Budget autonomy lawsuit goes to federal court

Budget autonomy lawsuit goes to federal court

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Updated: April 21 at 12:51 pm

The District government’s internal fight over its fiscal autonomy from Congress will be first heard, if not ultimately resolved, in the federal courts.

The D.C. Council filed its lawsuit last week in D.C. Superior Court, the District’s local court of general jurisdiction, putting it on a path to be ultimately decided in the D.C. Court of Appeals, the highest local court and one with a long history of resolving inter-branch disputes and interpreting the home rule charter.

But lawyers for the District’s Office of the Attorney General last week had the suit sent across C Street NW to the federal courthouse. A status hearing has been set for Tuesday morning in front of U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.

Why move the case, over whether last year’s local ballot referendum on budget autonomy is binding, to federal court?

Ted Gest, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in an e-mail that “the basic reason is that the issues involved here concern the role of the President, Congress and [the presidential Office of Management and Budget] and are appropriately resolved by the federal courts.”

But the council’s lawyers plan to ask that the suit be sent back to Superior Court. Karen L. Dunn, one of the pro bono lawyers handling the case for the council, said her team plans to file papers making the request Monday afternoon. She said there is no valid federal question presented in the lawsuit, which concerns a “local law … concerning local expenditure of locally raised and locally kept funds.”

“When Congress created the D.C. courts, it intended for disputes like this over local law to be decided in local courts,” Dunn said. “Of course, we feel confident that we can win on the merits in either court.”

The upshot is that the jurisdictional spat could delay the resolution of the case, with a clock ticking on a late-May deadline when the old and new budgeting processes would begin to diverge.

© The Washington Post Company

D.C. Council to sue Mayor Vincent Gray over budget spending law

D.C. Council to sue Mayor Vincent Gray over budget spending law

By Aaron C. Davis and Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Published: April 16

The D.C. Council will sue Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the city’s chief financial officer, the council chairman said Wednesday, setting up the first such legal showdown between the city’s two branches of government in a decade.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the council will ask a D.C. Superior Court judge to determine whether Gray (D) and CFO Jeffrey S. DeWitt are violating a voter-approved law that allows the city to spend billions of dollars of its own money without strict congressional approval.

Under the measure approved last year — which was signed by Gray and passed a congressional review period — the District no longer needs to submit its budget to the president and Congress for approval. The process left the city vulnerable to national politics and often complicated its financial planning.

Now, the budget would pass the council, just as any other city legislation, and it would take effect unless Congress voted to reject it and the president agreed.

But last week, DeWitt joined Gray, Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan and the Government Accountability Office in saying the measure had no legal effect because it violates the city’s charter, set by Congress.

Mendelson and a team of pro bono lawyers disagree. In a suit they intend to file Thursday, the council argues that Gray and others have been relying on a flawed legal analysis in rejecting the measure.

The section of law that the measure amended, they say, was one Congress did not set in stone but left subject to ­changes.

“We believe that the law is valid, and we believe it is inappropriate to essentially invalidate it,” Mendelson said of the measure, which he wrote. “This disagreement should be resolved in the courts.”

Gray and Mendelson have been at odds over the issue since last month when the chairman set a series of budget hearings and votes extending into June.

That would miss a traditional deadline for Gray to submit the budget to the president.

Last week, Gray and DeWitt admonished Mendelson to continue as planned.

Nathan, in an April 8 memorandum, called the measure “a nullity, with no legal force or effect,” echoing language used by the GAO in its January opinion. The only way for the District to change its financial relationship with Congress, both said, is through an act of Congress.

But according to a summary of the lawsuit provided to The Washington Post, the council will argue that those interpretations are flawed and that the measure properly amended the charter, allowing the city to spend locally raised funds without a congressional appropriation.

Mendelson said he believed each party is hardened in its position on the law’s validity and that the courts are the only way to resolve the dispute.

“The sooner this is filed, the sooner this is resolved,” he said.

Karen L. Dunn, a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, and Brian Netter, a partner at Mayer Brown, are representing the council free of charge. Dunn said the council will ask for an expedited review and a final decision — including appeal — by May 28, the day the council is scheduled to take its first vote on the $10.7 billion plan.

It is not the first time the council has sued the mayor. In 1992, Council Chairman John A. Wilson filed suit against Mayor Sharon Pratt after she defied a council law on the review of contracts, arguing that it exceeded the council’s authority under the charter. Pratt ultimately prevailed.

