BY RACHEL HARTMAN. Rachel Hartman is a Legal Intern at DC Appleseed.
The Council of the District of Columbia operates in two-year legislative sessions, referred to as "Council Periods" and colloquially as "CPs." We are currently in Council Period 22 (CP 22), which began at noon on January 2, 2017, and will conclude at 11:59 am on January 2, 2019.
Legislation introduced in Council Period 22 but not adopted before the end of the period lapses—or "dies"—and must start over with a reintroduction in the new period if it is to move forward (with limited exceptions for temporary legislation and mayoral legislation). This causes quite a flurry of activity after summer recess in the second year of the period, the point where we are right now.
Also part of the flurry of activity are new, highly substantive introductions as council members demonstrate their interest in or commitment to certain causes. In addition to starting the process all over again in a new CP, there are new rules each council period, including committee chair appointments and reappointments. These changes often drive introductions at the end of the CP when members know which of their colleagues is in charge of a particular committee, including their own appointments.
“Why January 2?”:
January 2 is a date enshrined in the District Charter: it is the date when the officials elected the prior November are sworn into office. It is not “observed” on the next convenient day—January 2 is January 2, and at noon on that day, the transition of power occurs. (DC Council redesigned website)
Between now and January 2
Assuming he is reelected in November, Phil Mendelson—the current At-large member who is Chairman of the DC Council—will have the responsibility to appoint chairpersons and members of each committee for the new council period beginning in January 2019. Because of the responsibilities and privileges which go along with chairing a committee, interested parties—including community members, businesses, advocates, and the councilmembers themselves—closely watch these appointments.
Committees not only consider legislation, but each one also has responsibility for oversight of specific District government agencies. This oversight includes reviewing budget proposals and recommending changes to what the mayor submits. (CP 22 rules (PDF)) For example, the Committee on Education is responsible for overseeing legislation related to and budgets for the public education system, lottery, and public libraries, among others. The chair of that committee plays a leadership role in approving or amending a particular piece of legislation or budget.
Chairman Mendelson has traditionally not put new members in charge of committees. But Council Period 23 will likely have only incumbent members. It is expected they will each get a committee to chair.
Though Chairman Mendelson will not present his formal recommendations for committee leadership until January 2, 2019 after Noon, the decisions will be likely finalized before then. Lobbying from the community, by the councilmembers themselves, and from outside interest and business groups between now and then will likely impact changes in committee leadership. Therefore, any advocacy should take place well prior to the January announcement.
Jonetta Rose Barras and the politics of committees
Jonetta Rose Barras discusses the politics of committee chair assignments in her recent opinion piece for The DC Line. Ms. Barras’ sources told her that Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, current chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, is angling for Education, though Councilmember Cheh said the rumors aren’t true. Leadership of Transportation and the Environment is a huge issue for APACC and our allies, so Barras’ piece is a good reminder to voice our opinions about leadership of council committees before committee chair assignments are announced in January. With two new committees to be created, everything is on the table—so let’s think hard and then get to work!