- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to amend its eviction laws — again — and quietly introduced legislation to repeal a voter initiative that would raise the city’s minimum wage for tipped workers.

Lawmakers were swept up in a flurry of activity as they worked to resolve matters before the start of their two-month summer recess, including votes on 22 other bills.

Tuesday’s vote on the eviction procedure bill began hours late after heated debate over the legislation and last-minute amendments. Council members were still revising the bill minutes before taking their seats on the dais.

Just two weeks ago, the council unanimously approved a bill requiring landlords to give evicted tenants 30 days to pick up their belongings. As approved Tuesday, the Eviction Reform Temporary Amendment Act of 2018 would cut that period to seven days.

The council voted 11-2 to pass the measure.

“The situation for evicted tenants will be far, far better than what it has been in the law up until now,” said council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “It used to be … as of yesterday, that when a tenant was evicted, their property was immediately deemed abandoned. Now they have seven days.”

Housing advocates, such as the legal aid group Bread for the City, were less enthused by the measure.

“We continue to believe that off-site storage for 30 days is essential for families who are evicted,” Rebecca Lindhurst, managing attorney for Bread for the City, told The Washington Times. “Eviction has a devastating effect on families. If an evicted tenant is confident that their belongings are secure, they can focus their efforts on finding another place to live or accessing the shelter system.”

“The catastrophic effects of eviction are only compounded by the bill,” Ms. Lindhurst said.

Democratic council members Charles Allen (Ward 6) and Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) voted against the bill. Mr. Allen said of the legislation, “All we’re doing is going to delay by a couple of days all of their belongings being put out on a sidewalk again.”

A spokesman for Ms. Nadeau said she opposed the bill “because she supports the emergency legislation in place which was voted on two weeks ago. The newer version that passed is more burdensome on tenants than the version that was in place.”

The old version would have required landlords to place tenants’ belongings in a storage facility, but the new bill calls for tenants’ belongings to be stored in their former rented spaces.

Addressing why he co-introduced the legislation, Mr. Mendelson said that “putting the burden the landlord was a complete outlier. There’s no other jurisdiction that does that.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Mendelson introduced a proposed repeal of Initiative 77 by way of the Office of the Secretary instead of publicly on the dais. Voters last month approved the initiative to gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers (currently $3.33 an hour) to $15 an hour, and pro-initiative advocates crowded the legislative chamber on Tuesday.

“There’s never discussion when a bill is introduced,” the chairman told reporters afterward. “So anybody who came here expecting there would be discussion misunderstood.”

Mr. Mendelson co-introduced the bill with fellow Democrats Jack Evans (Ward 2), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Trayon White (Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (at large).

With seven co-sponsors, the 13-member council has the majority to overturn the voter initiative. The last time city lawmakers overruled their constituents was in 2001, when they nixed term limits on their now $132,900-a-year, part-time jobs.

On Monday, scores of bartenders, service personnel and restaurant owners converged on the Wilson Building and went to each council member’s office to voice their opposition to raising the tipped minimum wage.

But One Fair Wage DC released a statement Tuesday calling the proposal to repeal the initiative disingenuous.

“With all votes counted, Initiative 77 won with 55.74 percent of the vote — a nearly 11.5 percent margin of victory,” said One Fair Wage DC spokeswoman Diana Ramirez, adding that 47,230 D.C. residents voted for the initiative. “That was thousands more than who voted for Jack Evans for national committeeman or Anita Bonds for at-large council and nearly as many as Phil Mendelson received in the race for council chairman.”

The council will reconvene in September. In the meantime, bills approved by the lawmakers will make their way to the mayor’s office, then to Congress for final approval.

• Julia Airey can be reached at jairey@washingtontimes.com.

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