And in 2003, Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp sued Mayor Anthony A. Williams over another separation-of-powers dispute, involving the appointment of the District’s inspector general. That case was rendered moot and dismissed.

Mendelson said he did not consider his lawsuit adversarial in the same way, noting that Gray, DeWitt and Nathan have all said they support the ultimate goal of obtaining budget autonomy.

“This is not the government fighting with itself,” he said. “This is the government struggling to find the right answer. . . . The only way we find out is by going to court.”

© The Washington Post Company

Democrats eye independent runs for David Catania’s at-large D.C. Council seat

Democrats eye independent runs for David Catania’s at-large D.C. Council seat

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Published: April 9

The passing of last week’s primary elections and the apparent determination of David A. Catania to pursue a mayoral run has led a host of current and former Democrats to openly ponder independent runs for his at-large seat — including two sitting ward council members.

Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) both said Tuesday they are considering changing their party registrations, making them eligible for a seat that is required under the city charter to be held by someone who is not a member of the majority party. They join two former council candidates, Elissa Silverman and the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, who have already changed their status from Democrats to independents in anticipation of potential runs for the seat.

Catania, an independent, has held the seat since 1997.

Wells, coming off a third-place finish in the Democratic mayoral primary, said Tuesday that he plans to take the next 30 days to “figure out the next chapter of my life.”

“Nothing is foreclosed,” the two-term council member said, but he added that it would be “extremely difficult” to launch a new campaign after a grueling mayoral run. Wells said he would give an at-large run a serious look and said he had no compunction about changing parties to do so. “I’m not a party apparatchik,” he said.

Alexander said she, too, was giving serious consideration to a citywide run — in her case, to focus on broader concerns rather than workaday constituent requests.

“The at-large [members] can focus more on their committees rather than constituents,” she said. “I really want to focus on a lot of health initiatives. . . . Ward 7 is mainly a lot of constituent concerns, and a lot of development concerns, and we’ve done a lot.”

A former chairwoman of the Ward 7 Democrats who has held her seat since 2007, Alexander said she, too, has no reservations about changing her party affiliation.

Silverman finished a strong second in last year’s special election for an at-large seat, coming within 2,800 votes of beating Anita D. Bonds, who won the Democratic nomination for a full term last week.

Silverman has left her job as an analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and changed her party status to seriously explore an independent run, which she said would highlight similar issues of campaign finance reform, electoral reform and agency accountability — along with a stronger focus on housing affordability and education.

Another encouraging sign for Silverman was the success of fellow self-identified progressives in the Democratic primary. The victories of Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1 and Charles Allen in Ward 6, she said, indicate that “voters are interested in candidates who are pushing for reform and are pushing for innovative ideas.”

Hagler was in the public eye for much of 2013 as a leading proponent of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, the ultimately unsuccessful council bill that would have imposed a super-minimum wage on some large national retail chains operating in the city.

He said the primary results last week spurred him to action. “We must end this whole pay-to-play culture, and people need to have as much voice as lobbyists have when it comes to the Wilson Building and when it comes to city politics,” said Hagler, the pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast since 1992.

Hagler finished sixth in the 2007 special election for Ward 4 council member, the race won by Muriel E. Bowser, the new Democratic mayoral nominee. He said he intends to move forward with a run but hasn’t filed candidacy papers and could still change his mind.

Those candidates could join fellow independent candidate Robert White, a former aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who declared his intention to run in the fall, and Khalid Pitts, an activist and restaurateur who entered the race last month, as well as Republican nominee Marc Morgan, Statehood Green nominee Eugene Puryear and Libertarian nominee Frederick Steiner.

Appearing alongside the other candidates on the pick-two ballot line will be incumbent Bonds, but her election is considered a fait accompli: The Democratic at-large nominee has always easily outpolled rivals in District general elections, making the November competition most meaningful for the non-Democrats.

Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells among those exploring at-large D.C. Council bids

Yvette Alexander, Tommy Wells among those exploring at-large D.C. Council bids

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Updated: April 9 at 12:29 pm

The passing of last week’s primary elections and the apparent determination of David A. Catania to give up the D.C. Council seat he has held for 17 years has led a spate of current and former Democrats to openly ponder independent runs for his at-large seat — including two sitting ward council members.

Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) both said Tuesday they are considering changing their party registrations, making them eligible for the non-majority-party seat Catania has held since 1997. They join two former council candidates, Elissa Silverman and the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, who have already changed their status from Democrats to independents in anticipation of potential runs for the seat.

Wells, coming off a third place finish in the Democratic mayoral primary, said Tuesday he planned to take the next 30 days to “do nothing except figure out the next chapter of my life, and nothing is foreclosed.” The two-term council member said he was exhausted coming off a year-and-a-half of planning and executing his mayoral run and said it would be “extremely difficult” to launch a new campaign. But said he would give an at-large run a serious look, and said he had no compunction about changing parties: “I’m pretty disappointed in the local party,” he said, citing its failure to take stands on the election of an attorney general and campaign finance reform measures. “I’m not a party apparatchik.”

Wells said he would announce his decision by late May, no more than 45 days hence.

Alexander first publicly disclosed her intentions in a tweet to Wells Tuesday evening, after Washington City Paper had first reported on Wells’s intentions. In an interview, the seven-year Ward 7 representative said she, too, was giving serious consideration to a citywide run in order to focus more on broader concerns rather than workaday constituent requests. “The at-large [members] can focus more on their committees rather than constituents,” she said. “I really want to focus on a lot of health initiatives. I would really like to focus on that. … Ward 7 is mainly a lot of constituent concerns, and a lot of development concerns, and we’ve done a lot.”

A former chairwoman of the Ward 7 Democrats, Alexander said she, too, has no compunction about changing her party affiliation. “My views haven’t changed,” she said. “I agree with a lot of issues that aren’t necessarily Democratic or Republican. My views are just moving the city forward.” Asked how her Democratic constituents, who gave her only a 42 percent plurality in the 2012 primary, would handle a change of party, she said, “I think they know Yvette Alexander, and I’ve been pretty consistent for the last seven years. I think they know that’s not going to change.”

Alexander said she would come to a decision by June.

Silverman finished a strong second in last year’s special election for an at-large seat, coming within 2,800 votes of beating Anita D. Bonds, who won the Democratic nomination for a full term last week. Because of concerns about her personal finances, she said last year, she could not quit her job as an analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute to mount another Democratic run in this year’s primary, given the extended campaign period. But now, with the general election less than seven months off, she has left DCFPI and changed her party status to seriously explore an independent run, highlighting similar issues of campaign finance reform, electoral reform and agency accountability — along with, she said, a stronger focus on housing affordability and education issues.

Another encouraging sign for Silverman was the success two fellow self-identified progressives found in last week’s Democratic primary. The victories of Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1 and Charles Allen in Ward 6, she said, “certainly indicates that voters are interested in candidates who are pushing for reform and are pushing for innovative ideas and to really problem-solve and hold city agencies accountable.” But Wells’s potential run presents a complication, as their voter bases overlap considerably. “I hope we will not be running against each other,” said Silverman, who said she was “left with the impression” after a primary-night conversation with Wells that he would not be running. Had she thought otherwise, she said, she would not have publicized her explorations without talking in more depth with Wells.

Like the others, Silverman said she has little compunction about giving up her Democratic registration. “It was not a difficult decision,” she said, given the Democratic establishment’s lack of support for her previous run, coupled with her advocacy for nonpartisan local elections. She said she expects to come to a final decision within three weeks.

Hagler was in the public eye for much of 2013 as a leading proponent of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, the ultimately unsuccessful council bill that would have imposed a super-minimum wage on some large national retail chains operating in the city. Hagler said last week he had been thinking about a citywide run for some time, but the primary results spurred him to action. “We must end this whole pay-to-play culture, and people need to have as much voice as lobbyists have when it comes to the Wilson Building and when it comes to city politics,” he said. “Right now, I feel like our entire city is at stake in terms of being overrun by unbridled development.”

The coalition from the LRAA fight, which included fellow clergy, labor unions and other liberal activists could provide a base of support to Hagler, the pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ since 1992. Hagler finished sixth in the 2007 special election for Ward 4 council member, the race won by Muriel E. Bowser, the new Democratic mayoral nominee. Hagler, too, felt no hesitation in switching his party registration, saying he registered as a Democrat mainly to vote in the typically decisive party primaries. “To say I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, that would be incorrect,” he said.

Hagler said “my intention now is to go forward,” but said he hasn’t filed candidacy papers yet and could still change his mind.

