Press Release: Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety to Vote on Bills Banning Ivory Sales, Granting Leave to Vote, and Appointing First Clemency Board Members

Today at noon, the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by Councilmember Charles Allen, will mark-up legislation banning the sale of products made from ivory within the District of Columbia, among other bills.

The mark-up will take place in Room 120 of the John A Wilson Building. A livestream is available here.

While importing and exporting ivory or rhino horns is already against federal law, there is a gap in local law banning the distribution of such products, which have fueled a dangerous rise in poaching of elephants and rhinoceros by maintaining a state-level market for these products. In an investigation that hits close to home, National Geographic found that the sale of ivory has tripled in the District even as sales fell elsewhere.

The Ivory and Horn Trafficking Prohibition Act of 2020 does not ban possession of ivory and recognizes there are certain situations where possession is for non-commercial purposes or predates the federal ban. This includes products such as musical instruments made before 1976, possession by educational or scientific institutions, and family heirlooms.

“We all have a role to play in the ending cruel and inhumane poaching that starts thousands of miles away and ends up here as a product to be bought and sold,” said Councilmember Allen. “Entire species and ecosystems are being threatened, all because there is a sick glamour in possessing the tusk of a rhino as a status symbol.”

The bill proposes an escalating punishment, beginning with a $1,000 fine or twice the value of the product and up to 30 days in jail for first time offenders, all the way to a fine of $25,000 or three times the value, whichever is greater, plus up to three years incarcerated, for offenders who have been caught at least three times.

Two Bills Making It Easier to Vote

The Committee will also consider two bills that would make it easier to register and vote.

First, the Improving Voter Registration for New Tenants and Homeowners Amendment Act, introduced by Councilmember Allen, which requires the Board of Elections to create voter registration information packets that would be presented to every tenant when signing a new lease or residents purchasing a new home. It would also require the DC Housing Authority, housing projects assisted by DC Housing Finance Agency, and other government home rental or purchase assistance agencies to provide information to renters or buyers in housing managed by these agencies.

“The benefits here are pretty clear: getting more new residents registered is a great boost toward greater civic engagement, and it has the added benefit of improving the health of our voter rolls,” said Councilmember Allen. “We want to create a culture of encouraging voter registration at every touch point with the government.”

Second, the Leave to Vote Amendment Act would grant two hours of leave from employment or school in order to vote. It would be up to the discretion of employers and schools to determine when that leave could be exercised during early voting periods as well as on Election Day.

Setting Up the New District’s Clemency Board

Finally, the Committee will also move forward the first four nominees to serve on the newly-established Clemency Board for the District of Columbia. The Clemency Board was created by Councilmember Allen to help elevate petitions for clemency by DC residents who are or have been incarcerated. Because the District is not a state, the District uniquely is dependent on the President of the United States to grant clemency to residents convicted under District law – there is no other jurisdiction in the country that does not have control of its own clemency process. In other states, the governor is the decisionmaker.

In practice, this has meant clemency has almost been non-existent solely for District residents. Since 1989, only one District resident has received clemency from the President. Meanwhile, more than 1,500 US citizens serving time for a federal crime were granted clemency by a sitting US President.

“While I believe we have four great nominees to setup our Clemency Board, this is just one more example of trying to create a workaround because it is the year 2020 and more than 700,000 US taxpayers living the District still do no have the full benefits of citizenship that come with statehood,” said Councilmember Allen.

The four nominees expected to move forward today are Andrew Fois, Patrick Canavan, Samuel Whittaker, and Phylisa Carter.

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