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Councilmember Grosso introduces bills to enhance representation in local government

For Immediate Release:
October 8, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Grosso introduces bills to enhance representation in local government

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso introduced three bills today that create a local government that is more representative, better reflects the preferences of residents, and includes those whose voices have been left out of local decisions.

“Over the past few weeks we have renewed our focus on making the District of Columbia the 51st state and finally ending the injustice that has deprived our residents of a voice in our federal government,” said Grosso. “While this fight is of paramount importance, it is equally important to examine the ways we can improve representation in our own local government.”

Accurately reflecting the will of voters

“Too often in the District of Columbia, we see victors emerge from a crowded field with far less than a majority of the vote,” Grosso said. “That may be even more likely to occur now as the Fair Elections program I introduced, and this Council passed, has successfully encouraged more residents to seek elected office.”

The Ranked Choice Voting Amendment Act of 2019 introduced by Grosso today would implement ranked choice voting, sometimes called instant runoff voting, in D.C. elections.

Ranked choice voting ensures that individuals receive a majority of the vote of the electorate by allowing voters to rank the choices on their ballots in order of preference. Tabulation of results proceeds in rounds. The first round eliminates the person with the fewest votes, then reallocates those votes to the voter’s second choice in the next round. This continues until one person receives a clear majority of the vote.

“This important legislation will increase voter turnout as voters will be free to mark their ballot for the candidate that they truly prefer without fear that their choice will help elect their least preferred candidate,” said Grosso.

Currently, Maine and 11 cities utilize ranked choice voting for their elections.

The bill was co-introduced by Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, and Mary Cheh and was referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

A voice in government for permanent residents

Grosso also re-introduced the Local Residents Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2019, which allows permanent residents in the District of Columbia, who are on the path to U.S. citizenship, the right to vote in local D.C. elections for Mayor, Council, State Board of Education, Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and Attorney General.

“While our rallying cry for statehood has included the mantra ‘No taxation without representation’ the same can be said for our legal permanent residents who use our streets, send their children to our schools, and pay taxes just like any other resident—and deserve a voice in our democracy,” said Grosso.

The bill was co-introduced by Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Jack Evans, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen and was referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

Greater representation in local government for all

Finally, Grosso introduced the Enhanced Representation Charter Amendment Act of 2019 which would reform the District of Columbia legislature to provide D.C. residents additional input into the local political process.

“I have often said that in a city as large as ours with a population greater than some states, 13 members can be insufficient to tackle the multitude of issues we see regularly in a meaningful way,” said Grosso.

The legislation creates a bicameral legislature for the District made up of a Senate of nine senators and an Assembly of twenty-seven Representatives. This bill also makes the elections to the legislature non-partisan, ensuring that one party primary does not serve as a de facto general election.

“With more representatives representing fewer residents, public input can be better captured at each stage of the legislative process,” said Grosso. “And additional elected officials and staff mean more time and thought dedicated to improving our legislative outcomes.”

The bill was co-introduced by Councilmembers Robert White and Brianne Nadeau and referred to the Committee of the Whole.

“While the residents of the District of Columbia deserve representation in the U.S. Congress, they also deserve a local government that better represents everyone who is affected by our decisions. One that truly reflects their preferences in candidates. And one that provides residents multiple avenues to affect the decisions we make every day on their behalf,” concluded Grosso.

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Enhanced Representation Charter Amendment Act of 2019

Enhanced Representation Charter Amendment Act of 2019

Introduced: October 8, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Robert White and Brianne Nadeau

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To amend the District of Columbia Home Rule Act to reform the structure of the Council from unicameral to bicameral, increase legislative representation of the people of the District of Columbia, provide for non-partisan legislative elections, and to amend the Boundaries Act of 1975 to increase the number of election wards from 8 to 9.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

And finally, today I’m introducing the Enhanced Representation Charter Amendment Act of 2019, along with Councilmembers Nadeau and Robert White, which would reform the District of Columbia government to provide residents more input into the political process at the local level.

I have often said that in a city as large as ours with a population greater than some states, 13 members can be insufficient to tackle the multitude of issues we see regularly in a meaningful way.

The legislation creates a bicameral legislature, with a Senate of nine senators, and an Assembly of twenty-seven Representatives.

