D.C. Enacts Expanding Access To Justice Act Of 2017
07/12/2017, Legislation, Housing - Evictions
In June 2016, D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie convened an official public roundtable to discuss the civil right to counsel and the expansion of access to justice in the District of Columbia. Following from the event, Councilmember McDuffie introduced B21-0879, the "Expanding Access To Justice Act Of 2016", which proposed to set up "civil right to counsel projects" that would expand representation for various types of eviction cases via grants made to D.C. legal aid providers. The Washington Post, Next City the Washington Informer, and Street Sense covered the release of the bill.
The legislation was in some ways a response to housing representation pilots that have been running in the District since 2015. Those pilots are a collaboration between Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Bread for the City, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. The pilot received over $300,000 in initial funding through the D.C. Bar Foundation, using money appropriated by the D.C. City Council.
On October 19, 2016, the bill had its first hearing (video link), in which a steady stream of advocates and affected community individuals testified in support of the bill over the course of several hours. The Washington Times covered the hearing. After the bill did not advance in 2016, it was re-introduced in 2017 as B22-0024, and in July 2017, the D.C. Council approved $4.5 million for the bill, with $3.9 milion set to be an ongoing appropriation and an additional $600,000 appropriated for 2017. Read press releases from bill sponsor Kenyan McDuffie here and here.
NCCRC worked with the legal aid community and the sponsor on bill drafting.