- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The D.C. Council, under pressure from labor unions that cite their right to political protest, yesterday indefinitely postponed a vote on a proposal to tighten noise restrictions.

“It’s ironic that some city council members wave the free-speech banner, but then lack the courage to openly debate the noise bill’s merits,” said Dave Klavitter, who spearheaded support for the bill because of amplified street preaching near his home in Northeast.

The legislation called for regulating noncommercial public speech over 70 decibels or noise 10 decibels above the surrounding noise — whichever is greater — when measured 50 feet from the source. Violators would face fines ranging from $1,000 to $8,000.

A disturbance would have to violate the “reasonable person” standard set by D.C. law.

Union members intensified their lobbying over the weekend, telling council members that the bill would infringe on their right to free speech and that current noise statutes are adequate.

Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, yesterday proposed a nondebatable motion to table the bill. His motion passed by a 7-5 vote.

John Boardman, executive secretary and treasurer of Unite Here Local 25, said he walked the halls of the John A. Wilson Building with two union members all day Friday to discuss the bill with council members.

Rick Powell, political and legislative coordinator for the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, said union members called and e-mailed council members over the weekend in an attempt to turn them against the bill.

“The strategy today was to pursue a legislative tactic on the theory that we have a very good law right now, and that law did not need to be debated,” Mr. Boardman said.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, the Ward 3 Democrat who co-introduced the bill, said the unions’ fears were unfounded. “There’s a bit of hysteria on the part of the unions that say that this would prevent them from participating in protests,” she said.

She noted that council member Tommy Wells, the Ward 6 Democrat who also co-introduced the bill, arranged meetings with labor groups months ago to address the issue.

Branches of the Service Employees International Union, which represents thousands of workers in the District, supported the bill after it was amended to allow for protests to reach 10 decibels above the area’s surrounding noise. The change was meant as a protection for protesters in loud locations.

Mr. Wells said he was disappointed that the bill was tabled and that he would “continue working to change their minds.”

The bill could be brought back into discussion if two of the seven council members who supported tabling it reverse their votes.

“It’s tough to stand up against special interests,” Mr. Wells said. “We worked hard with residents and labor leaders open to a solution to find a fix that is fair and provides some neighborhood protections.”

Council members David A. Catania, at-large independent; Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat; and Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, voted against tabling the bill, along with Mr. Wells and Mrs. Cheh.

Council member Kwame R. Brown, the at-large Democrat who co-introduced the bill with Mrs. Cheh and Mr. Wells, voted to table the legislation. He could not be reached for comment after the vote.

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