Judiciary Committee Advances Three New Bills

Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety approves bills on opioids overdose prevention, overhaul of professional licensing for returning citizens, and stronger legal protections for vulnerable road users.

The Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6), met today, November 12, to advance three bills out of the Committee and to the full Council for consideration in the next month.

The Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6), met today, November 12, to advance three bills out of the Committee and to the full Council for consideration in the next month.

A quick summary of each bill is below:

B23-0054: Opioid Overdose Treatment and Prevention Omnibus Amendment Act of 2020

This bill takes several steps to save lives and prevent opioid overdoses. First, it formalizes the requirement and current policy of the Metropolitan Police Department to carry and administer naloxone, which can be used to reverse an overdose, and expands that requirement to other District agencies. Second, it decriminalizes drug paraphernalia associated with the personal use of controlled substances. Third, it grants legal protections to District government employees when administering naloxone to prevent an overdose, and provides limited immunity for bystanders, or other “Good Samaritans”, who take action to notify authorities or administer naloxone when someone is experiencing an overdose.

According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, from January 1, 2016 to July 31, 2020, more than 1,200 people fatally overdosed from opioids in the District.

“In four years, we’ve lost more than 1,200 people to opioid use disorder. That’s a staggering number, and it must drive all of us to do as much as we can to prevent overdoses. This bill continues the Council’s work to treat opioid use disorder as a public health crisis, and not something that can be solved with the threat of jail time and criminal records,” said Councilmember Allen. “The bill also gives new tools to our nonprofits working on the front lines to assist our neighbors with both safe use and connect them to treatment.” 

B23-0440: Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Amendment Act of 2020

One of the most effective ways the District can improve public safety is to ensure residents coming home from incarceration can find stable employment. In the District, occupational licenses are required to access 175 trades, many of which are highly sought after, such as barber, personal trainer, body artist, plumber, electrician, and cosmetologist. Unfortunately, for many returning citizens, due to their criminal records, the doors to the meaningful career a license can provide remain closed even after they’ve paid their debt to society.

This bill creates new pathways to employment for returning citizens by promoting fair access to occupational licenses – while continuing to protect public safety and those served by licensees. It does this simply by creating a more modern and streamlined standard by which a board can determine if an applicant’s criminal record is relevant, or “directly related”, to the work they would be performing. A board would still be able to deny an applicant based on an individualized assessment of public safety risks.

One of the biggest steps we can take toward a safer and more just city is to make it easier to get returning citizens into stable jobs with a career path they can actually walk down,” said Councilmember Charles Allen. “For decades, we’ve built our criminal justice system around the idea that having a criminal record should be such a burden that it will deter anyone from committing a crime. But one significant way to deter crime is being able to pay the rent and put food on the table and having hope in your future. We get there by ending stigma and getting a fair assessment of a person’s potential to contribute. We cannot simply wish for someone who has been incarcerated to figure out how to live while we’ve left them with both arms tied behind their back.”

B23-0083: Vulnerable User Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2020

This bill changes the liability standard in civil lawsuits brought after traffic collisions between motor vehicles and plaintiffs on electric bicycles, scooters, other non-motor vehicles, and pedestrians, by applying comparative fault in cases involving these “vulnerable users” of the road. The bill expands those who can recover to now include anyone on an e-bike, e-scooter, moped, or several other modes of transportation. In doing so, it brings the District in line with all but four other jurisdictions in the nation and expands on the Council’s work in 2016 to extend this same legal standard to non-motorized users, like bicyclists, injured in a collision.

The existing legal standard, known as “contributory negligence”, severely limits the ability for plaintiffs who are even one percent at fault to collect fairly after a collision, despite bearing far more risk as vulnerable road users. Under the “comparative negligence” standard, a judge or jury can instead compare relative levels of fault based on the facts of the case.

As we see more new and exciting ways to get around our city, particularly electric bicycles and scooters, our laws and legal protections need to keep up and reflect this reality,” said Councilmember Allen. “If you are operating those devices or walking on our streets or sidewalks in a responsible way, and you are injured in a crash, you should have the expectation you can seek to be made whole.”

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For Media Inquiries: 

Erik Salmi
esalmi@dccouncil.us | 202-445-0834


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