DC voters might weigh in on Initiative 77 at ballot box — again

WASHINGTON — D.C. voters could be weighing in on Initiative 77 again at the ballot box if some supporters of the measure are successful in garnering signatures of support for the referendum.

This comes after the D.C. Council earlier this month voted 8 to 5 to repeal the referendum after voters approved it in June.

Rev. Graylan Hagler, with the group “Save our Vote DC,” said once the repealed legislation reaches Congress sometime in January, the organization will work to get the signatures needed to introduce a new ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would overturn the council’s decision.

“We’re talking about voter suppression, and D.C. has gone further than any other jurisdiction by basically nullifying the vote, which is really egregious,” Hagler said. 

Initiative 77 would have eventually done away with D.C.’s two-tiered wage system and put tipped workers in the District on track to getting standard minimum wage by 2026.

Supporters of Initiative 77 believe the measure would get rid of substandard wages in D.C. and guarantee workers in the restaurant industry get living wages.

Opponents, on the other hand, which include restaurant owners and many tipped workers, claim it would lead to fewer tips and ultimately less money for tipped workers. The measure would also be disastrous for small businesses, according to opponents.

Kathy Hollinger, with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, said she is disappointed to hear that the fight might not be over when it comes to the referendum.

“It’s another attempt, or a final attempt, from an outside organization coming into our market here in D.C., trying to suggest that they know our community better than our own people in the industry, workers and owners,” Hollinger said.

A New York-based nonprofit group called Restaurant Opportunities Center United was behind the initiative. Hagler denies that support for the measure only comes from outside D.C. He said he is a D.C. resident and all those working to save the referendum with him are also residents of the city.

“It almost doesn’t matter how you voted on Initiative 77, whether you voted for it or against it, the reality is, in a place like D.C., where voting and democratic process is so precious and so serious, we would be so cavalier as to overturn the vote,” Hagler said.

Hollinger supports the council’s move to repeal the referendum and said that those who oppose the ballot measure remain united and strong. “The city also acknowledged that it was not only a bad bill, but it was bad for workers, it was bad for small business owners, and it was bad for the residents of the District,” Hollinger said.

If a petition for referendum is approved next January, time will be of the essence for supporters, who will then have only 30 days to gather the signatures of 5 percent of the city’s registered voters, which is more than 24,500 residents, to get it onto the ballot.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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