- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2016

Several D.C. Council members have pledged to pass legislation by the end of the year that would give workers in the District paid family and medical leave.

“Momentum to pass a comprehensive paid family leave program in the District has been steadily growing over the summer,” council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, said Monday in a statement. “A number of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions have been passing resolutions in support of paid leave, and I continue to receive emails from residents excited to see the council commit to a program in the fall.”

Interim council member Robert White, at-large Democrat, said during his swearing-in ceremony last week that he is ready to get a “robust” family leave package passed.

“Over the remainder of the legislative session, Mr. White will work with colleagues to pass robust legislation to address paid family leave in the District of Columbia,” a campaign statement said Friday.

The question among most council members has shifted from whether to approve the legislation to how much paid leave city businesses can handle financially.

The council returns Tuesday from its summer recess.

Many worker advocacy groups were disappointed when the council adjourned without holding even a preliminary vote on a bill that could give workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave for family and medical issues.

Business owners and their advocates have criticized the legislation — along with a bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 and another to force employers to give employees their schedules at least two weeks in advance — as short-sighted measures that would drive up costs, drive down profits and drive out companies based in the city.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, would not commit Monday to a timeline for the family leave bill’s passage but said his staff was looking hard at ways to strike a balance for workers and businesses. He expects a proposal to be introduced in October.

“I am very committed to getting that over the finish line this year,” Mr. Mendelson said at a press conference.

But with no vote scheduled for the first legislative meeting of the fall session, workers’ rights groups have planned a demonstration for Tuesday.

DC Jobs with Justice and the District’s Service Employees International Union will hold a rally outside the Wilson Building to pressure lawmakers to move the legislation quickly.

The original family leave bill would have provided D.C. employees with 16 weeks of paid time off depending on income level. A 1 percent payroll tax levied on city businesses would fund the program.

Revenue analysts estimated that the 16-week measure could cost as much as $1 billion to implement. The 12-week version still would provide the most generous paid family leave in the country. Some council officials have signaled that an eight-week measure would be more likely to pass.

The Hours and Scheduling Stability Act also was bumped from consideration before the recess, but it has a much better chance of having a quick vote.

Mr. Mendelson said the proposal likely will be added to the agenda for the Oct. 11 legislative meeting, where it would receive a preliminary vote.

The scheduling bill, which has proved less controversial than the paid leave measure, would require retailers and restaurants with more than 40 locations nationwide to set work schedules at least two weeks in advance.

Both the scheduling bill and the Universal Paid Leave Act were making their way through the council’s Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee before the panel’s chairman, Vincent C. Orange, resigned last month.

Mr. Mendelson has decided to fold that panel into the Committee of the Whole, where every council member holds a seat. The business committee will be divided into four subcommittees, each with a different council member in charge. Bills that would have gone through the business committee before landing with the full council now will go through one of the subcommittees, then through the Committee of the Whole and then to the full council for a vote.

Other legislation waiting in the wings includes a measure that would allow cyclists and pedestrians in collisions with motor vehicles to collect full damages, even if they are partially at fault.

The council will vote Tuesday on final approval of the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act. Lawmakers passed the legislation in a first vote in July and are expected to approve it again without much rancor from council members.

The bill is on the consent agenda, indicating that there won’t be any debate on the measure.

Currently in the District, bike riders cannot collect any damages if it can be proved they bear even 1 percent of the blame for an accident, meaning a motorist must be 100 percent at fault for any damages to be paid to a cyclist.

The bill aims to employ a “comparative negligence standard” requiring both parties to share responsibility for a collision based upon their respective degrees of fault. Bicyclists who are less than 50 percent at fault would be awarded full damages.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has been at the forefront of the push to change the law. They said many injured cyclists received little to no compensation for medical bills and lost wages under the city’s current rules.

The automotive club AAA Mid-Atlantic has pushed back, saying the proposed law could increase insurance rates for motorists.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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