Spring is here and oversight season is underway at the D.C. Council. The Mayor released her proposed FY23 Budget this month, and Councilmembers will spend significant time over the next couple of months parsing through the budget and holding public hearings to hear from agencies, D.C. residents, and other stakeholders on how the District should allocate its dollars. The ACLU-D.C. will be engaged in this process, too, alongside our partners. As a D.C. Fair Budget Coalition (FBC) member, we have helped inform and plan to support FBC’s FY23 platform, “An Act of Justice,” which includes recommendations that promote equity and racial justice in the District’s budget.
But beyond the budget, the Council is also considering some key pieces of legislation that must get passed in the next nine months before the close of 2022 or else will die in this Council period and have to be reintroduced in the new Council Period that begins in January of 2023. The ACLU-D.C. is closely following bills that fall under our priority issue areas of criminal code reform, police accountability, youth justice, and economic justice. Here are a few of those:
Criminal Code Reform
Under criminal code reform, we strongly support the passage of Bill 24-416, the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2021, which would comprehensively modernize most offenses in the District's criminal code. Putting it into perspective: if adopted into law, this bill will be the first comprehensive revision of the D.C. Code since 1901.
D.C. policies about street vending are also in urgent need of reform. Bill 24-49, the Street Vending Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2021 would remove harmful criminal penalties for street vending. This is long overdue and would directly benefit community members.
We’ve said it before: a robust and just public safety system cannot be successful without mechanisms to ensure police don’t abuse their powers. Pending bills like Bill 24-356, the Strengthening Oversight and Accountability of Police Amendment Act and Bill 24-230, the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act would add critical accountability to and meaningful limitations on police practices that inflict harm on D.C.’s Black and brown communities with impunity. Bill 24-498, the Access to Body Worn Camera Footage Amendment Act would increase transparency by expanding access to police BWC footage for those directly impacted by police violence.
And Bill 24-213, the Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Reform Act would prevent civilian deaths by prohibiting D.C. law enforcement officers from engaging in vehicular pursuits of an individual operating a motor vehicle except in circumstances where the pursuit is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury and is not likely to put others in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
Children deserve a safety system built upon equity that prioritizes their well-being and promotes policies that follow the science on brain development and trauma. The bills we’re following include measures to increase transparency over the impact of police in schools, as well as due process reforms to protect the rights of young people caught up in the criminal legal system.
Bill 24-354, the School Police Incident Oversight and Accountability Amendment Act would improve data collection and reporting on police interactions in schools. This bill would require local education agencies to better maintain and report data on school-based disciplinary actions involving law enforcement. It would also require MPD to preserve records from school-based incidents – including data on race, gender, age, and disability.
Bill 24-306, the Youth Rights Amendment Act, would make any interrogation of a person under 18 years of age by law enforcement inadmissible in court unless the person is given a reasonable opportunity to confer with an attorney. It also prohibits consent searches if the subject of the search is under 18 years of age.
And Bill 24-338, the Redefinition of Child Amendment Act, would modernize the word “child” in the D.C. Code so that youth under 18 who are accused of crimes will be subject to juvenile delinquency proceedings in Family Court unless the locally elected D.C. Attorney General requests that their case be moved to federal court. Currently, the federally appointed United States Attorney’s Office has the unbridled discretion to directly file accusations against children accused of certain crimes in adult criminal court. This practice which has set countless District youth on a path to isolation from their families, denial of rehabilitative services, and punitive supervision.
The following legislation would tackle some D.C. policies that perpetuate economic injustice. Fees and citations may not hold back every D.C. resident, but for some community members, these economic hurdles block them from accessing critical resources and contribute to a cycle of poverty.
Bill 24-230, the D.C. Driving for Opportunity Amendment Act would amend District law that currently prevents residents from renewing their driver’s license if they owe fines or fees to the District. Bill 24-50, the the Sidewalk Vending Zones Amendment Act would instruct the Mayor to create vending zones for sidewalk vendors to legally operate and not face citations.
Finally, Bill 24-558, the Stop Discrimination by Algorithms Act would prohibit companies from using certain algorithms – ones that discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other protected characteristics – to make decisions about people applying for jobs, housing, loans, educational opportunities, and healthcare.
Make sure you know who your councilmembers are. Remember this is OUR D.C. It’s important that we stay informed, participate when possible, and hold policymakers accountable.