Should they choose to run, those candidates would join fellow independent candidate Robert White, a former aide to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who declared his intention to run in the fall, as well as Republican nominee Marc Morgan, Statehood Green nomineee Eugene Puryear and Libertarian nominee Frederick Steiner. Also appearing alongside the other candidates on the pick-two ballot line is incumbent Bonds, but her election is considered fait accompli: The Democratic at-large nominee has always easily outpolled rivals in District general elections, making the real November competition among the non-Democrats only.

© The Washington Post Company

D.C. Council will not resurrect attorney general election

D.C. Council will not resurrect attorney general election

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Updated: April 8 at 11:35 am

The chances that D.C. voters will be voting for an attorney general this year are looking increasingly dismal.

A last-ditch attempt to put the city’s first AG election on the November ballot was derailed Tuesday, after D.C. Council members balked at a bill that would mandate an unusual all-comers voting process for the city’s top legal official.

The bill — introduced by Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who had previously voted with the council majority to delay the initial attorney general vote to 2018 — would have allowed candidates of all parties to gain access to the ballot by circulating nominating petitions later this year. The process would be akin to that used for special elections to fill vacant offices.

But several members objected to the plan at a council breakfast meeting Tuesday, including at least one member who previously voted against the delay. Cheh acknowledged after the meeting that the votes were not there.

“It’s dead,” she said. “There’s no way to revive it.”

The only hope now for an election before 2018 is a lawsuit being waged by lawyer and former attorney general candidate Paul Zukerberg that is now before the D.C. Court of Appeals. Lower courts have ruled against Zukerberg, and it is unclear what steps the high court would take to provide relief even if it found in Zukerberg’s favor.

On Tuesday morning, council members lodged several objections, including the timing, the nature of the nominating process and the lack of a runoff. The crucial opinion against the bill came from Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who had previously opposed the 2018 delay and serves as chairman pro tempore: “I think we do a disservice to people to try and force it through in November,” he told his colleagues.

Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) led the effort to put a charter amendment to voters in 2010, which called for the attorney general post to become an elected office after 2014. But the council, over Mendelson’s objections, voted to delay the initial vote to 2018, citing concerns about the office’s responsibilities and a lack of declared candidates. Mendelson did not say how he would handle Cheh’s bill Tuesday, but several members expected him to pull the bill from consideration before a scheduled vote.

Adding to the headwinds was a letter from Mayor Vincent C. Gray delivered to the council Tuesday morning, strongly hinting that he would veto the bill were it to hit his desk. Overriding that veto would require the council to muster two additional votes in favor of the proposal.

Gray’s objections largely echoes those leveled by sitting Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan earlier this year — that the Cheh bill does not comport with the requirement that the AG election be “partisan,” i.e., preceded by a party nomination process, whether through primaries or otherwise. Proceeding with the Cheh bill, Gray wrote, would “place the first elected Attorney General on dubious legal footing and threaten to create serious credibility and legitimacy problems for that Attorney General and the office.”

Top D.C. Democrat wants national party’s help against David Catania

Top D.C. Democrat wants national party’s help against David Catania

By Mike DeBonis, Updated: April 2 at 2:40 pm

Updated 6:15 p.m. with DNC comment

In a city where three out of four registered voters are Democrats, the District’s Democratic party apparatus rarely gets much of a workout in general election contests. But this year could be different, with Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel E. Bowser facing an energetic and potentially well-financed challenge from fellow D.C. Council member David A. Catania.

The challenge is serious enough that the city’s top Democratic party official said Wednesday that she plans to ask the Democratic National Committee to put serious resources into the local party to fend off Catania (I-At Large).

“We’re asking them to put resources in here,” said Anita D. Bonds, chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and herself an at-large council member. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a challenge, you know, from a non-Democrat. … We’re going to be talking about thousands, whatever it takes.”

Speaking after a Bowser news conference where the nominee appealed for Democratic solidarity, Bonds said she has already had informal discussions with party leaders about the potential need for national party help ahead of the Nov. 4 general election. Bowser’s campaign chairman, Bill Lightfoot, told Bonds at the news conference that DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had sent a missive to the Bowser campaign after her victory assuring it of the party’s endorsement.

“That’s the value of being a party member,” Bonds said. “You can call on your colleagues across the country, and we’re going to use all that’s available to us. This a serious effort.”

Asked whether a District mayoral race would represent an appropriate use of national funds in a congressional mid-term election year, DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee said the national party is “solidly behind Muriel.”

