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D.C. Council rebooting more than a dozen failed bills

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Ahead of the D.C. Council's first legislative session of 2013 last week, lawmakers offered the traditional vows of progress.

And then they introduced more than a dozen measures the council allowed to die as recently as December, an action as traditional as the speeches, on matters ranging from campaign finance reform to trash cans to police staffing levels.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who reintroduced five bills, defended the lawmakers' practice of recycling rejected ideas.

"Sometimes, these feel-good measures will capture people's attention for a minute and leave the impression that these people are actually working." ?- Councilman David Catania

"It's not just window dressing to introduce things yet again," Cheh said. "We went over bills that we had that didn't make it, and we picked out the ones that we think are important and want to fight for again."

And Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, a legislator since the early 1990s, argued that the reintroduced measures occasionally find success.

But he also acknowledged that lawmakers often introduce bills solely to score political points.

"Some elected officials, in order to placate a special interest group, will introduce a bill," he said. "And they'll be praised for being great, but that's nothing. You want to get it passed."

At-large Councilman David Catania also acknowledged that legislators occasionally draw up legislation to seize attention.

"I've always found that empty drums beat the loudest," he said. "Sometimes, these feel-good measures will capture people's attention for a minute and leave the impression that these people are actually working."

Although Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the reintroductions were "just part of the legislative process," political consultant Chuck Thies said he thought lawmakers were trying to avoid especially groundbreaking legislation to dodge attention after a year of scandals.

"On the whole, most council members are still going to try to keep their heads down," Thies said.

But he did single out Catania, who offered several new measures last week and said Friday that he supports criminal prosecutions of truant students, as the lawmaker who appeared willing to make political gambles.

"I don't see anyone risking significant political capital to try to shake things up other than Catania," Thies said of the lawmaker, who has been mentioned as a potential candidate for other citywide posts.

Catania said he developed his legislative strategy "to see things that impact people's lives and create a more fair and just community."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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