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D.C. Council Moves On Smoking Ban, Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

The D.C. Council was particularly busy yesterday, meeting for 12 hours on the last day before its two-month summer recess.
Larry Miller: http://www.flickr.com/photos/drmillerlg/1246397248/
The D.C. Council was particularly busy yesterday, meeting for 12 hours on the last day before its two-month summer recess.

The D.C. Council didn't disappoint on the last day before its two-month summer recess. During a marathon legislative session on Wednesday, the city's legislators moved bills on a wide range of topics. Here's a sampling of what they voted on.

Living Wage for Walmart: All the details are here, but here's the basics: the Council approved a bill requiring certain big box retailers to pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour, far above the city's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. The vote came despite a threat from the mega-retailer to pull three of six planned D.C. stores, which it formalized after yesterday's decision.

Smoking Restrictions: The Council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would further snuff out smoking in much of the city. Under the provisions of the bill, smoking could be banned within 25 feet of playgrounds, recreation centers and bus stops. Implementing the bill will require spending just over $185,000 on no-smoking signs to warn smokers just where they can and cannot light up. A second and final vote is set for the fall.

Driver's Licenses: Despite concerns from Mayor Vincent Gray, the Council backed a bill that would allow the city's estimated 20,000 to 25,000 undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. Proponents of the bill say that it would promote safety, but Gray, who backs the idea, worried that the specifics of the legislation could violate provisions of a federal law requiring specific security measures on state-issued IDs. His preferred alternative would have seen a separate type of license for undocumented immigrants, but the Council disagreed. A second vote is coming in the fall.

D.C. Attorney General Election: In 2010, 76 percent of D.C. voters in a referendum to elect the city's attorney general, a position that is currently appointed by the mayor. But the Council yesterday voted to delay the planned 2014 election by four years over concerns that the office's authority has yet to be defined and that no one might run for the position next year. There has been recent debate over just how much authority and staff an elected attorney general should have—Gray and Attorney General Irv Nathan want the position to be limited, while some groups say that the attorney general should be independent and well-staffed. The issue will be revisited in the fall.

Transgender Birth Certificates: The Council gave final approval to a bill that will allow transgender residents to more easily change the gender on their birth certificates, a process that currently requires posting ads in a newspaper.

Bicycle Safety: Drivers, be a little more careful. The Council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would assess points to motorists who cut off or collide with cyclists. It would also add questions to the D.C. drivers test on how to deal with the bicycles on the road and allow cyclists to cross at pedestrian intersections.

Marijuana: As expected, a bill was introduced that would decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, imposing little more than a $100 fine on those caught with small amounts for personal use. The majority of the Council's members signed on to the bill, though D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier seemed skeptical with its intentions.

2014 Primary: Despite multiple attempts to change the 2014 primary from its planned April 1 date to the second week in June, a final try yesterday failed to garner enough votes to move forward. Supporters of the idea say that the primary is simply too early in the year, while opponents claim that legislators are trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.

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