Council Leads Region with Landmark Racial Equity Bill, Provides Seven-Week Emergency Extension of Unemployment Insurance

As the two-year Council Period 23 approaches its conclusion on January 2, bills need to clear the finish line before the year ends or else they will face the prospect of starting from scratch next year. Some profound, long thought-out bills dealing with historic, endemic ills reached their final culmination just in time, while others related to breaking news faced the fierce urgency of now.

Back at the very beginning of the current Council Period, on January 8 of 2019, the “Racial Equity Achieves Change” Act was introduced. The bill, which brings the critical perspective of racial equity to all the work the Council and executive branch undertake, underwent a long and detailed review in two Council committees before emerging ready for its first of two needed Council votes. In the current version, the bill integrates the racial equity lens into how the government operates. As passed at the most recent Legislative Meeting, the bill requires equity training for all DC government employees and appointed board members, creates an Office of Racial Equity and a Chief Equity Officer, requires a racial equity impact assessment of certain Council measures, and establishes legislative and executive-level advisory commissions led by appointed issue experts who will advise the government on the steps necessary to achieve racial equity.

While some serious topics require and deserve extended deliberation, others necessitate a rapid turnaround. Such was the case with a seven-week extension of two kinds of Unemployment Insurance that was passed at the most recent Legislative Meeting. The seven-week extension covers both traditional Unemployment Insurance and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that benefits contractors and gig economy workers. In both cases, the extension is fully federal funded, but only goes into effect in a jurisdiction after that state passes legislation approving the extension. This unemployment extension was passed as an emergency bill, meaning it will go into effect immediately, for 90 days, upon action by the Mayor. Workers will need to re-apply to receive the additional aid.

In other action at the most recent meeting, the Council approved measures that would:

  • allow children 11 or older who are ruled competent to do so to self-authorize receiving a vaccine if family members have not or will not do so
  • create a pilot program to screen elementary school students for dyslexia, and to undertake early intervention when it is found
  • permanently rename the stretch of 16th Street in front of the White House as Black Lives Matter Plaza (the past renaming had been temporary)
  • tighten regulation of rental scooters, requiring they be locked up after use, fining inebriated users, etc.
  • allow bars and restaurants to provide extended alcohol service and hours of operation whenever a DC team is competing in a playoff game
  • allow charter schools to provide admission preference to at-risk children
  • express the Sense of the Council in support of renaming Woodrow Wilson High School
  • establish a certificate of stillbirth to be made available at the request of parents (this was passed “subject to appropriations” because the Executive could not find $12,000 in its current budget so that the bill could go into effect immediately)

The Council’s next Legislative Meeting will be held on November 10.