Tommy's Blog

April 8, 2014

Wells' Bill Protecting Sexual Assault Victims Rights Passes First of Two Final Votes

Today, Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, lead the Sexual Assault Victims Rights Amendment Act of 2014 through its first reading and successful vote. The bill will undergo a second reading and vote by the Council's Committee of the Whole before being sent to the Mayor for his signature. Wells introduced Bill 20-417, the Sexual Assault Victims Rights Amendment Act of 2014, on July 10, 2013, with co-sponsorship from Councilmembers Bonds, Bowser, Catania, Cheh, Evans, Graham, Grosso, and McDuffie.

"This bill was written in response to several reports that drew attention early last year - reports that examined the police department's handling of sexual assault cases and the treatment of victims. Both reports made a number of recommendations to improve the District's sexual assault response, including greater transparency and oversight," said Wells.

"This bill carefully balances what is working well with our current system - specifically, the work done with the Network for Victim Recovery of DC and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program - with the need for transparency, accountability, and reform. Between the March 27th markup - where the Committee supported the bill unanimously - and today, I continued conversations with the executive, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the US Attorney's Office. As the Mayor's letter states today, we have sufficiently addressed and clarified their concerns."

Wells' Committee held a hearing on December 12, where more than 50 public witnesses testified, many of them sexual assault survivors who shared their own stories of the trauma they experienced -- not only from the assault itself, but from the interaction with the police. The committee also heard from the Baltimore police about the changes made there after Baltimore experienced a similar crisis related to its sexual assault investigations -a Baltimore police captain testified that having an advocate in the law enforcement interview has improved the entire process."

Bill 20-417, the Sexual Assault Victims Rights Amendment Act of 2014:

  • Provides sexual assault victims the right to have an advocate present during hospital exams and police interviews;
  • Provides sexual assault victims the right to information about their rape kits and toxicology reports - and requires those samples be processed within 90 days;
  • Provides sexual assault victims who request notification to be told when MPD has contacted the suspect, so that the victim can make a safety plan, if necessary;
  • Codifies the Sexual Assault Response Team - or SART - which is operated through the Office of Victim Services, and requires this team to seat a subcommittee to conduct continual case review, which will allow systemic problems to be identified and remedied;
  • Requires an independent consultant be retained for up to 2 years to review and assess MPD policies, practices, and training, to ensure MPD is implementing best practices; and
  • Establishes a short-term task force to explore best practices and make recommendations about further reforms to the system, including an effective system for complaints.

Wells Introduces Prohibition of Bottled Water Act of 2014


Today, I am introducing the Prohibition of Bottled Water Act of 2014. We have made tremendous strides in reducing the amount of trash making its way into the Anacostia River and all of our waterways. Numerous reports have proclaimed DC's bag fee law a success at reducing the plastic bags that previously polluted our rivers. According to a series of surveys commissioned by DDOE and carried between 2012 and 2013, 80% of residents are using fewer disposable bags and 79% of businesses are providing fewer disposable bag s to customers.

The bag fee, the cleanup efforts it has sponsored and a committed effort to the restoration of the Anacostia River has helped drive billions of dollars of new development and investment to our waterfronts including the Anacostia, Capitol Riverfront and Southwest neighborhoods.

There was a multi-jurisdictional goal to have a trash-free Potomac Watershed by 2013, but here we are in 2014 and trash is still finding its way into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. If you ask Anacostia Riverkeeper biologist Trey Sherard, he will tell you that while plastic bags are declining in the rivers, plastic bottles littered along the banks and cluttering the estuaries appear to be taking over.

Findings from our river keepers show that about 40% of the trash polluting the Anacostia is bottles and cans. A 2008 DDOE study found that of all the different types of bottles cleaned from the Anacostia River and its tributaries, plastic water bottles constituted the largest bottle pollutant. There were over 3,000 plastic water bottles pulled from the Anacostia and its tributaries in 2008. The same DDOE report claimed that a "bottle bill" would remove approximately 25 percent of the total trash from the streams and rivers.

This is not just a problem in DC. It has been reported that Americans buy half a billion bottles of water every week. We consume more bottles of water than any other nation. Roughly 50 billion plastic water bottles end up in U.S. landfills each year -- 140 million every day! That's enough, laid end to end, to reach China and back each day. A plastic bottle in a landfill takes centuries to decompose.

There are several alternatives to plastic bottles. Using reusable bottles or drinking foundations are much better options. Furthermore, plastic water bottles can contain Bisphenol-A (BPA). This toxic substance has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's disease and shown to cause a resistance to insulin, making it life threatening for some, even in low doses.

The Prohibition of Bottled Water Act of 2014 restricts the sale or distribution on District government property of drinking water in plastic bottles of 21 ounces or less. It bars the use of District government funds to purchase bottled water. Under the bill, the District Department of the Environment must take appropriate steps to educate and inform District government agencies about these requirements. Any person who is in violation may be punished by administrative fines. The provisions of the legislation will not apply when it is necessary in a given situation to protect the public health, safety, and welfare and no reasonable alternative to bottled water will serve the same purpose.

Similar to my "bag bill," this legislation is aimed at reducing excess waste in the District of Columbia. The District government has an obligation to protect the environment and health of its residents. We can still reach our District goal to have fishable, swimmable Anacostia River by 2032 if we continue to take action to cleanup these environmental treasures. Eleven states currently have some form of Bottle Bill implemented, including California, New York and Massachusetts. It is time for the District to take action. This legislation is an essential step to keeping our environment safe and health for the coming generations.

