Here’s an update on the enormous exemption the D.C. Council created in the city’s smokefree workplaces law: They claim it was an accident.
They meant to vote to approve just an exemption for two events a year, Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) told my colleague, Bob Summersgill. In fact, the Council approved broad language that permits 79 hotels in the city to have cigar-smoking events once a year. Whoops.
So now they are apparently scrambling to “fix” their error.
There are several profoundly disturbing things about this mess:
1) The Council made a major policy change — weakening a phenomenally popular law — without any public notice or chance for public input. (They did it through an amendment to the budget process.)
2) The Council didn’t bother to read the wording of what they were voting on. Instead, they just relied on those who presented it (Councilmembers Jack Evans and Michael Brown).
3) Evans and/or Brown either deliberately misled other councilmembers or they screwed up royally and got their intended language all wrong. Either one is really bad.
4) Their “fix” still isn’t a very good fix. Apparently now they are talking about permitting cigar-smoking events in hotels that seat at least 500 people. By our count, that includes 25 hotels – not two.
What an outrage. What sheer arrogance. What incompetence. What a mess.
How dare the Council weaken a workplace safety law under the radar screen? Do they really think that’s good policy? Even if they do “fix” their mistake, what they plan to do isn’t right either. The public isn’t clamoring to have cigar-smoking events. Hotel workers aren’t either. This is just a case of the Council doing favors for friends.
One very important note: The hero in all this is Councilmember Phil Mendelson. He apparently is the only Councilmember who read the language of the amendment before the vote. He realized how broad it was and tried to strike it.
In fact, he didn’t favor any exemptions at all — even for two events, because that would undermine a law that protects the health and safety of workers. He was at the losing end of a 12-1 vote.
So if you think the D.C. Council is a really sorry bunch, as Smokefree DC does right now, and you don’t want them to be gutting the smokefree workplace law by casually making amendments to a completely unrelated bill with no public notice, let them know. Here’s how. While you’re at it, please thank Phil Mendelson for doing the right thing.