- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2013

D.C. residents, stakeholders and Wal-Mart executives alike are eager to see whether Mayor Vincent C. Gray will sign or veto a contentious bill that raises the minimum hourly wages at large retail stores — but they could be waiting awhile.

A final copy of the bill must be submitted to the mayor before he can make an official decision, but there is no firm deadline that guides how long it will take to review the adopted bill for any technical corrections and to enroll a version for officials to sign.

“I don’t even know where the bill is,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Tuesday, confirming that it hasn’t yet reached his desk. “It’s not unusual to take a few weeks for enrollment.”

On July 10, at the council’s last legislative session before summer recess, lawmakers passed dozens of bills that all must undergo a similar treatment before they are presented to the chairman for his signature and then sent to Mr. Gray.

“There’s a lot of stuff that has to take place,” said Mr. Mendelson, who recalled an instance last year when a bill was approved by the council in November but not signed into law until Jan. 9.

Anxiety is high over this particular legislation because Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has threatened to abandon three of its six planned D.C. stores if the bill stands. The Large Retailer Accountability Act requires that large retailers meeting specific requirements pay a minimum hourly wage of $12.50 — an increase of $4.25 over the city’s minimum wage. The bill is aimed at stores larger than 75,000 square feet whose parent companies gross at least $1 billion per year.

Supporters say the bill provides a “living wage” for workers, while detractors say it unfairly targets specific businesses and that losing Wal-Mart stores would harm communities that need redevelopment.

The bill has captured the attention of the nation, where state and local lawmakers have proposed similar measures only to see them either fail or vetoed. It would make the District the first city to single out large retailers and demand they pay higher wages.

While awaiting a final decision on the legislation, Wal-Mart officials have embarked on a public-relations campaign that stresses the benefits other cities have experienced after stores have opened. Executives in vague terms have indicated that three stores currently under construction could also be in jeopardy — stating that they are reviewing the financial and legal implications of the bill on those locations.

As he waits for the bill to reach his desk, Mr. Gray has met with residents and business representatives to discuss the matter.

Once the bill is officially transferred to Mr. Gray, he has 10 days to veto or sign it. If vetoed, the council has 30 business days to stage an override vote, which would require nine members. The bill passed on an 8-5 vote. The mayor has given no indication of his decision on the bill, although members of his administration have publicly said it could cost the city additional development from unnamed retailers who have voiced their opposition.

“The mayor will act when he receives that legislation,” spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said. “We don’t know when we will receive it or what is taking so long.”

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