With more representatives representing fewer residents, public input can be better captured at each stage of the legislative process and more elected officials and staff time can improve our legislative outcomes.

The bill also makes the elections to Council non-partisan, ensuring that an exclusive party primary does not serve as a de facto general election.

While the residents of the District of Columbia deserve representation in the U.S. Congress, they also deserve a local government that better represents everyone who is affected by our decisions. One that truly reflects their preferences in candidates. And one that provides residents multiple avenues to affect the decisions we make every day on their behalf.

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Local Residents Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2019

Local Residents Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2019

Introduced: October 8, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Jack Evans, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To amend the District of Columbia Election Code of 1955 to expand the definition of the term qualified elector to include permanent residents for the purpose of local elections.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

The second bill is a re-introduction of the Local Residents Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2019, along with Councilmembers Nadeau, Evans, Robert White, Todd, Allen, and Silverman, which will include more voices in the day-to-day decisions that affect every resident of the District of Columbia.

“All politics is local” is a refrain often heard within the U.S political system. What most D.C. residents care about are the local issues of city life that affect them.

This includes our public schools, taxes, having access to quality health care, crime rates in neighborhoods, and so much more.

All of these issues are important to voters in the District of Columbia but unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make the policy decisions that will directly impact them. In my opinion, that is unjust.

This bill allows permanent residents in the District of Columbia, who are not yet U.S. citizens, the right to vote in our local elections.

These residents may be well on their path to U.S. citizenship. This bill will allow them to legally participate in our elections for Mayor, Council, State Board of Education, ANCs and Attorney General.

While our rallying cry for statehood has included the mantra “No taxation without representation” the same can be said for our legal permanent residents who use our streets, send their children to our schools, and pay taxes just like any other resident—and deserve a voice in our democracy.

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Ranked Choice Voting Amendment Act of 2019

Ranked Choice Voting Amendment Act of 2019

Introduced: October 8, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, and Mary Cheh

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To require that candidates to public office be elected using ranked choice voting, to require that District of Columbia voting systems be compatible with a ranked choice ballot system, and to set a date and conditions for implementation of ranked choice voting in the District.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

First, along with Councilmembers Nadeau, Cheh, and Silverman, I am reintroducing the Ranked Choice Voting Amendment Act of 2019, which will further reform how elections are run in the District of Columbia and guarantee that voters truly preferred candidate enters public office.

Too often in the District of Columbia, we see victors emerge from a crowded field with far less than a majority of the vote.

That maybe even more likely to occur now as the Fair Elections program I introduced, and this Council passed has successfully encouraged more residents to seek elected office.

Ranked Choice Voting, or Instant Runoff Voting, ensures that individuals receive a majority of the vote of the electorate, by allowing voters to rank the choices on their ballots in order of preference.

It is extremely troubling that candidates can be elected to public office with as little as 30 percent of the vote or less.

This important legislation will increase voter turnout as voters will be free to mark their ballot for the candidate that they truly prefer without fear that their choice will help elect their least preferred candidate.

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Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018 - Two Year Window Guide

PRESS RELEASE | FACT SHEET | PAMPHLET | TOWN HALL EVENT

On May 3, 2019, the Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018 became effective law. Not only did the law end the criminal and civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse, it also opened a two year window for victims to file civil claims even if they were previously time-barred under the old statute of limitations.

Now individuals have until the age of 40, or 5 years from when they knew, or reasonably should have known, of any act constituting sexual abuse, whichever is later, to file a civil action. The window closes on May 3, 2021.

Councilmember David Grosso has partnered with the Zero Abuse Project and National Crime Victim Bar Association to educate the public and raise awareness of this two year window and connect victims to resources to heal and seek justice.

Councilmember Grosso and the Zero Abuse Project will also host a town hall on Nov. 6, 2019 at 6pm in the John A. Wilson Building to discuss changes to the statute of limitations requirements for child sexual abuse in states and cities around the country.

Zero Abuse Project Chief Executive Officer Jeff Dion will guide a conversation with leading child welfare advocates and sexual abuse prevention experts about a new opportunity for survivors of child sexual abuse to seek justice. In addition, the townhall includes the voices of survivors and the Councilmembers who have been critical in seeing the bill into law.

Resources

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline - No matter the stage of recovery, confidential, anonymous support is available 24/7 for survivors and loved ones.

