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D.C. Council passes gun, climate change, and education watchdog bills

December 19, 2018

In its last legislative session before the new year, the D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously approved new standards to combat climate change, and passed legislation to allow authorities to remove weapons from dangerous persons and to create an independent education data watchdog.

The Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 would require all of the District’s energy to be supplied by renewable sources by 2032 doubling the city’s current pace.

Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat, said he was “concerned” about a provision removed from the bill that would have required energy supplier Pepco to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy companies. But he said that it is a “very, very strong bill for the resiliency for our city and our region.”

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he worried about the bill’s fiscal impact, but added the legislation sets a “benchmark” for other cities to follow.

“Unless we take action, we will leave a catastrophe for our grandchildren,” Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said on the dais. “We want to be able to say that we answered that moral imperative.”

The District joined other jurisdictions in passing a gun legislation that Mr. Allen described as “creating a new, extreme risk protection order” to allow police or relatives to petition the D.C. Superior Court to remove a resident’s firearms if they believe he or she is dangerous.

The Firearms Safety Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 would allow the court to grant petitions to temporarily remove residents’ guns if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Several states, including Maryland, have similar “red flag laws,” which advocates say help reduce gun violence and suicides.

The D.C. legislation also would ban “bump stocks” devices that make semiautomatic weapons operate like fully automatic firearms.

Mr. Allen introduced an amendment to clarify that firearm owners would be given immunity from possession charges if the courts grant police or relatives permission to seize their guns.

He told The Washington Times the immunity would extend to charges of possessing illegal or unregistered firearms, but not to crimes committed in connection to possession.

“The goal is to get the guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” Mr. Allen said.

Lawmakers approved legislation to create the Education Research Collaborative, an independent data watchdog for the District’s school system.

Operating as an advisory panel, the collaborative would consist of six members, three appointed by the mayor and three by the council. It would be tasked with auditing data such as graduation rates and residency documentation both subjects of fraud in the past year and would designate research topics.

“This has been a delicate process,” Mr. Mendelson said, noting that Mayor Muriel Bowser opened talks with the Urban Institute to create her own education watchdog after the council announced its plans in the spring.

Mr. Mendelson said the bill would allow the collaborative to be “one entity, outside the government, that will undertake education-related research that the government will have to cooperate with. In order for this to work we’re going to have to see trust between the executive and legislative branches.”

Currently, the mayor has sole authority over the city’s school system.

All of the approved legislation must be signed by the mayor and approved by Congress to become law.

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