crime lab reaccredited, the number of cases that go unprosecuted by the US Attorney, and MPD closing cases. I look forward to working with neighbors and my colleagues on these solutions, because we have more to do more immediately.
Major Ward 6 Public Safety Updates
Assault at Valor BrewPub: In late June, the owner of Valor Brewpub was assaulted by a man with a gun. Thankfully, the man was detained without serious harm to the owner or his young child or staff who were present. However, NBC 4 reported the man is already released after pleading down from the much more serious offense of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon to attempted assault and carrying a pistol without a license by the federal US Attorney's Office. This is a great example of one of the major shortcomings of our criminal justice system. Even with an arrest and plenty of evidence and strong laws on the books, an obvious bad actor has been able to plea down with a prosecutor with little accountability to the District, and we don't know why. I generally try to give deference to the USAO and their judgment, but I just don't get it in this case, and I think it does both our community and the victim a disservice.
Homicide at 11th and D St NE: Last week, there was another heartbreaking act of violence and loss of life. As you may have seen reported, a driver for a ridesharing company was murdered in the overnight hours. He was also a father, a husband, and had come to the U.S. after assisting our country and fleeing the Taliban. Immediately after the murder, I was in touch with several neighbors who had video evidence of the crime to get it into the hands of MPD's detectives. I've kept our ANC Commissioners up-to-date and cheacked in regularly with MPD. Thus far, detectives are working through the videos and to identify suspects, but at this time, they haven't shared any suspects. The case is also undergoing forensics analysis to build evidence for the investigation. I will keep pressing MPD to share updates publicly and hold the offenders accountable.
Homicide at Unit Block of Patterson St NE: On July 4, a homicide was committed in NoMa on Patterson Street. Representatives from MPD's First District made an update at 6E sharing they were two blocks away at the time and responded quickly. They have good video from nearby businesses, but no arrest made at the moment.
H Street NE Walk with Neighbors: Last night, I joined neighbors just off of H Street NE around 4th, 5th, K, and L Streets NE for a public safety walk along with Fifth District officers to discuss site-specific strategies at several locations with recent incidents. Thanks to everyone who was able to attend.
Taking on Dangerous Driving in a New Bill
I introduced a new bill called the STEER Act that aims to expand and strengthen our enforcement efforts against dangerous driving. Unfortunately, dangerous driving is far, far too common in every neighborhood in Ward 6 and across the District. And our current enforcement tools are simply not getting the job done.
- Allows for immobilization of any vehicle that has accumulated a set number of speeding infractions within a six-month window, regardless of whether or not the ticket has been paid (after all, this is about repeat dangerous offenses, not your ability to pay a ticket);
- Allows the District's Attorney General to file a civil suit against drivers or vehicles themselves with an egregious number of dangerous driving infractions, regardless of if they live in DC, Maryland, Virginia, or elsewhere;
- Provides that, upon conviction of a 3rd driving under the influence offense within five years, the sentencing judge must order the DMV to suspend the defendant’s driver’s license
- Requires that a judge order the suspension of a person’s driver’s license upon any charge of negligent vehicular homicide while their criminal case is pending;
- Brings greater oversight to ensuring DC Courts and the DMV are communicating whenever someone has their license suspended for a DUI or DWI offense by requiring monthly reporting from the DMW to report licenses suspended;
- Expands the definition of reckless and aggravated dangerous driving to strengthen the law and accountability for drivers who are putting others most at-risk; and
- Creates a Safe Driving Course that can be used to educate drivers and serve as a way for drivers to pay off tickets.
This bill comes out of ongoing oversight I've conducted into DMV and the DC Courts' miscommunication that has left an unknown number of people still with a license even after being convicted of a DUI. That includes Nakita Walker, currently awaiting trial after killing three while driving intoxicated. But our oversight has also shown that the District is not currently prioritizing the high-risk drivers in any meaningful way. That's why I've structured my bill to create a separate way for DPW to immobilize faster the cars we know are violating our laws in the most dangerous ways. Look for a hearing on the bill early in the fall. More coverage from Washington Post and DCist.
Related: This week, I held a public roundtable on my legislation to prepare the District for the massive uptick in electric vehicle ownership that is coming quickly. I'll have more on this as we get closer to a final bill, but there's plenty to chew on after several hours of public testimony and a detailed back and forth with both DDOT and DOEE (Department of Energy and the Environment). It's going to take a lot of coordination and planning to get it right and ensure safety and accessibility for everyone.
DC is Closer to an E-Bike Rebate Bill After Unanimous First Vote
While it certainly wasn't the most important issue the Council worked on yesterday, I'm pleased to share that the Council unanimously approved, in the first of two votes, my bill creating an e-bike rebate program. E-bikes offer a lot of solutions to transportation challenges, particularly around emissions and the number of cars on limited street space. They also make bicycling a much more realistic and affordable option for many more people. Plus, they're a ton of fun!
