Council Vote Tuesday on Maternal Mortality, TOPA Bills

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Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) watches as Mayor Muriel Bowser signs the Defending Access to Women's Health Care Services Amendment Act of 2018 on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The Council will have the second and final vote on Allen's Maternal Mortality Review Committee Establishment Act, which would create a group to review all pregnancy-related deaths in the District. Photo: CM Allen @charlesallen/Twitter

District Council will vote on two bills of interest to District residents. The TOPA Accessory Dwelling Unit Amendment Act of 2017 will have its first vote today, and the Maternal Mortality Review Committee Establishment Act of 2018 will have its second and final vote.

The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) was first passed in 1980. It was designed to preserve affordable housing and tenant rights by offering any tenant in a home or apartment in DC right of first refusal when the property owner wishes to sell. A TOPA Amendment, introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson together with six other Councilmembers, would exempt owner occupied single-family homes with rental basements, carriage houses or similar spaces from the requirements of TOPA.

The amendment was spurred by reports last year of TOPA abuses, including reports that tenants were impeding sales by selling or threatening to sell their TOPA rights to others, delaying or disrupting sales altogether. The transfer of TOPA rights is permitted under law. Others say that the few instances of possible abuse are insufficient to dismantle the protections afforded to tenants under the act.

The vote will be held at 11 Tuesday morning. At 2 p.m., a Performance Oversight Hearing of the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization will hear from public witnesses in regard to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the agency that administers TOPA.

The bill to create the Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC), was introduced by a group of Councilmembers, including Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) and Vincent Gray (Ward 7-D) in October of last year. Per 100,000 residents, the maternal mortality rate for Washington, DC is 40.9, far higher than the national average of 19.9. For a local comparison, Maryland’s rate stands at 25.7 and Virginia’s rate is 13.2.

The bill would create a multi-disciplinary committee to review all pregnancy-associated deaths occurring during pregnancy, child birth, or in the year after. The MMRC would work under the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and file an annual report based on their findings. Last month, the Council voted 13-0 during a first vote.

“Maternal mortality rates in the District indicate nothing short of a maternal health crisis. The District’s maternal mortality rate is far higher than in neighboring jurisdictions and the United States as a whole. And we don’t have consistent data to tell us why,” said a press release from Allen.

The Council will also hold a first vote on the Address Confidentiality Amendment Act of 2018, which would permit survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual offenses, and trafficking to have their address hidden from public access via many DC government agencies. It would also allow employees of programs serving those survivors and employees at reproductive rights organizations to apply. Participants would have an alternative address established for the purposes of government business with few exceptions.