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Hill Talk: Noise Bill Passes in a Weakened Form

Legislation aimed at providing noise relief for Capitol Hill residents that Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells (D) had been pushing for more than a year passed the D.C. City Council in a watered-down form last week.

Its approval was a disappointment for Hill residents and a victory for labor unions that had been concerned the bill would stifle protests.

The bill passed in Wells’ preferred form last month, but it was amended on Tuesday in its second reading to the point that Wells voted against what he deemed “gutted” legislation. Bills must pass twice in the D.C. Council before being sent to the mayor.

The legislation was targeted at street preachers who for years blasted residents along the H Street Northeast corridor with amplified daytime speeches.

The bill that passed in May set noise restrictions throughout the city that were tailored in stringency to different types of neighborhoods.

But the final version said noise violations can only occur in purely residential neighborhoods, and the noise must be measured at more than 80 decibels from inside a home.

“The intrusion is twice as offensive — a resident now needs to wait until the sound reaches the level of a freight train indoors and then let an inspector inside their home to take a measurement,” Wells said in a statement.

Labor unions including the AFL-CIO were vehemently opposed to the bill, and an umbrella group called the Speak and Be Heard Coalition launched radio ads using the issue to target two councilmembers up for re-election this year.

Wells chief of staff Charles Allen said Mayor Adrian Fenty is likely to sign the legislation, which Allen described as a “paper tiger.”

“It doesn’t do anything,” he said. “That’s why Councilmember Wells voted against it.”

— Daniel Heim

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