Today, the D.C. Council told the electorate: We don’t take seriously the laws we pass.
The Council did this when it voted to allow an exemption to the smokefree workplaces law for Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 1). Evans is a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, which wants to smoke cigars at its annual event. The ‘emergency” legislation Evans introduced would grant an exemption for hotels with ballrooms that hold more than 500 people.
This is terrible policy for several reasons:
1) Those who work the event will be breathing secondhand smoke, which causes cancer. The Council decided several years ago that this was unacceptable, which is why it passed the smokefree workplaces law;
2) It encourages other groups to seek exemptions, which could further weaken the law; and
3) It tells voters that the democratic process of lawmaking – the hearings, the testimony, the debate, the votes – doesn’t really matter if the Council wants to arbitrarily give friends a break and let them violate the law.
Shame on the Council for approving this request, and three cheers to the Councilmembers who didn’t : Chairman Vincent Gray, Phil Mendelson and Kwame Brown.
We would have included Yvette Alexander and Marion Barry in this list, because they initially voted against Evans. That meant that the measure failed, because nine votes are needed to pass emergency legislation.
But shortly after the first vote, the Council revisited the matter, and Alexander and Barry switched their votes. Obviously some deal-cutting is going on. It’s quite disappointing.