Initiative 77 still sparking debate as council moves toward repeal of law

WASHINGTON D.C. – On Monday September 17, the District of Columbia will once again hear from the public on the idea of establishing a minimum wage for workers who up until now had mostly gotten by on tips.

It’s an issue that some thought had already been decided when Initiative 77 passed with a 55-percent win in the June primaries.

The purpose of the public hearing on Initiative 77 is seen as some as a way to repeal the law before it is ever enacted.

Proponents of the move are hoping it doesn’t come to that but pressure from some business owners and tipped workers have encouraged the council to repeal the law.

“What we're talking about doing is changing that system and change is always hard so my sense is that the servers who are concerned about Initiative 77 will in the end be happy because they're making more money,” said Ed Lazere, Executive Director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. “They're just nervous because they're not sure exactly how this will change a system that even if it's imperfect it's a system that they know.”

Lazere isn’t buying into the argument that voters didn’t know enough about the issue before voting to enact Initiative 77.

“DC voters clearly understood the issues before them and the ballot in June was whether voters wanted to raise pay for tipped workers and overwhelmingly across the city DC voters said, ‘Yes.’”

But ever since that vote more and more council members have expressed concerns about changing the current system.  DC council chairman Phil Mendelson called the law misleading and suggested it may not work as voters intended.

A vocal portion of those who would be affected by Initiative 77 agree.

“That's not to say there shouldn't be changes ask anybody [in the industry and they’ll tell you] there should be changes but this way is taking a sledgehammer to the system when what’s that needed is a scalpel,” said Morgan Murphy, who campaigned against the measure.

Her husband still relies on tips for a majority of his income as the family’s breadwinner.

“This is the American Dream and when you're hurting them you're hurting all of us-- you're hurting all of DC,” said Murphy.