Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Approves Its FY2018 Budget

Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Approves Its FY2018 Budget

NEAR Act Funded, Significant Investments for First Responders, and New Program To Provide Housing Attorneys for Low-Income Residents

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety approved its recommendations for the budgets of agencies and legislation under its purview.

“This budget balances two goals of the Committee – to be a nationwide leader in our approach to public safety by implementing community-based best practices and creating just outcomes for all; and ensuring our streets are safe, and our police, fire and EMS have the tools and support they need. I am proud of the work of the Committee and grateful to my colleagues on for their support,” said Councilmember Charles Allen, Committee Chair.

Improving Public Safety, funding the NEAR Act, Getting More MPD Officers Out on the Street and Living in DC – The budget passed takes several key steps forward to support MPD’s community-policing efforts. The budget funds the “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016 (NEAR Act),” a comprehensive crime-prevention bill that supports a public health approach to reducing violence and collaborative work with human services agencies to address unmet behavioral and mental health needs.

The Committee set aside funds to support cutting-edge retention and recruitment efforts by MPD, took steps to get more police on the street and out from behind a desk, and set aside funds for additional CCTV anti-crime cameras.

  • Enhances first responder recruitment and retention efforts by:
    • Through new legislation, supporting $1.1 million for the Employer-Assisted Housing Program (“EAHP”) at the Department of Housing & Consumer Development so police officers, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and correctional officers can receive up to $45,000 toward the purchase of a home in the District
    • Allocating $900,000 for loan repayment and tuition assistance in the Police Officers Retention Program at the Metropolitan Police Department
    • Supporting $1 million for a new six-month housing assistance program to recruit officers to join MPD and live in the District
    • Approving $750,000 for a professional public relations campaign for MPD that includes rebranding initiatives targeted to recruit high-quality personnel and combat the retirement bubble
  • Civilianizes 10 new MPD positions, putting those officers back on the street, and supports the Executive’s doubling of the cadet program (for a total of 45 new positions), using savings from vacant positions to:
    • Fund several provisions of comprehensive juvenile justice legislation passed in late 2016, including:
      • A report on the root causes of youth crime by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council
      • The creation of a cutting edge voluntary Victim-Offender Mediation Program at the Office of the Attorney General, which promotes restorative justice by providing victims an opportunity to meet the offender, engage in a mediated discussion, and develop a restitution plan
      • An evaluation of the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
  • Fund the collection of data related to human trafficking in the District
  • Fund an independent review by the Office of Police Complaints of MPD’s actions during the 2017 Inaugural weekend
  • Provide necessary upgrades to the Justice Information System (“JUSTIS”) at the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the District’s mechanism for the exchange of time-sensitive information for local law enforcement agencies
  • Funds provisions of the “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016”, including:
    • Creating a new agency, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, to coordinate the District’s violence prevention strategy and programs, with a focus on utilizing public health approaches to respond to and prevent violence
    • Transferring $970,444 to the Department of Behavioral Health for an interagency arrest diversion program
  • Identifies $200,000 for new MPD CCTV cameras in target Police Service Areas
  • Funds the Portal of Entry, a new program offering reentry support services across multiple District agencies, including: the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Behavioral Health, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Office of Returning Citizens Affairs, and the Department of Employment Services
  • For the second year, adds funds to further implement the “Fire and Emergency Medical Services Employee Presumptive Disability Amendment Act of 2012” to ensure that FEMS personnel are properly treated for communicable diseases they contract on the job

Expanding Access to Justice Amendment Act of 2017 – Included as a new subtitle is landmark legislation to provide low-income tenants with legal representation at no cost to those tenants in the Landlord-Tenant Branch of the DC Superior Court. The budget includes $4.5 million to launch the program.

Last year, out of 33,000 evictions filed, landlords had legal representation in 90-95 percent of those cases, while tenants had representation only 5-10 percent of the time. Having legal representation for both sides will help produce fairer outcomes that prevent eviction, improve housing conditions, and allow landlords and tenants to create greater stability in their legal relationship. In a pilot program run the last two years, low-income tenants were six times more likely to receive a fairer outcome when they had legal representation.

“At a time when we are working to create more affordable housing, it only makes sense to keep as many families in their homes in the first place as we can,” said Councilmember Allen. “This is really about fairness and equal access to the law. We aren’t changing any of the housing laws, and we aren’t changing the basic relationship between a landlord and tenant. We just want to change the outcome – fewer evictions that cost landlords money and could be prevented with good legal counsel.”

Councilmember Allen continued: “I want to thank Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie for introducing the original bill and Councilmember Mary Cheh who helped ensure we could fund this initiative in the budget.”

With this legislation, the District joins the national right-to-counsel movement, often referred to as “civil Gideon”, by allocating seed monies to stem the loss of affordable housing, prevent homelessness, and improve housing conditions.

Additional Items Creating Access to Justice:

  • Enhances funding for the Access to Justice Initiative, which provides grants for legal services for domestic violence survivors, individuals with disabilities, individuals experiencing homelessness, asylum seekers, and residents with criminal records seeking expungement, among others
  • Funds “ban the box for housing”, legislation passed by the Council in late 2016 to prohibit housing discrimination based on a person’s prior criminal history, including monies for outreach to educate housing providers about the new law
  • Bans employment discrimination based on a person’s poor credit history by preserving funding for the “Fair Credit in Employment Amendment Act of 2016”
  • Fights wage theft by adding two new attorneys at the Office of the Attorney General

Makes Significant Investments in Fire, EMS, and 911/311

  • Supports $1 million for a new Nurse Triage Line to better connect residents with appropriate medical care
  • $4.9 million to hire 48 dual-role firefighter/EMTs
  • Rightsizing the Office of Unified Communications with $1.4 million to permanently hire 28 311 call takers
  • Provides $57 million over the financial plan in critical 911 capital infrastructure projects and $87.7 million for Fire & EMS apparatus

Supports Elections and Ethics Reforms

  • Implements automatic voter registration at the Board of Elections, allowing  District residents to automatically register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles when applying for identification or updating their contact information
  • Funds staff for the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to better identify conflicts of interest in financial disclosures of District government employees; shores up funding for the Office of Open Government

Following today’s Committee vote, the full Council will hold a first vote on the entire budget during its upcoming meeting on May 30.

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