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D.C. Residents Need Only Apply, Council Says

10/17/2012, 6:47 p.m.

Many District residents driving to work on roads that connect the District to Maryland or Virginia know too well how long the morning commute on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast; or the 16th Street corridor in Northwest, can be. The numbers of District license plates streaming into the city are dwarfed by those from Maryland and Virginia.

That may change as District lawmakers held a hearing Oct. 3 to consider three bills related to residency requirements for District government employment. The bills were first introduced in 2011. One required new nonresident D.C. government employees to pay four percent of their salary annually to the city. Another bill required agency heads and the mayor to justify hiring nonresidents for government positions, while a third would expand residency requirements for D.C. workers making over a certain amount of money annually.

"It's not enough for us to say to the private sector to do their part, and we're not following up," said Council member Muriel Bowser [D-Ward 4] about the District's first-source law that requires government-assisted projects to fill at least 51 percent of jobs with District residents. Bowser is chair of the Committee on Government Operations, which held the hearing.

"I wanted to get various public opinions on these bills as this can affect how we keep District dollars circulating here," said Bowser, 40. She added that the District government consists of approximately 31,000 employees. Out of that, only 13,000 are District residents.

"That's roughly 42 percent of District government workers who live in the District," she said. The number, while it may seem high, is low relative to other jurisdictions, which hire significantly higher numbers of their own residents.

This is one of the reasons Council member Yvette Alexander [D-Ward 7] introduced the District Domicile Requirement Amendment Act of 2011, one of the bills.

"Our investment starts at home with D.C. residents," said Alexander, 51. "No other municipality has a majority of their workers from outside their state and neither should we." Alexander's bill amends the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act to require newly hired employees at a rate of CS 12 [$62,499] and above to be domiciled here or within 180 days and stay domiciled for at least seven years after the date of hire.

"We have talented, qualified residents that can fill our government positions and contribute to the growth of our city," Alexander added.

Opposition to the bills came directly from labor unions who argued that the bills would discourage qualified nonresidents from seeking D.C. jobs.

Kristopher Baumann, chair of the D.C. Police Union, said the bill requiring future government employees to pay four percent of their income, "strangles" the Metropolitan Police Department's ability to recruit, and worries the bill will scare away future workers even if it does not pass. Others argue the District is simply too expensive to live for many on a local government salary.

Bowser disagreed with those who argue that the city is unaffordable, saying that she and other legislators represent more than 600,000 people who chose to live here.

"I don't believe housing is unaffordable," she said. "People make a choice. I know there are affordable places in D.C., and many programs that the worker can take advantage of."

The bills are expected to address the city's unemployment rate, which is 8.8 percent overall, and averages around 19.3 percent east of the river, Alexander's jurisdiction, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In terms of when the council will vote on the legislation, Bowser said she "wants to take the time to get it right, as some ... see the bills as an attack on their jurisdictions and on [their] residents."