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D.C. Council Divided On Snow Shoveling Plan

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Forget gambling, medical marijuana, or strip clubs. No, the real controversial issue at this week's D.C. council session, the one that really riled up the members? Snow-shoveling. Specifically, what actions should be taken against homeowners who do not shovel their sidewalks when it snows.

Council member Mary Cheh is proposing to fine owners if their sidewalks are not cleared within 8 hours after a storm.

"This is not something that is a novel experiment," says Cheh. "Major cities across the country have laws such as this, and they are enforced."

The District has a sidewalk snow law on the books, but as lawmakers admit, it's wrapped in a lot of red tape. The measure requires the attorney general to go court to get a judgment against the homeowner. Since 1920, when the law was first passed, that's happened a grand total of one time.

But Cheh's proposal struck a nerve with many on the council.

Chairman Kwame Brown summed up the opposition, saying, "Residents are tired of getting ticketed for everything."

Jim Graham offered an amendment that residents could only face fines if their streets had already been plowed by the city.

"If we are going to go this far, let's at least have D.C. government, before we start ticketing those same residents on streets that have not been cleared," says Graham.

But Graham's proposal irked Council member David Catania, who said people shouldn't be excused from doing what's right simply because the city isn't doing its job.

"That strikes me as a rotten, selfish ideology," Catania says. "I want to live in a city where we feel a responsibility to help out our neighbors."

In the end, the snow shovel measure was shelved. So for now, it looks like the District's policy for sidewalk shoveling will be a lot like what former mayor Marion Barry told a Washington Post reporter after an epic blizzard in 1979: Asked about what the city was doing, Barry dismissed the question, saying the snow would be gone in a few days.

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