  • DC Victim Hotline - Represents an unprecedented collaboration of service providers in DC who are working to seamlessly connect victims of crime to free, resources and to help them navigate the physical, financial, legal, and emotional repercussions of crime.

  • National Crime Victim Bar Association - Certified by the American Bar Association, NCVBA offers a referral service for survivors who would like to pursue civil suits. Referrals are based on type of case and location. Each survivor will be offered three referrals.

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It’s time to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day in D.C.

For Immediate Release:
October 7, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

It’s time to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso ahead of tomorrow’s legislative meeting of the Council of the District of Columbia, where he will propose legislation to rename the holiday celebrated on the second Monday in October to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”:

“For at least five years now legislation supported by a majority of the Council that would honor our native populations and rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been stalled by Chairman Mendelson without any public input or hearing.

“Tomorrow, along with Councilmembers Allen, Bonds, Cheh, Nadeau, Trayon White, and Robert White, I will put forth legislation that will force a vote of the full Council to finally do the right thing by ending the celebration of the misleading narrative of Christopher Columbus on the second Monday in October.

“This move is not controversial. Maine, New Mexico, Vermont, North Carolina, Alaska, South Dakota, Oregon, and at least 130 cities and towns have now renamed the holiday, according to the New York Times.

“This is not just a movement in other areas of the country—I feel it right here in the District of Columbia every single day. I get letters from students requesting the name change; I know many schools use the holiday to honor Indigenous People instead of Christopher Columbus; and frankly, it’s an accident of history that Columbus is honored in this way.

“Columbus Day was officially designated as a federal holiday in 1937 despite the fact that Columbus did not discover North America, despite the fact that millions of people were already living in North America upon his arrival in the Americas, and despite the fact that Columbus never set foot on the shores of the current United States.

“Columbus enslaved, colonized, mutilated, and massacred thousands of Indigenous People in the Americas.

“We cannot continue to allow this history to be celebrated as a holiday in the District of Columbia. The government of the District of Columbia is clear that we are a government that values equality, diversity, and inclusion. Continuing to observe a holiday built on the celebration of oppression runs counter to those values.

“Already a majority of the Council has indicated their support to re-designate the second Monday in October through previous bills. It is my hope that we can come together tomorrow and honor Indigenous People and their rich history and cultural contributions with a “yes” vote ahead of October 14.”

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Councilmember Grosso joined by national advocates to encourage victims of sexual abuse to file civil claims under new law

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Councilmember Grosso joined by national advocates to encourage victims of sexual abuse to file civil claims under new law

For Immediate Release:
October 7, 2019
 
Contacts:
Councilmember Grosso: Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Zero Abuse Project: Melissa Green, 202.618.6961 - melissagreen@rational360.com

Grosso joined by national advocates to encourage victims of sexual abuse to file civil claims under new law

Washington, D.C. – Victims of sexual abuse in the District of Columbia may be eligible to file civil lawsuits against their abusers, even if previously barred by the statute of limitations under a law enacted by the D.C. Council last year.

The Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018, which incorporated parts of Councilmember David Grosso’s Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act, ended the criminal statute of limitations and extended the civil statute of limitations for any case of sexual abuse–not just acts of sexual abuse that occurred while the survivor was a minor.

Additionally, the law created a two-year window for civil claims that were previously time-barred for survivors up to the age of 40 to be filed.

“The recent spate of high-profile cases involving allegations of and convictions for sexual abuse underscore the pervasiveness of sexual assault in America,” said Councilmember David Grosso at a press conference held today with advocates for survivors of sexual abuse. “The prevalence of these incidences, across every sector, from the Catholic Church to as far-reaching as the Office of the President of the United States, defies the word ‘problem.’ As policymakers, we have to ensure that every available option is afforded to those who have been harmed. This law will allow the many courageous survivors across the city to seek justice under the law.”

Previously, civil actions related to sexual abuse must have been commenced within 7 years of the date the victim attains the age of 18 or 3 years from when the victim knew, or reasonably should have known, of any act constituting the abuse, whichever is later. Now individuals have until the age of 40, or 5 years from when they knew, or reasonably should have known, of any act constituting sexual abuse, whichever is later, to file a civil action.

D.C. is leading the way along with seven states as part of a growing national movement to end statutes of limitation for sexual abuse. Grosso partnered with national organizations Zero Abuse Project and the National Crime Victims Bar Association to educate and raise awareness of the window for survivors to file civil lawsuits over the next two years.

“I want to thank Councilmember Grosso for his efforts to assist survivors and protect the children of the District of Columbia from future abuse. Because of this work, under the Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018, survivors of child sexual abuse can now seek justice and hold predators and the institutions that covered for them accountable for decades of abuse,” said Jeffery Dion, CEO of the Zero Abuse Project. “Moving forward, the new law also removes the perverse incentives for institutions to cover abuse as they can no longer just wait out a short statute of limitations to protect their reputation. The Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018 is in fact our most powerful tool to stop abuse and protect kids.”

The law became effective on May 3, 2019 and thus victims of sexual abuse whose claims had been previously barred due to the statute of limitations have until May 3, 2021 to file civil lawsuits against their abusers.

“As a survivor of child sexual abuse that occurred here in DC, I want to commend Councilmember Grosso for a critical first step for survivors. The two year window and extending the age to 40 from 25 is a huge victory,” said former NFL player Al Chesley, who survived sexual abuse at the hands of D.C. police officer in his youth. “It took 33 years after my abuse to be willing to admit it to myself and talk about it with others – I was 48 years old which also happens to be the national average for survivors to come forward -- so I encourage everyone working to support survivors of child sex abuse to continue to push until there is no statute of limitations for civil cases.” Chesley continued.

The National Crime Victim Bar Association offers a referral service for survivors who would like to pursue civil suits. Referrals are based on type of case and location. Each survivor will be offered three referrals.

“The enactment of the Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018 represents a crucial step in helping victims of child sexual abuse seek justice so long denied to them. It also represents a much-needed readiness to hold abusers, and those who remained complicit with abuse, accountable for their crimes,” said Renee Williams, Director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. “The National Crime Victim Bar Association stands ready to assist victims of child sexual abuse by ensuring they have access to the civil justice system. Victims seeking an attorney can request an attorney referral by accessing victimbar.org/referrals or by calling 1-844-4HELPDC.

“I hope more jurisdictions to follow our lead,” said Grosso. “Child safety depends on legislators holding institutions, not just individual perpetrators, accountable for their actions. We cannot continue to allow individuals or institutions to maintain their depraved secrets. We must instead encourage and empower victims to come forward and know that a fair and just system is in place to help them right unspeakable wrongs.”

Grosso and the Zero Abuse Project will hold a town hall at the John A. Wilson Building on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 to educate survivors about their options and connect them to resources to seek justice and healing.

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DMV responds to Councilmember Grosso's inquiry regarding facial recognition

Councilmember David Grosso, joined by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, inquired with the director of the Department of Motor Vehicles about the department’s use of facial recognition technology and possible sharing of photographs or other biometric data with other local or federal government agencies or private parties.

“We are deeply concerned about the rapid advancement and use of facial recognition technology, which has serious implications for the civil liberties and welfare of residents of the District of Columbia,” the councilmembers wrote in a July letter to Director Gabriel Robinson.

According to a recent report from the Georgetown Center for Privacy and Technology, several states have allowed Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to run facial recognition software on the driver license or non-driver identity card photographs of individuals without regularized immigration status. Further, the Government Accountability Office published a report in June detailing the far-reaching program at the Federal Bureau of Investigations to scan photographs held by state-level agencies through facial recognition technology.

In his response, Director Robinson indicted that the DMV has not shared any photographs or biometrics with ICE and closely follow existing D.C. law which strictly limits who they can share information with. DMV has no formal agreements with any agency other than the Central Collections Unit regarding unpaid parking and moving violations.

However, they also state that they make no effort inform limited purpose license holders that they do not share info with ICE, something that is important for that community to be aware of as many may be fearful of obtaining a drivers license if they think it could threaten their status in this country.

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Councilmember Grosso introduces legislation to protect D.C. abortion rights

For Immediate Release:
September 17, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Grosso introduces legislation to protect D.C. abortion rights

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso today pushed back against a tide of measures in several states that seek to limit reproductive health freedom by introducing legislation to affirm all D.C. residents’ right to access the full range of reproductive health options, including abortion.

