DC Council votes to overturn Initiative 77, restrict Airbnb and short-term rentals

The D.C. Council had a packed agenda during its legislative session on Tuesday. On the docket was a measure to repeal an initiative that would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers and a bill that would impose new restrictions on homeowners by preventing them from renting out their second homes through Airbnb or other short-term rental companies.

Supporters of the latter bill say this would help preserve neighborhoods and buildings from being turned into virtual hotels. However, opponents such as Airbnb have argued this is a massive overreach of government regulation.

On Tuesday, the council voted to advance this bill and it will go up for a second reading later this month or in November as amendments can still be made.

The D.C. Council has also passed a measure that will eventually overturn the voter-approved Initiative 77. It would require employers in the District's hospitality industry to pay all tipped workers a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour and increase it to $15 by 2020.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has called Initiative 77 a "bad law" that would hurt the city's thriving restaurant industry.

"This will hurt two groups," said D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans. "This will hurt our workers. There is no doubt about it. And it's going to hurt the 96 percent of the small businesses that are in this city, and the restaurant industry is going to have to figure out a way to pay for this thing."

"Today's vote is not a vote on whether we agree with Initiative 77," said D.C. Councilmember Robert White. "Rather, it's a vote on whether we will respect the will of the majority of voters. I cannot and will not ignore the clear vote of the residents on this issue just because I disagree with the outcome."

Bartenders and servers, many of whom attended Tuesday's council hearing, say Initiative 77 would take money out of their pockets, confuse patrons and force some business owners to raise prices and cut staff.

"I'm a server. I work in Chinatown. I have a lot of flexibility with my job. I get to spend a lot of time with my son, but I still can afford to live here in this city, and I don't think [Initiative] 77 was the right thing to help people in the long run," said Dawn Williams.

The council's vote to pass the repeal bill on first reading was 8 to 5. It still needs to pass a second reading, the mayor's signature and congressional approval.

Council members are looking at emergency legislation that would delay implementation of the initiative, which is set to take effect later this month.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said final legislation would also address two important issues - wage theft and sexual harassment in the hospitality industry.