Sherwood's Notebook: A Full Fall Agenda

If you have a disability placard on your vehicle or you’re a driver who’s been parking at those red-top meters around town -- pay attention.

The District is finally about to take action to clarify who gets to park, who pays and what they pay at the city’s red-top meters.

Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh is proposing legislation that basically uses Arlington County’s policies as a guide. She introduced the new bill this week after a summer of review by her office and the D.C. Department of Transportation.

Last March, the city suspended enforcement of the new meters, saying there was too much confusion after the switch from blue-top meters. In addition, some of those red-top meters for disability drivers were impractically placed next to high curbs, tree boxes and other obstructions. Drivers with disabilities couldn’t access the meters set aside for them.

Cheh told News4 that the Transportation Department has surveyed the meters and is making necessary changes.

Under the new legislation, those red meters -- and more, to be created -- will again be set aside for drivers with disabilities who display visible placards. The drivers will have to pay meter rates but will get twice the time of an ordinary meter.

At all other meters, Cheh’s new legislation adopts the “all may park, all must pay” policies of Arlington.

On Monday, Cheh said she was still deciding whether to try to fast-track her new bill through the council as emergency legislation. And it was still not clear whether there will be a “grace period” with public service announcements before the city starts writing all those expensive parking tickets.

■ New crime lab. After three years and $210 million, the District has a new, state-of-the-art crime lab. It officially opened on Monday on Fourth Street SW. The environmentally friendly building also will be home to the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and its morgue, as well as the Department of Health’s chemical analysis facilities.

The overall move-in will continue into December.

The medical examiner will finally have a real place to work. The facilities on the old D.C. General Hospital grounds were, in short, horrendous.

Police will be able to test fire weapons, store evidence and do advanced chemical/biological analysis in the facility.

Your Notebook doesn’t live too far from the building, so we were glad to hear that it has multiple layers of redundant security devices.

■ Drunken driving. On a related matter, after a couple of years of delay, the city is now using breath tests to detect drunk driving. There was so much confusion about the validity of previous tests that they were suspended.

Federal officials gave the city $150,000 to help reboot the program. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner -- using its fancy new lab -- will help ensure that the breath test equipment is used and calibrated properly.

The breath tests come as the city has toughened its drunken driving laws.

As of Aug. 1, the law imposes higher penalties for first-time drunk drivers, more severe mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders, and tougher consequences for drivers with very high breath alcohol scores. The new law is also tougher on drivers of vehicles for hire and commercial vehicles and any drunk driver with children in the vehicle.

■ Not gonna happen. The efforts to promote D.C. voting rights and statehood are taking another turn.

You may remember a few months ago that advocates came up with a graduated “sick-out” plan in which they wanted thousands of people to show up 15 minutes late for work on a given day. That would be followed by a 30-minute sickout, a 45-minute sickout and then an hour-late grand finale.

To many, the whole thing sounded complicated, too diffuse and likely to be ineffective. The plan got a smattering of media attention and then slipped quietly into the background.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Democrats’ effort to hold a protest at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte sputtered and basically flopped.

Now there comes a new proposal, by consumer rights activist Ralph Nader.

Nader, who has lived in the District for decades but is a legal resident of Connecticut, is asking President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to participate in a new and separate debate solely on D.C. issues.

Nader thoughtfully asks candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) and Jill Stein (Green Party) to agree to the same.

In a news release, Nader said the debate of course should be held in the District and that it should focus on “sovereignty (statehood), budget autonomy, and the unique needs of the District both economically and in the area of public services.”

Nader’s group notes that two-dozen individuals and various activist groups have signed his letter, including Mayor Vincent Gray. We’ll let you know when the presidential candidates rearrange their last-minute schedules to fit in this idea.

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