DMV Daily: Busy Last Day For D.C. Council

Homelessness, lottery among last-day issues

It wasn’t quite the frenetic lame duck session continuing on Capitol Hill, but the D.C. Council still pushed through a rush of legislation on its last working day of 2010 -- and Vincent Gray’s last day in the Council chair. The most significant vote was the 9-4 passage of Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells’s bill that would require homeless families to provide proof of District residency before they could receive shelter. But the Council also voted to continue providing welfare payments to poor families, reversing an earlier vote to cut funding by 20 percent for each of the next five years until welfare was eliminated entirely.
The Council also passed an open government bill that would require more city commissions to open their meetings to the public – but that will exempt the Council’s own committees. In other action, rent control laws were extended for another decade, online travel vendors will see their taxes increase, and the D.C. Lottery got permission to introduce new online games.
DCist says “one of the best D.C. Council exchanges ever” took place during the debate on the shelter requirement, when Ward 5’s Harry Thomas Jr. said, “Let’s not forget that as we approach Christmas, that there was someone we were celebrating that was homeless.” Ward 2’s Jack Evans not only refuted Thomas, but got in a dig against tax increases, reminding Thomas that in the Gospel account, “Mary and Joseph actually had a house, in Nazareth. And they were actually traveling to Bethlehem because the government had raised their taxes.”

Elsewhere in the DMV:
* As DMV Daily has been saying for weeks, D.C. Board of Education member Sekou Biddle is emerging as the main rival to Vincent Orange for the interim appointment to the At-Large Council seat being vacated by Kwame Brown -- and Biddle may even have a slight advantage over Orange at this point. The D.C. Young Democrats endorsed Biddle this week, and the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis says Biddle plans to roll out more endorsements in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 vote by the D.C. Democratic State Committee.
But Biddle may already have a big player in his corner: Kwame Brown himself. Brown, who defeated Orange in the Democratic primary for Council chair in September, could soon publicly endorse Biddle, DeBonis reports. Brown describes Biddle “as ‘a gentleman I fully support.’ But pressed on whether that constituted his official endorsement, he demurred: ‘I’m not giving the endorsement right now.’”
* The Post’s DeBonis also reports Kwame Brown “has made his first organizational move, announcing that he will retain oversight of the city’s public schools in the next term rather than hand the responsibility to a committee run by one of his colleagues.” Brown has named retiring D.C. Board of Education member Lisa Raymond to be his main adviser on education issues.
Washington City Paper’s Alan Suderman said the move “means that Brown’s own committee, economic development, is up for grabs.” Suderman “heard from a couple of people” that Thomas could get the job -- but “if he does get the gig, K. Brown better hope the Team Thomas saga doesn’t escalate into something really embarrassing.” In her Washington Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras urges the Office of Campaign Finance to expedite its investigation of Thomas’s controversial nonprofit.
* The Post reports that Mayor Adrian Fenty “used his authority to reprogram $495,000 designated for adult job training to give to his departing staff in ‘separation pay.’” The amount transferred “skirted the $500,000 threshold that would have triggered approval by the D.C. Council.” Councilmembers Kwame Brown and Michael Brown have asked Fenty to reverse the funds transfer, citing the District’s job training needs in the wake of high unemployment.
* The Examiner reports Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services interim director Robert Hildum is still on the job “despite saying he was resigning as of last Friday.” Gray wants to meet with Hildum about his plans. Gray told the Examiner, “I'm not sure how long he will be staying on. We do need leadership there now.”
* A Roanoke College poll finds 57 percent of Virginians approve of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s performance in office. Just 36 percent approve of President Obama’s job performance.
* McDonnell defended his call for state employees to contribute to their retirement fund during his monthly “Ask the Governor” show on WTOP. McDonnell said, “For 27 years, our state employees have had to pay zero -- nothing -- into the retirement system. Virtually no private sector retirement plans have a plan like that where employees pay nothing. I wish I didn’t have to do that, but here’s what I’ve said: I’m not going to pass on this problem to another governor.”
* Conservative blogger Brian Schoeneman of Common Sense says Virginia Del. Bob Marshall should “stop talking” about his “ridiculous” assertion that the Virginia National Guard should not allow openly gay individuals to serve. Schoeneman writes that Marshall is “ignoring one of the cardinal rules of politics that when you’re in a hole you should stop digging.” The Post reports the ACLU of Virginia threatened to sue the state if Marshall’s proposal becomes law, which seems unlikely at this point.
* The Post reports the Prince George’s District Council “has stripped newly elected member Leslie Johnson of a longstanding privilege that allows county lawmakers to shepherd development projects through the political process.” Johnson and her husband, former County Executive Jack Johnson, are under federal investigation. County Council Chair Ingrid Turner said, “We want to have an abundance of caution and not have the appearance of impropriety.”
* The Examiner reports Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has made acting County Attorney Marc Hansen’s position permanent. Leggett said, “Montgomery County is fortunate to have someone of Marc’s caliber heading up our legal department.”
* The Examiner reports the District will receive $1 million from the Federal Transit Administration “to evaluate its streetcar technology and a bus transitway on K Street.” The grant is a first step toward securing funding of “up to $1.8 billion annually for construction of new transit projects.”
* We Love D.C. has a year-end wrap-up of its great “D.C. Mythbusting” feature.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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