On Friday Chairman Phil Mendelson’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary held a roundtable discussion on the Omnibus Crime Bill. The roundtable on the legislation, Bill 17-951, was to focus on the bill’s gun, anti-gang, and witness protection provisions. Chairman Mendelson & Councilwoman Muriel Bowser were measured in their support or opposition of the bill in their opening statements. Ms. Bowser, in particular, noted her own concerns about gangs and violence throughout the city. Councilmember Jack Evans, however, vigorously supported the legislation and called for tougher penalties; he also spoke about the problem of suspects not being held when they should be on repeat offenses.
First to speak was the Public Defender’s Office. Ms. Laura Hankins spoke at length in opposition to the bill’s increased gun control provisions, and in opposition to mandatory minimum sentences included in the legislation as being bad public policy. She further raised concerns with the witness protection provisions as unnecessary and constrictive for defense attorneys.
Next to speak was Mr. Carl Takei with the ACLU. He echoed the Public Defender’s testimony, and testified in strong opposition to the bill’s anti-gang provisions. Both Ms. Hankins & Mr. Takei also submitted extensive written testimony opposing each section of the legislationi.
Mr. Richard Gilbert with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers spoke extemporaniously, echoing previous testimony. He repeated that mandatory minimums are bad policy.
PSA 102 Co-Coordinator Robert Pittman spoke in measured support of the bill, lauding the bill’s firearm discharge provisions, and to some extent the legislation’s gang provisions.
Commissioner Jack Jacobson (ANC 2B04) spoke in favor of the legislation, in terms of holding repeat offenders accountable and in providing the U.S. Attorney’s Office additional tools when investigating and prosecuting cases. He was supported in part by Brian Wrenn, a public witness.
Two additional witnesses, Ronald Moten with Peaceaholics and Jonathan Howard with Returning Citizens United, spoke in strong opposition of the entire bill. They both stated that additional penalties for crimes should not be imposed until economic and social opportunities are afforded to the areas of the city plagued by crime.
There is much work to be done on this legislation, and it is likely that the bill will not pass before the end of this Council Period on December 16. However, it is a priority for the Mayor, and will be reintroduced early in January. The legislation must then recieve a hearing, a second reading, and be considered by the Council. It’s a long process, but the Mayor wants to pass the legislation.
To provide written testimony on the bill, please email letters and/or comments on the legislation to Ms. Heidi Tseu at [email protected].