A Busy Week: Statehood, CareFirst Reform, Public Safety

It’s been a busy week in the District and at DC Appleseed. We have important updates on three different projects–D.C. Democracy, CareFirst Reform, and Public Safety–and we wanted to let you know about them.

Statehood Will Be on the District’s November Ballot

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for a statehood advisory referendum to be placed on the District’s November 8 general election ballot. Through the referendum, D.C. voters will have the chance to ask the Mayor and Council to petition Congress for statehood next January.

At the request of the Mayor, DC Appleseed board members Jon Bouker and Shelley Broderick and I have been part of the legal advisory committee assisting the Statehood Commission with the referendum. The five-person Commission is co-chaired by Mayor Bowser and Chairman Mendelson, and includes Senators Michael Brown and Paul Strauss, and Representative Franklin Garcia.

A key element of the Commission’s strategy for advancing statehood is for the District to fulfill all the requirements of statehood before petitioning Congress. This has included a process for proposing, reviewing, and approving a Constitution for the proposed new state. Given how little time was available to do this, the process was not perfect. Even so, we think the process was a fair one, and included the Commission soliciting comments and holding hearings inviting all District residents to comment on and suggest changes to a draft of the Constitution. Hundreds of comments were submitted and led to numerous changes in the proposed draft. Further opportunity to comment will be available when the Council reviews and approves the Constitution in the fall.

If the people vote for statehood in November, we think it is important that D.C. leaders back that vote with a serious investment in a sustained, national campaign. As Alice Rivlin and I wrote in The Current Newspapers on Wednesday, if the District is serious about becoming New Columbia, it will have to devote significant time and resources to building grassroots support in the rest of the country that will lead in turn to a favorable vote for statehood in Congress.

Reinvesting CareFirst’s $56 Million Excess Surplus and Denying Further Rate Increases

Yesterday, along with a number of other nonprofits and prominent foundations, DC Appleseed filed comments with the D.C. Insurance Commissioner concerning the plan he is developing to spend $56 million of CareFirst’s excess surplus on community health reinvestment. In our comments, we urged the Commissioner to order CareFirst to immediately transfer the $56 million to a trust.

We also strongly supported a proposal made by a highly respected group of local foundations offering to manage and administer the $56 million through a well-defined grant program. Taking guidance from recent health-needs analyses by the Department of Health and the Urban Institute, these foundations have the expertise and experience needed to identify the most effective use of the funds and to distribute them in a way that ensures accountability and advances important healthcare needs in the city.

Finally, we urged the Commissioner to implement the requirement in the Council’s governing statute that will lead to a denial of any further CareFirst rate increases in the District during 2017.

The Commissioner has indicated that he will take action on these issues by August 15.

A Brief in Support of Public Safety

On Wednesday, we filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals in support of the District’s “good reason” requirement for obtaining a concealed-carry license. Joining us on the brief were former Mayors Vincent Gray and Anthony Williams, as well as DC for Democracy, DC Vote, and the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia.

In the brief, we argue that the Court should defer to the determination of the Mayor, the Council, and local police officials that the unlimited carrying of concealed weapons on the streets of the District would pose a substantial threat to public safety. The licensing requirement imposed by the District represents an effort to balance public safety needs against the right of self-defense and therefore requires those seeking to carry weapons to show good reason for doing so.

A good reason requirement has been upheld by all other federal courts of appeals addressing it–in California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York–and we think the chances are good it will be upheld in the District. Our brief argues that each jurisdiction should be allowed to develop licensing rules suitable for that jurisdiction and the courts should not second-guess those rules provided they are reasonable. We think the District’s rules meet that test.

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