Wells Introduces Multi-Hazard Approach to Preparedness in Schools Amendment Act of 2014

Today, Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety introduced the Multi-Hazard Approach to Preparedness in Schools Amendment Act of 2014. The bill is based upon the recommendations of the Presidentially Appointed National Commission on Children and Disasters, as well as Save the Children's Annual Report Card on Children and Disasters, 42 states have now mandated that all schools have multi-hazard emergency plans. The Multi-Hazard Approach to Preparedness in Schools Amendment Act of 2014 mandates the District of Columbia's School Emergency Response Plan and Management Guide ("One City/One Plan") for all schools.

"It is no secret that the District of Columbia is more prone to emergencies than almost any other jurisdiction in the Nation," said Wells. "In recent years, we have seen emergencies such as the Navy Yard shooting and lockdown, a driver crash into the White House gates, tornado warnings, and an earthquake. The District should be at the forefront of mandating multi-hazard plans for all schools. Currently, the law only requires fire drills. It is time for us to come in line with the rest of Nation and mandate multi-hazard plans for all schools."

In 2009, the District of Columbia received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to plan, implement, manage, and sustain the School Emergency Response Plan and Management Guide, more affectionately known as "One City/One Plan." "One City/One Plan" establishes the framework for creating, reviewing, or updating the emergency and crisis response plans for school buildings in the District of Columbia.

"There are nearly 100,000 students in 250 schools across our city. Mandating this plan for all schools would help keep these students safe," Wells added.

April 7, 2014

DC's FY2015 Budget


Over the coming weeks the DC Council will be reviewing and working on the District's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget. As your Councilmember, I will be focused on making sure our schools have the funding they need, that capital dollars are invested in the infrastructure projects we need to continue improving our city, and that tax payers' money is spent wisely. I want your feedback and input on the budget.

Click here to view the DC Council FY2015 Budget Oversight Hearing Schedule.

Click here to view the Mayor's PowerPoint Presentation of the FY2015 Budget.

Click here to view the FY2014 Supplemental Budget Plans. The Supplemental Budget Plan outlines how the Mayor intends to reallocate funds from the FY 2014 budget, how he proposes to spend unspent funds and proposals for covering budget overruns.

Click here to view the Proposed FY2015 Budget Support Act of 2014.

Click here to view agency responses to performance and budget oversight question: Agency Responses.

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April 3, 2014

Wells Statement on $193,000 Investment for Library Services for Incarcerated Citizens

(Washington, D.C.) - Today DC Councilmember Tommy Wells was pleased to learn that the Mayor's proposed fiscal year 2015 budget includes $193,000 for mobile library services for incarcerated citizens--a measure that he championed with the Free Minds Book Club.

Wells first embraced this investment following a public oversight roundtable on the Department of Corrections that he convened in November 2013 as Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. Free Minds Director Tara Libert, along with several Free Minds members, testified about the need for a library at the DC jail and how incarcerated citizens benefit from access to books.

"This is an essential investment in the future of our incarcerated residents and a strong step toward improving rehabilitative services at our Department of Corrections. I am proud to have worked with advocacy groups and the Administration to move this initiative forward," said Wells.

"It's proven that access to books and reading has substantial positive impacts on rehabilitation," said Libert. "This new partnership between the Department of Corrections and DC Public Libraries can make our city safer and stronger, creating a link to the job training and education opportunities that our libraries already offer returned citizens. This small investment will return major dividends for the city and our residents, and we could not be more pleased."

Video from the hearing chaired by Wells, including testimony by the Free Minds Book Club is available here:

March 31, 2014

DC Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Championed by Wells, NAACP, ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance

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Today the mayor of the District of Columbia signed a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. The bill was authored by DC Councilmember Tommy Wells and championed by advocates from across the city including the NAACP, ACLU, Washington Lawyers Committee and the Drug Policy Alliance. The bill will now proceed to a 60 day review period by the United States Congress. All District laws are subject to Congressional review.

"This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice. This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African Americans - arrest that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities," said Councilmember Tommy Wells.

"The marijuana law will help end an unconscionable injustice: A Black resident of the District is eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, despite using the drug at roughly the same rates. This law will prohibit police from using the smell of marijuana as a pretext for conducting criminal searches -- the first decriminalization legislation in the country to do so, and a critical blow against the War on Drugs," said Seema Sadanandan, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital.

"Through this measure, DC has acknowledged that some well-intentioned drug laws can cause intolerable harm when they are enforced disproportionately against people of color. It is an important and notable first effort to include the voices of those who suffer the consequences of conviction, when assessing the full impact of criminal legislation," said Patrice Sutton, of the NAACP Washington, DC Branch.

"D.C. lawmakers heard loud and clear the public's demand that marijuana arrests end and passed one of the strongest marijuana decriminalization laws in the whole country," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "We should not expect members of Congress to object to legislation that will save taxpayer dollars and advance the cause of racial justice here in the nation's capital."

"The passing of the Decriminalization Marijuana Bill is the first step in the right direction to dismantling the immoral war on drugs that has devastated communities of color," said Rev. Kelly D. Wilkins with Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ.

According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the District of Columbia leads the United States in marijuana arrests. D.C. police made 846 such arrests per 100,000 residents in 2010. Nationally that number was 256 per 100,000.

According to another recent report, written by the Washington Lawyers Committee, 91% of all drug arrests in DC were of Black people. In 2010 there were 40,353 arrests of Black adults; a number equivalent to 17% of the Black adult population of the District.

What the bill does:

  • Drops the simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense, which carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, down to a civil offense with a fine of $25.
    • Outside of Alaska, that would be the smallest monetary fine of any of the states that have decriminalized the drug.
  • Reduces the maximum penalty for smoking marijuana from a $1000 fine and six months in jail to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
  • The production, sale, and possession of over an ounce would remain a criminal offense.

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