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Bill would require D.C. government to work toward racial equity

New legislation aims to make city officials more intentionally consider links between policy and race

The Pennsylvania Avenue NW entrance to the John A. Wilson Building, the seat of the D.C. government

A pending bill authored by Ward 5 D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie would require the District government to explicitly consider racial equity when evaluating “programs, policies, and practices,” starting as early as next year. This kind of consideration would be formalized through a new tool to be designed by D.C.’s Office of Budget and Planning, and, according to McDuffie, it would help boost outcomes for the city’s historically marginalized communities.

“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 in a statement when originally proposing the bill. “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.” The bill is scheduled to be the subject of a public hearing held by a D.C. Council committee Thursday.

The legislation received preliminary support from a supermajority of the Council when it was introduced in January. As McDuffie envisions it, the racial equity tool would examine which groups would “benefit or be burdened by a given policy or programmatic decision” as well as “potential unintended consequences” of those decisions and any plans to mitigate them. The bill would require District government employees to go through racial equity training as well.

In a statement Thursday, At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, one of the legislation’s co-introducers, said the District is “long overdue” for conversations and action on racial equity. Grosso added that the bill should also include the Council—not just D.C.’s executive branch. “I fear it will be too easy to reverse, intentionally or unintentionally, the positive outcomes this legislation would produce if we do not implement our own racial equity framework and require councilmembers and staff to participate in ongoing racial equity training,” he noted.

During the public hearing, McDuffie’s office stated on Twitter he “is committed to including language to apply a racial equity impact assessment to all bills that come before the Council.”

The discussion on the bill comes as lawmakers mull Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, which begins October 1. They are anticipated to vote on it next month and could make changes. Two reports published separately this week by local think tanks—the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and the D.C. Policy Center—analyzed racial equity in the city and discussed how government policies have perpetuated disparities among various groups.

This post has been updated with additional comment from Grosso and McDuffie’s office.