Legislation to decriminalize street vending reintroduced in DC council

Councilmember Brianne Nadeau reintroduces a bill to decriminalize street vending. Photo by Kaela Roeder

A bill designed to decriminalize street vending was reintroduced on Jan. 25 by D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and Chairman Phil Mendelson.

The Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act of 2023 combines two bills Nadeau introduced previously in 2021 and 2020. The potential legislation would remove criminal penalties for vending without a license, establish zones for vendors to legally operate and waive unpaid citations for vendors who obtain a license.

“Our street vendors contribute to the vibrant atmosphere of Columbia Heights and other parts of the District,” Nadeau said at a press conference on Jan. 31. “Their presence reflects and enriches the diverse culture of our city. For me, it’s part of what makes Ward 1 so energetic and beautiful.”

If passed, D.C. would join New York City and Los Angeles in reforming vendor licensing regulations.

The bill would also make it less expensive and easier to obtain a license.

“It is not the right public policy to have regulations so onerous and burdensome that ordinary people – many of whom are immigrants and people of color – cannot enter this line of work and make a living,” Mendelson said in a press release.

Street vendors often contend with threats, intimidation and harassment in their line of work. For instance, in 2019, 15-year-old Genesis Lemus was confronted by a Metropolitan Police Department officer while selling plantain chips at a cart on 14th Street in Columbia Heights, DCist reported. An officer confronted Lemus for selling without a license and selling as a minor. The officer threatened Lemus with calling the Department of Children and Family Services if she wouldn’t give her mother’s information. Lemus refused. The officer pushed Lemus to the ground, hurting her knee.

“Street vending should not be a police matter,” Nadeau said at the conference. “If a business owner with a store has an expired license, the police don’t come and threaten them. Why should police be involved in disputes over licenses?”

Under this bill, enforcement would be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection.

Qaadir El-Amin, a vendor and member of the People For Fairness Coalition, said he’s excited about the bill. El-Amin used to sell essential oils, but now sells jewelry. He hasn’t experienced much harassment from residents or police himself but has witnessed intimidation happening to other street vendors. He hopes the proposed legislation will ease the harassment, he said.

“The harassment has to stop, it’s not a fair opportunity for us,” El-Amin said.

Region |Columbia Heights|Washington DC

information about New Signature, a Washington DC tech solutions and consulting firm


email updates

We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.