- The Washington Times
Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that aims to make health care for pregnant women more accessible and create more protections for pets, as well as furthered the process to expel Jack Evans from the D.C. Council.

Council members Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and Vincent Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, co-introduced the Pregnancy as a Qualifying Event Act of 2019, which would allow pregnant women to enroll in health insurance plans outside of the open enrollment period.

“If we are to address the District’s significant disparities in maternal and infant health, then we need to eliminate the barriers women face in accessing early and consistent prenatal care — and access to health insurance is critical,” Ms. Cheh said. “By adding pregnancy as a qualifying life event and eliminating this health care gap, this legislation will help reduce pregnancy-related health risks and improve birth outcomes in the District.”

Currently, people can register for private insurance only during the open enrollment period or after a qualifying life event such as marriage or childbirth.

The legislation aims to make health care more accessible to pregnant women as part of an effort to reduce the District’s maternal mortality rate of 36.1 deaths per 100,000 women. The national average is 20.7 deaths per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bill was referred to the Health Committee, which Mr. Gray chairs.

Ms. Cheh also co-introduced the Animal Care and Control Omnibus Amendment Act of 2019 with council members Anita Bonds, at-large Democrat, and Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Democrat.

The bill would give more authority to the District’s animal control unit and aims to protect domestic animals, or pets, from misdeeds by humans.

Under the legislation, courts would have the authority to designate ownership of a pet during a divorce hearing, considering what would be in the animal’s best interest. Animal control vehicles also would be allowed to use emergency sirens and lights in a life-threatening, animal-related situation.

In addition, it would ban specific tools used for dog fighting and require pet stores to sell only rescue dogs and cats.

The bill was referred to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, which is led by council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat.

Meanwhile, Mr. Evans recused himself Tuesday for the first time from a vote pertaining to his own discipline on the council.

The Ward 2 Democrat recused himself from a vote to schedule a hearing on Jan. 7 for his expulsion. He cited the council’s code of conduct conflict-of-interest rule that requires lawmakers not to participate in decision-making in matters that likely will have an effect on their financial interests — in this case, Mr. Evans’ $140,000 annual salary.

He faces expulsion for violating that same rule. His 12 council colleagues voted unanimously this month in favor of recommendations to expel him, after an independent ethics investigation found 11 different cases in which he had violated the conflict of interest provision and had accepted $400,000 from his consulting firm clients for essentially no work.

At the Jan. 7 hearing, council members and Mr. Evans, or his representative, will be able to question witnesses. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Mr. Evans will make opening and closing statements, and the proceedings will be open to the public. However, public witnesses will not be allowed to testify.

Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he expects the final vote on expulsion to be held at the Jan. 21 legislative meeting.

Mr. Evans is the District’s longest-serving lawmaker and the first to face expulsion from the council in the home rule era.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.