Event: Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee of the Whole Public Hearing
Notes from the Policy Field provides write-ups of policy-oriented events in Washington, D.C. and comments on whether the format of the event facilitated policy change or improvement.
Event effectiveness rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Write up by Megan Mattson, MPA, Executive Editor, Brief Policy Perspectives
Last week, I decided to explore how policy is created by the D.C. government. What is a D.C. Council meeting like? How does it work? Who’s in the room? After over five years of living in the district, I finally decided to find out.
About the D.C. Council and the Committee of the Whole
The Council of the District of Columbia is the legislative branch of the local government of D.C. While Congress has authority over the district, the Council has powers similar to a state legislature. All acts of the Council may be overturned by Congress. This rarely happens; a notable example is when Congress prevented the D.C. government from regulating cannabis sales like other jurisdictions. D.C. also uses emergency and temporary legislation to bridge the gap of Congressional review.
The Committee of the Whole is led by the Chairman of the Council and contains all Councilmembers, one from each ward of D.C. The committee considers measures, introduces bills, refers bills to other committees, and ensures bills and resolutions from other committees are legally sufficient and have a sound fiscal impact statement.
This particular meeting was a routine meeting of the Committee of the Whole, which meets once a month. Councilmembers introduced a few measures such as a measure by Chairperson Elissa Silverman to increase food benefits for eligible women in D.C. and a measure by Councilmember Mary Cheh to denounce what she stated as anti-immigration language used by President Trump. While a bill will have one office as the primary drafter, such as Silverman or Cheh in these cases, Councilmembers work behind-the-scenes before a bill is introduced and other Councilmembers will sign on as co-introducers. A co-introduction is stronger than a co-sponsorship, which is often a signal to advocates and constituents in support of a bill. This meeting also featured a handful of position confirmations. Most of the measures mentioned will be voted on at the Council’s next legislative meeting on Tuesday. Feb. 6 at 10:15 a.m.
How a Meeting Works
The meeting began with introductions and referrals, where Councilmembers could introduce measures to see if they were fit for vote or referral to another committee. Then Committee of the Whole measures were considered followed by measures from other committees. Each measure was explained by the respective Councilmember and checked to see if it was technically sound for a vote at a legislative meeting.
Why You Should Care
There are two reasons why you should care about how the D.C. council creates policy.
- You’re a D.C. resident. The bills passed by the Council directly impact you! The Council’s list of events has directions for how to submit a request to testify. All meetings are open to the public and livestreamed. It’s easy to walk into the Council, watch a meeting, and see what’s going on in the D.C. legislature. You can also find out what ward you live in and who represents you online.
- You’re a government or policy enthusiast. If you’re studying government or policy creation, especially in the D.C. area, the D.C. Council is a great opportunity to watch how policy is made right in the heart of the district.
Facilitating Policy Change?
I was remarkably impressed by how inclusive and accessible the D.C. Council is. Knowing very little, I walked into the Council at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW and started to get a sense of how meetings work, what issues are talked about, and how D.C. residents can get involved. Meeting information is easy to find online, the building is readily accessible, and live hearing videos are available for easy watching. The public can testify at all of the Council’s performance and budget oversight hearings, which are coming up from February to April, making now a great time to get involved. There’s no need to be an expert to testify; anyone can sign up for testimony by emailing the contact information listed for the appropriate committee. The public can also watch past hearings. One bit of insider information is that meetings start later than noted online. This particular meeting said it began at 10:00 but started closer to 10:30. Other than that, the meeting was very accessible and facilitates public input in the policy creation process.
I highly encourage you to check out a session, especially one that features an issue you care about, and attend or even submit your thoughts as testimony for the Council to address. Flex your right to participate in government and have fun with it!