Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety to vote on six bills strengthening gun laws, re-sentencing laws, hate crimes, and confirming DC as a Sanctuary City
Today, Monday, November 23, at 11 am, the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6), will meet to consider six bills advancing key measures out of committee. The mark-up can be viewed online from the Council’s website.
“These bills come out of hundreds of hours of hard work by community groups, government partners, including the Mayor and the Attorney General, Councilmembers, and District residents with the goal of making our city safer and more just. The bills include numerous measures referred to the Committee, covering issues ranging from gun safety to elections to sentencing reform to protecting LGBTQ residents from hate crimes,” said Councilmember Charles Allen, Chair of the Committee.
Following the Committee vote, each measure will be considered by the full Council twice -- first on December 1, and assuming passage, again at an additional legislative meeting to be scheduled later in December. All bills must be passed by the end of the calendar year or they will need to be reintroduced at the start of the next Council Period in January.
A quick summary of the main components of each bill is below:
B23-0127, the “Omnibus Public Safety and Justice Amendment Act of 2020”
Bans “Ghost Guns” Permanently: Makes permanent emergency and temporary provisions banning the possession of guns without a serial number or printed using a 3D printer or generally considered untraceable or undetectable. These kinds of firearms, particularly ones created without a serial number, are being used in an increasing number of violent crimes in the District. It includes firearms built to avoid detection, missing serial numbers, able to be manufactured using 3-D printers and other cutting-edge technology, or able to be manufactured or assembled through commercially available kits and without the expenditure of substantial time and effort.
Strengthens DC’s “Red Flag” Law: Makes permanent emergency and temporary amendments to the District’s extreme risk protection order law, more commonly known as a “red flag” law, which creates a legal pathway for the temporary seizure of a firearm when an individual is found by a judge to be at high risk of using that firearm to do harm to themselves or others.
Includes the “Second Look Amendment Act”: This provision – introduced in 2019 - allows a person who committed a crime as a young person under the age of 25, and who has served a minimum of 15 years in prison, to apply to the DC Superior Court to have their sentence reviewed. At a judge’s discretion, this revised sentence could range from immediate release, to a shorter sentence, to a denial. The application process typically takes at least a year to complete and includes consideration of victims’ statements, the history and characteristics of the applicant, their behavior while incarcerated, and their rehabilitation.
A similar law has been in place in the District for more than three years. Approximately 50 men have been resentenced to date under that law, with none reconvicted. The bill also creates an annual grant of $200,000 to provide restorative justice programming to crime survivors.
“This is about understanding how people, especially young people, can change as they grow into adulthood. The men who have come home already are doing remarkably well. Some have gotten married and started a family, others are working as violence interrupters and youth mentors, and others are starting small businesses. They are a testament to the values of hope, promise, and hard work,” said Councilmember Allen. “Many of the men and women who would be eligible under the Second Look provisions of the bill have been in federal prison longer than they were alive on the outside. They’re completely different people. We should recognize the value of mercy and rehabilitation, particularly as most of our incarcerated neighbors will be coming home at some point regardless, and stop paying to incarcerate people who don’t pose a danger to the community.”
Councilmember Allen added: “This bill also helps undo the District’s role in incarcerating generations of men of color and handing out disproportionately longer sentences, while creating opportunities for victims of crime to have their voices heard in the process, should they want to. The bill can’t be separated from the context of this year’s protests demanding greater racial justice, and we have to be honest about who has been serving these extreme sentences.”
B23-0409, the “Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and
Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020”
After reaching a low in 2015, bias-related crimes have more than tripled in the past two years. Under this omnibus bill, several protections meant to strengthen the District’s ability to prosecute and deter hate crimes are advancing forward. That includes:
Bans the LGBTQ+ Panic Defense: Known colloquially as the ‘gay or trans panic defense’, this bill bans the use of the defense in criminal proceedings where the defendant claims their actions were based on the sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression of the victim. The bill is named for a Bella Evangelista, a transgender woman killed in 2003, and Tony Hunter, a gay man killed in 2008, both of whose assailants employed the defense. Most famously, the defense was unsuccessfully invoked by the defendants in the horrific death of Matthew Shepherd.
Grants the District’s Attorney General the Ability to Pursue Civil Enforcement of Hate Crimes: Under provision, the District’s Attorney General will be able to bring civil lawsuits seeking damages against organizations, corporations, and individuals who commit a hate crime against a District resident, with civil damages up to $10,000 per act, among other remedies. This does not preclude an individual from bringing their own suit, but rather confirms the District’s Attorney General may act on behalf of District residents.
Expands Community Harassment Protections: Expands the list of properties in the District where it is illegal to display a symbol of hate or deface a property based on religious or secular uses, including by protected classes of people.
B23-0501, the “Sanctuary Values Amendment Act of 2020”
This bill confirms the District’s posture as a “sanctuary city” for the purposes of recognizing the value of our immigrant neighbors and residents. The bill makes permanent the emergency and temporary laws introduced by Councilmember Allen that prohibit collaboration between the District and ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) in the following instances:
- Holding an individual in custody after they would otherwise have been released;
- Providing an office, booth, or any facility or equipment to a federal immigration agency for a search or inquiry about an individual in the District’s custody; and
- Permitting a federal immigration agency to interview an individual in the District’s custody without a judicial order or request by the detained individual and without counsel present or a waiver of such right.
Except with respect to individuals covered by an existing Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Corrections and the U.S. Marshals Service, the bill also prohibits the District from:
- Providing to any federal immigration agency a space in a District detention facility to house, detain, or hold individuals for civil immigration enforcement purposes;
- Notifying a federal immigration agency of an individual’s date and time of release, location, address, personal identifying information, medical information, photograph, or criminal case information;
- Granting a federal immigration agency access to any District detention facility for the purpose of releasing an individual into federal custody; and
- Releasing an individual for the purpose of transferring the individual into the custody of any federal immigration agency.
B23-0165, the “Initiative and Referendum Process Improvement Amendment Act of 2020”
Furthers Councilmember Allen’s work to make DC’s elections process smoother, fairer, and more accessible to District residents. Makes several improvements to the ballot initiative process to ensure ballot language is clear and the subject matter is appropriate and legally sufficient before being considered. While the Council does not have the authority under the Home Rule Act to move all ballot initiatives to General Elections, it recommends considering the process to make this change, as turnout is historically much higher during a General Election than during a Primary or Special Election. Finally, it puts into law a number of changes for elections for any future public health emergencies.
B23-0181, the “Intrafamily Offenses and Anti-Stalking Orders Amendment Act of 2020”
Overhauls and modernizes the District’s laws granting civil protection orders involving family or romantic partners. In doing so, the bill recognizes a more modern understanding of how domestic violence, stalking, and other harmful behaviors take place in intimate relationships, while closing a loophole landlords use to circumvent tenant protections. After modifying the definitions of what is and is not eligible for a civil protection order, the bill also creates new anti-stalking measures to strengthen the enforcement and protection afforded under the law.
B23-0141, the “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act of 2020”
Brings the District into line with 46 states as to how digital assets, ranging from access to email or social media accounts to digital accounts such as Paypal or Venmo, are made accessible following someone’s death or if they are unable to manage their own affairs and a legally designated fiduciary must step in. Includes privacy protections.