The DC City Council unanimously passes the REACH Act, a comprehensive racial equity bill
On November 10, 2020, the DC City Council unanimously passed the potentially transformative racial equity legislation, the REACH Act, adding its name to the growing list of cities and counties across the country seeking to use legislation to address long-standing racial disparities.
The Racial Equity Achieves Change Act, introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, will intentionally look to end all socioeconomic disparities that are endemic in DC, including those disparities experienced disproportionately by DC residents of color in housing, income, health care access, food access, and the criminal justice system. Local DC advocates see as just the start of a journey
Dushaw Hockett, co-facilitator of the DC Initiative on Race and Local Government coalition, noted that coalition members have worked for over 5 years to build toward this moment and that the new law is being passed at a time when people across the country are finally awakening to the extreme disparities that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color) people have experienced for many decades.
The REACH Act requires that all new legislation in the DC Council must be subject to a Racial Equity Impact Assessment before any votes are taken, to evaluate how it would impact communities of color in DC. It establishes an Office of Racial Equity under the Mayor to coordinate the city’s actions to improve racial equity. The legislation has several additional strengths, including that it requires racial equity training for all of the DC government’s employees and also requires the creation of a community advisory body that will provide oversight of the city’s racial equity work and performance among different demographic groups.
George Jones, another DC Initiative coalition member and CEO of Bread for the City, said, “this new law moves DC one step closer to rooting out systemic racism and to becoming an anti-racist City.”
This legislation signals DC’s official entry into the relatively uncharted territory of racial equity legislation, which has sparked heated discussions in various communities, including in Minnesota, New York and most recently Fairfax County, VA, and Montgomery County, MD. Fairfax County was the first jurisdiction in the D.C. area to approve equity legislation, in 2017. The “One Fairfax” initiative mandates equity considerations in policy-making for the county of 1.1 million, Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction.