Kenyan McDuffie
**FILE** Kenyan McDuffie (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Members of the D.C. Council began 2019 by introducing key bills that they hope will improve the lives of city residents.

On Jan. 8, the first legislative session of the Council Period 23, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) introduced legislation that seeks to improve race relations in the District. The bill — The Racial Equity Achieves Results Act of 2019 (REAR Act) — would operationalize racial equity in the District by requiring the D.C. Office of Budget and Planning to design and implement a racial equity tool starting in the fiscal year 2020.

The tool, which consists of surveys and studies that are data-driven and based, would become a standard measure of an agency’s performance of its duties and become a regular means of evaluating programs and initiatives. For example, an economic development agency would report how people of color are being affected by new commercial projects in the city.

In addition, the legislation would require the development of racial equity training for all District government employees.

McDuffie sponsors this bill as the District’s Black population stands at 47.1 percent in a 2017 U.S. Census report from a high of 71 percent in 1975. McDuffie wants to make sure that African Americans are treated fairly by the District government.

“Decades of structural and institutional racism in the District, and to be sure, in America, has created widespread racial inequities, which are pervasive and exist across all indicators for success, including in education, criminal justice, employment, housing, transportation, health, and in business,” he said. “Only by building systems that are intentional in their design to account for implicit bias and systemic inequities, will every District resident truly have the same opportunities to prosper in our society.”

Studies have consistently shown that literate individuals tend to prosper economically. However, a study by the Washington Literacy Center reports that about 90,000 District residents are functionally illiterate, meaning they struggle to complete a job application and to read a newspaper with full comprehension.

To address this problem, Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) introduced the “Commission on Literacy Establishment Act of 2019” that will establish a panel that will develop comprehensive strategy recommendations to address literacy disparities, provide support to advance literacy organizations and plan programming and events related to literacy. The bill includes provisions relating to the membership, organization, duties and meetings of the commission.

White said he sees the effects of illiteracy every day.

“It is my impression that many unemployed residents in my ward have trouble reading,” he said. “This bill will provide the resources to those residents, especially adults, and those organizations that are fighting illiteracy. To me, the way to fight illiteracy is education.”

White also introduced bills, the Youth Mentoring Initiative Establishment Act of 2019 and the Nonprofit Incubator Program Establishment Act of 2019, that would, respectively, establish the Youth Mentoring Initiative in the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes to facilitate public/private partnerships supporting youth mentoring programs and make it easier for non-profits located in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River to share working space, resources, services and seed funding.

Council member Vincent Gray (D) introduced bills that would give first responders tax incentives to live in the District, provide free tuition to the University of the District of Columbia for police officers, their spouses and children, and requires the police to have on hand opioid rescue kits to prevent overdoses. Gray said ideas for legislation came from residents who attended the Ward 7 Action Summit.

“We achieved great milestones in the last council period, but there is still much work to be done,” he said.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) referred all of the introduced bills to the appropriate committee for consideration.

Council members introduce legislation early in the council period with hopes that their pieces will move quicker through the process. Plus, bills introduced early tend to show what the council member’s priorities are.

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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