“Democrats are united behind her, and we’re going to do whatever we can to help make sure she’s our next mayor,” he said in an e-mail.

Catania’s campaign manager, Ben Young, said Wednesday that an appeal for national assistance “sounds like a campaign that is worried.”

“The local political establishment’s hold on the city government is about dislodged,” Young said. “Yesterday’s turnout was all you needed to know. They’re not buying it anymore. They’re staying at home.”

He added that Catania expects to attract the support of “high-profile Democrats” (consultant and pundit Hilary Rosen is among the first) and that it would be an “odd position” for the DNC to oppose a candidate with a strong record on same-sex marriage, health insurance coverage and other Democratic-oriented issues.

Said Bonds, who is planning a Democratic “unity breakfast” Friday for Bowser: “It doesn’t sound like I’m scared. It sounds like we’re bold and determined, and we’re going to be working to make this a reality.”

DC HBX Press Release: DC Health Link Enrollment Tops 40,000

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DC Health Link Enrollment Tops 40,000

Approximately one-out-of four individual enrollments occurred in the final week prior to the March 31st deadline.

The DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority today released new data showing strong enrollment activity through DCHealthLink.com as of March 31st. Since the marketplace opened for business on October 1, DC Health Link has enrolled 40,234 people. This includes District residents who enrolled in private health plans and in Medicaid, as well as people with coverage through their employers. In the final week alone, more than 2,000 people enrolled through the individual and family marketplace — accounting for over 21% of all individual enrollments in private coverage.

Enrollment

As of March 31, 2014, 40,234 people have enrolled through DC Health Link in private health plans or Medicaid:

  • 9,838 people enrolled in private health plans through the DC Health Link individual and family marketplace;
  • 17,489 people were determined eligible for Medicaid coverage through DC Health Link; and
  • 12,907 people enrolled through the DC Health Link small business marketplace.

Open enrollment for individuals and families officially ended March 31, 2014; however, the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority announced March 26th that it will continue DC Health Link enrollment past the March 31st deadline for individual and family coverage. Individuals who need in-person or telephone help will have through April 15th to enroll. People with an online account with DC Health Link who have not selected a health plan will also have through April 15th to enroll in a private health plan. One-on-one help can be obtained at these sites or by reaching out to DC Health Link Assisters or brokers – a list of which can be found here.

“We are proud of our efforts to enroll everyone who needs affordable, quality health coverage through DC Health Link,” said Diane C. Lewis, MPA, chair of the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority Executive Board. “Our mission is to get everyone covered.”

The March 31st deadline does NOT apply to small businesses, individuals and families losing other coverage or those eligible for Medicaid. A complete list of circumstances that allow a person to enroll after open enrollment can be found here.

Demographic Information for People in Qualified Health Plans through the Individual Marketplace

Young residents continue to be the highest enrollment group in private individual coverage. The largest population enrolled in private coverage through the individual and family marketplace is 26 to 34 year olds who make up 39% of enrollees; the second highest is 35 to 44 year olds (21%).

Age of Enrollees in Qualified Health Plans – Individual Marketplace

(Does Not Include Medicaid and SHOP)

Age Number Percent
<18 641 6%
18-25 665 7%
26-34 3,854 39%
35-44 2,038 21%
45-54 1,415 14%
55-64 1,159 12%
65+ 66 1%

Metal Level of Coverage Selected in Qualified Health Plans – Individual Marketplace

(Does Not Include SHOP)

Metal Level Covered Lives Percent
Catastrophic 387 4%
Bronze 2,870 29%
Silver 2,469 25%
Gold 2,163 22%
Platinum 1,949 20%
Total 9,838 100%

Health Link Contact Center Data

Since October 1, 2013, the Contact Center received 86,011 calls. Generally the highest call volume is on Mondays and Tuesdays and the lowest call volume is on Saturdays. In March, the DC Health Link Contact Center (855-532-5465) extending its hours to include Sunday service. The call volume tripled from an average of 500 calls per day in early March to more than 1,600 daily the last week of the first open enrollment season with a high of 4,419 on March 31st.

DC Health Link Website Traffic

Since October 1, 2013, 62,079 individual accounts and 10,340 small business accounts have been created. In the same time period, DCHealthLink.com had more than 255,000 visitors. In the last week of March alone, 8,207 individual accounts were created.

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