Martin Austermuhle, DCist, January 27, 2021
Any time the D.C. Council wants to pass a bill into law, it’s required to get an independent assessment of how much the bill would cost and whether the city has the money to pay for it. But now, lawmakers are getting a second look at their legislative proposals — and this one will judge whether what they want to do will help or hurt the cause of racial equity.
Earlier this month the council launched its first Office of Racial Equity, whose main responsibility will be working with lawmakers to better account for racial equity as they write bills. The main tool the office will use will be what’s known as Racial Equity Impact Statements, independent assessments of how a bill could benefit or hurt groups that have traditionally been discriminated against or disproportionately impacted by government action.
“Our main responsibilities are to normalize, operationalize, and organize around racial equity,” says Brian McClure, the office’s first director. “The outcome is to advance racial equity in the District.”
The office was created as part of the REACH Act, a bill passed by the council last year to push the city’s government to more concretely tackle the root causes of historic inequities that exist in education, health, housing, criminal justice, and other areas. The measure also created a partner racial equity office in the executive branch, which will be lead by the city’s first Chief Equity Officer.
The move joins a trend in many local governments across the country that are creating new positions and offices to specifically address issues of racial equity. Seattle led the charge when it launched its Race and Social Justice Initiative in 2009, and other governments have since followed suit, including Fairfax County, which has had a chief equity officer since mid-2018.
McClure, the director of the new Council Office of Racial Equity, says the new Racial Equity Impact Statements his staff of four will produce will look at the historical context of specific policy areas and any possible blind spots or assumptions in bills, evaluate different scenarios to see how a bill might impact different racial groups, and provide a list of possible positive or negative effects or racial and social inequities.