The bill would also have a strong focus on making sure we get this rebate to people at all income levels. It does this in two ways. First, we created a rebate that is available to all residents, regardless of income, that includes a generous rebate on the cost of the bike itself, but also covers a lock, a replacement battery, and adaptive components for riders with disabilities. However, we also created a "preferred applicant" category that increases the rebate and is set aside for lower-income DC residents enrolled in SNAP, TANF, or the DC Health Care Alliance. Half of the rebates in the program each year will go to preferred applicants. The image shows how the max rebates for both applicant pools.
As for when this will actually be up and running? It's hard to say. The bill won't become a law until sometime in late fall. We did fund the program proactively in the FY24 budget, which begins this October 1, so DDOT will then need to set up the rebate program. You can be sure I'll share information as we get closer.
Ward 6 Week...is NEXT WEEK!
Last week, I sent out the full schedule for our 2023 Ward 6 Week! A few events have already filled up, but there's plenty more where I'd love to have you, your family, and your neighbors join me (very much a more-the-merrier kind of vibe). That includes live music, checking out the National Building Museum, a Capitol Hill Lemonade Stand for a cause, playing some baseball, and more! Check out the fill list here, and RSVP for any event you can make. See you next week, and fingers crossed for good weather!
Replacing Lead Water Pipes in the District
Last week, I held a public hearing on two bills with a shared goal: get all of the lead service pipes bringing water into our homes and other buildings out of the ground. It's a tall order. DC Water has revised the cost upward to more than $1.5 billion dollars - from a previous estimate of $650 million! The rise in cost comes as DC Water has discovered more lead service pipes in its system than were previously known. We know no level of lead exposure in water is safe, and that we have to get this done. DC Water has set a goal - and stuck to it in the hearing - that if they can find the funding, they can still meet their goal of DC being lead-free by 2030.
So what's next? The bills before my Committee propose a few ways to keep us on pace. One would be to make it mandatory, but free, for private property owners to replace lead service pipes (right now, it's optional, but subsidized), as well as make information on pipes that are lead or unknown more publicly available. We know that we need an aggressive approach that prioritizes lead replacements in areas with vulnerable populations, a high number of lead service lines, and that are historically underserved. We also need to build trust with these communities and have robust education about the dangers of lead exposure and ways to mitigate these risks. It's ultimately DC Water’s responsibility to find every lead service line in the District and replace it – and we want to work together to make this happen.
Ward 6 Restaurants Well-Represented at this Year's RAMMY Awards
I had a blast attending this year's RAMMY Awards, the annual event hosted by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington to celebrate our local food scene. Ward 6 restaurants were well-represented in nominations and awards, which speaks to just how fantastic our neighborhood restaurants and bars are. DCist has a good rundown on every award. Congrats to each team for the recognition on their hard work day in and day out!
Restaurants Hit with Ridiculous Fines
Last week, several restaurants in Ward 6 reached out to my office needing help with outrageous fines. Multiple restaurants had received incredibly steep fines for very, very minor wage disputes dating back to the middle of 2020. To give one example, a restaurant was slapped with a more than $100,000 fine based on an wage underpayment of $1.85, most likely a rounding error which compounded daily because the restaurant took almost three years to resolve their investigation. I wrote a letter asking the Department of Employment Services - which enforces our labor laws - for answers. Fines and overreaches like this, which seem to be clearly an error or mistake on the part of the government, show just how challenging it can be to run a local business in the District. I want restaurant employees to receive every penny they are owed. But these fines are so outrageous, they're likely errors. And regardless, our restaurants were having trouble even hearing back from DOES on next steps. I'll stay on it until we get it sorted out, because these fines could force businesses to close if we don't get them resolved. Fines are meant to change behavior and hold bad actors accountable, not bankrupt small businesses doing the right thing. You can read more about the issue in DCist.
Student Loan Repayments Resuming in October
Sharing a quick note from the Office of the Attorney General reminding residents that federal student loan repayments will resume in the coming months. This consumer alert is very helpful on the resources available and how to plan accordingly.
Summer Vibes Teen Bike Ride on Saturday
Sharing this fun event from the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization: "Teens ages 14 - 18 are invited to the Summer Vibes Teen Bike Ride on Saturday, July 15, at 11 am at Lincoln Park. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Hill Family Biking, Girls in Gear, GirlsRock! DC, and NOYS (National Organizations for Youth Safety) are sponsoring a 4.5-mile ride from Lincoln Park to the Anacostia River and back. Participants will learn about safe biking, how to safely share the road when bicycling or driving, and how to report a crash. Plus, there will be pizza and soda at the end of the ride! Space is limited, so register here. Please help spread the word about this fun event!"
I've got another set of Nats tickets for Ward 6 residents! Email me at [email protected] if you're interested in two tickets to see the Nats play the Colorado Rockies on July 24 at 7pm. As usual, I'll select someone from random and notify you.
Alright, that's enough for me. Stay cool, and I hope to see you next week at some Ward 6 Week events!