- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The D.C. Council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would repeal a voter initiative that eventually would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to equal the citywide minimum wage.

The council voted 8-5 in favor of repealing Initiative 77, which voters approved in June. The repeal bill faces a second, final vote later this fall, and Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she would sign such legislation.

Lawmakers passed emergency legislation Thursday to prevent Initiative 77 from taking effect before the next vote.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (at-large) and fellow Democratic members Vincent Gray (Ward 7), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Trayon White (Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (at-large), and David Grosso, at-large independent, voted for the repeal bill Thursday. The initiative had been approved by 56 percent of voters in June’s primary elections, in which only 18 percent of eligible D.C. voters participated in.

The repeal legislation underwent significant revisions this weekend after council member Eliss Silverman, at-large independent, introduced a “compromise” bill to avoid lawmakers repealing a voters’ initiative. Her bill proposed slowing the pace of Initiative 77’s wage increase and exempt staffers such as bartenders and servers.

The initiative would have raised the tipped minimum wage by $1.50 an hour each year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025.

Currently, businesses must pay tipped workers at least $3.85 an hour, and if workers’ tips fail to raise their pay to the current citywide minimum of $13.25 an hour, the employers must make up the difference.

Initiative 77 was part of a national campaign by the New York-based Restaurant Opportunities Center. The advocacy group’s representatives have said the goal is to abolish the two-tiered wage system they say has roots in Jim Crow-era laws, and establish “one fair wage.”

On Thursday, Mr. Mendelson repeatedly slammed the initiative’s ballot language for “misleading” voters into thinking there was no tip credit.

The chairman urged his colleagues not to vote for Ms. Silverman’s compromise. He said his repeal legislation would address concerns raised two weeks ago during a 16-hour public hearing on the issue, including requiring employers to use a third-party payment system to track tips and to participate in sexual assault prevention training. Mr. Mendelson also included language to create an online wage theft portal.

“It’s hard not to notice some members of the council appropriated — I would say, ‘steal’ — parts of our bill,” Ms. Silverman told The Washington Times after the vote.

She said she is committed to working with her colleagues to strengthen the revisions of the repeal bill.

Her legislation failed with only five “yes” votes from herself and Democratic members Charles Allen (Ward 6), Robert White (at-large), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3).

Ms. Nadeau proposed an amendment to Mr. Mendelson’s bill to relocate wage theft enforcement from the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) to the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which the council has funded two additional positions for wage theft oversight.

“I believe DOES is being ineffective,” Ms. Nadeau told The Times. “I think this gives us more teeth.”

The council plans to vote on her legislation in a few weeks when it votes again on the repeal bill.

The legislation will need more revisions: D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt reported that the sexual harassment prevention training and other provisions could cost $744,000 in fiscal 2019 alone, which the city has not budgeted for.

The last time the council repealed a voter initiative was in 2001, when lawmakers killed a bill to impose term limits on their seats.

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

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