Business for Democracy collaborative opposes anti-democracy Initiative Amendment Act

Press Release
March 26, 2024

Business for Democracy collaborative opposes anti-democracy Initiative Amendment Act
Bill on DC Council committee agenda

(Washington, DC, March 26, 2024) – Below is a statement from the Chair of the Business for Democracy-DC collaborative in opposition to the Initiative Amendment Act of 2023.  The bill will possibly be addressed this week in committee.

“DC Councilmembers have been contacted regarding our opposition to this effort to deprive voters of their right to direct democracy via citizen initiatives,” said Jim Epstein, Chair of the Business for Democracy-DC collaborative.  “Council should be strengthening our democracy, not taking it away from voters.”


March 26, 2024

Statement of the Business for Democracy-DC collaborative on the proposed Initiative Amendment Act of 2023

The recently launched Business for Democracy-DC (BfD-DC) collaborative, a campaign of the American Sustainable Business Network, supports the protection and strengthening of our democracy at the national, state, and local levels of government.  A strong democracy is essential for a vibrant entrepreneurial economy.

We believe that the proposed Initiative Amendment Act of 2023 (IAA) seeks to undermine the opportunity for direct democracy by our citizens here in the District by discouraging, if not prohibiting, citizen ballot initiatives that give voters a voice in what changes they would like to have in their local government.

The proponents of the IAA justify their effort to restrict the voters’ ability to exercise their legal right to impact local government via citizen Initiatives by citing the Home Rule Act in 1978.  Proponents argue that the original intent of that Act was to prohibit laws proposed by Initiatives that appropriate funds.

Proponents of the IAA believe that DC Board of Elections, by allowing “Initiative proposals for any law that has a cost…so long as it is ‘subject to appropriation’ has possibly opened the “floodgates” to “all kinds of good, but expensive proposals” that will result in Council becoming “reactive to the Initiative process.”

The IAA proponents appear to be more concerned about the ability of the current and future Councils being able to make policy and budgetary decisions without undue influence by the voters.

To protect Council from becoming “reactive to the Initiative process,” the IAA proposes:

To amend the District of Columbia Election Code of 1955 to ensure that voter initiatives do not have an effect on the appropriation of funds, consistent with Charter Amendment No. 1 to the Home Rule Act.

The BfD-DC offers the following observations asserting that the IAA is foundationally wrong, unnecessary, and anti-democratic.

1. The proponents of the IAA have not accurately interpreted the Home Rule Act. While it does prohibit Initiatives regarding some forms of appropriations, courts have ruled that the Act does not prohibit initiatives that entail some cost, which the Council must appropriate, to implement.

2. The concern that the inclusion of the language “subject to appropriations” is a requirement that Council appropriate funds for a successful Initiative is ill-founded. This wording does not imply a requirement for the Council to take any action regarding an Initiative proposed program or appropriation. The Council, as always, is in complete control of whether any initiative is enacted and funded either through broad budget categories or via specific line items.

3. Proponents, in an effort to counter arguments that the IAA would effectively prohibit all Initiatives, falsely claim that “examples of citizen lawmaking that do not require an appropriation are numerous, and include: to legalize some forms of gambling (Initiative #6); to limit campaign contributions (#41); to legalize recreational cannabis (#71); and to eliminate the tipped minimum wage (#82).”
Contrary to the proponents assertion, all the programs that derive from these cited Initiatives do have some annual cost in the form of staff training, public education, and enforcement. To be clear, no activity of a unit of government is without some cost which requires appropriations in the form of a budget line item or otherwise. Thus, the stated objective of the IAA, “to ensure that voter Initiatives do not have an effect on the appropriation of funds,” could only be achieved by ending the Initiative process altogether.  Courts would likely concur that any Initiative has a budgetary impact and rule the Initiative invalid under the IAA when those not in favor of an Initiative take legal action to challenge it.

The proposed IAA is simply not legally necessary and would eliminate the direct democracy Initiative now available to the voters.

The BfD-DC collaborative strongly encourages that the Council not approve the IAA.

Jim Epstein
Business for Democracy-DC

Frank Knapp,, 803-600-6874
Jim Epstein,, 202-409-5994
NeAnna Ammerman McLean,, 301-437-1761

About American Sustainable Business Network
American Sustainable Business Network (ASBN) is a movement builder in partnership with the business and investor community. ASBN develops and advocates solutions for policymakers, business leaders, and investors that support an equitable, regenerative, and just economy that benefits all⁠ – people and planet. As a multi-issue, membership organization advocating on behalf of every business sector, size, and geography, ASBN and its association members collectively represent over 250,000 businesses across our networks. ASBN was founded through the merger of the American Sustainable Business Council and Social Venture Circle.

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