During D.C.’s declared State of Public Health Emergency, several financial protections have been put in place, including some that severely limit, among other things, collection activities relating to consumer contracts, repossession, and legal actions on accounts. On September 1, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the most recent pair of emergency and temporary legislation to land on her desk, B24-0347 and B24-0348. These bills include a number of provisions impacting collection activities that relate to both third-party debt collectors and creditors collecting their own debts. Since a permanent version of these bills, B24-0357, remains in the Council, the bills signed by the Mayor on September 1 only temporarily amend various provisions of D.C. 28-3814, D.C.’s collections statute.
Before diving into the bills signed last week and the legislation that preceded it, it is important to understand D.C.’s somewhat unique legislative process.
In the District, during a public emergency, the Mayor and the D.C. Council can quickly pass an emergency amendment. (Provided, of course, that the emergency amendment has at least majority support in the Council and is not vetoed by the Mayor.) These emergency amendments require no second reading nor do they go through the required 30-day Congressional review. Emergency amendments last for 90 days. Typically, an emergency amendment and a temporary amendment of the same name are introduced at the same time. Temporary amendments require two readings in the Council and, if passed by the Council, temporary amendments are sent to Congress for a 30-day Congressional review period. If the temporary amendment makes it through the review period, it is considered enacted and has a 225-day lifespan. (It is important to note that days in a Congressional review period are not calendar days or business days, but are instead days when both the Senate and the House are in session.)
The latest in the line of pandemic-related legislation enacting various collection restrictions introduced by D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson since the onset of the pandemic are the Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0139) and the Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment of 2021 (B24-0140). These amendments prohibited debt collectors, “during a public health emergency and for 60 days after its conclusion,” from filing new collection lawsuits, garnishing wages, or repossessing vehicles. (Cf. Section 303, “Debt collection,” on page 31 of the emergency amendment, and page 24 of the temporary amendment, herein after “Section 303”).
B24-0139, the emergency act, was signed by Mayor Bowser on March 17, 2021 and expired on June 15. B24-0140, the temporary act, was signed by Mayor Bowser on May 3, 2021. It is effective from June 24, 2021 through February 4, 2022. However, Section 303 prohibiting lawsuits, garnishments, and repossessions, was subject to sunset 60 days after the conclusion of a public health emergency. The Mayor ended the public health emergency in D.C. on June 25, 2021.