“Across the country, reproductive health decisions—and specifically abortion rights—are under attack,” said Grosso. “President Trump continues to nominate judges that will shift the ideological makeup of the courts, while state legislatures enact unconstitutional laws that restrict access to abortion.”

Since January, 10 states have passed total or near-total bans on abortion. In some cases, laws like Alabama’s, the strictest abortion ban in the country, are crafted in such a way to force the court to revisit Roe v. Wade. In other states, restrictive laws are meant to make access to abortion so difficult that it will not matter whether Roe v. Wade stands or not.

“D.C. residents have the right, in consultation with their doctor and free from government interference, to make medical decisions about contraception, abortion, or carrying a pregnancy to term,” Grosso said. “We must enshrine that right into the D.C. Human Rights Act, leaving no doubt that the District of Columbia stands for reproductive health freedom.”

The Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019 puts D.C. in direct opposition to this trend by amending the 1977 Human Rights Act to recognize the right to choose or refuse abortion care, prohibit the criminalization of self-managed abortion, and protect health care professionals against employer discrimination based on their participation in providing abortion care.

“We need lasting protection for reproductive health access now, no matter what happens in Congress, in the states, or in the courts,” said Grosso.

Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, and Charles Allen joined Grosso as a co-introducer of the bill, as well Councilmember Brandon Todd, chairperson of the committee to which the legislation was referred.

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Councilmember Grosso re-introduces legislation to ban the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses in D.C.

For Immediate Release:
September 17, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Grosso re-introduces legislation to ban the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – At the D.C. Council’s first legislative meeting after summer recess, Councilmember David Grosso re-introduced his legislation to counter the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses, which seek to utilize the stigma associated with the sexual orientation, gender identity, or other identity expression of victims to excuse violent crimes.

“I am a passionate supporter of the human rights of criminal defendants, a fair and swift trial, and for alternatives to incarceration,” said Grosso. “All of that is possible without resorting to a defense that is premised on bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.”

The Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 would curtail the availability and effectiveness of defenses that seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or other inherent identity, is to blame for the defendant’s violent action. The bill also requires an anti-bias jury instruction in criminal trials if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

“The bill makes one thing clear: a defense that exploits bias is simply unacceptable,” said Grosso.

Councilmember Grosso originally introduced the bill in February 2017 as the Secure a Fair and Equitable (SAFE) Trial Act. Over the summer, Grosso worked closely with LGBTQ advocates ahead of re-introduction and fulfilled their request to rename the bill in honor of Tony Hunter, a gay man, and Bella Evangelista, a transgender woman.

“LGBTQ+ panic defenses have long stood as a symbol of dangerous and outdated thinking,” said D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director of the National LGBT Bar Association. “The Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 would send a clear message: Discrimination has no validity in the courtroom.”

“Victims of crime, their families, and their communities experience enough trauma without having to shoulder the blame for their murder or assault or watch their loved one’s name maligned as they seek justice,” said David Mariner, Executive Director of The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community. “I greatly appreciate Councilmember Grosso’s continued engagement with the LGBTQ+ community on this issue and for naming the bill in honor of Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista–two victims whose cases were marred by the discriminatory statements that are used in the making of these panic defenses.”

“This bill would prohibit the misuse of a victim’s identity as an excuse for perpetrating a murder or violence. The ‘panic’ defense attempts to justify a criminal act motivated by a defendant’s racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism or other bias. This Act is a necessary step to address an anachronism in our legal system that demeans and devalues the lives of vulnerable people. These defenses simply have no place in our justice system and it is time for them to go,” said Sasha Buchert, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal.

In August, the Washington Post reported that D.C. saw the highest number of bias-motivated attacks last year and had the highest per capita hate-crime rate of any major city in the country.

“In this time of heightened rhetoric of hate and violence, it is incredibly important that we act to eliminate bias whenever we can. I appreciate the renewed grassroots support for this legislation, including the many letters and resolutions Advisory Neighborhood Commissions have recently approved, and urge the Council to move swiftly,” said Grosso.

Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen joined Grosso as co-introducers of the legislation.

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Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019

Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019

Introduced: September 17, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To amend Chapter 1 of Title 23 to curtail the availability and effectiveness of defenses that seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or other inherent identity, is to blame for the defendant’s violent action and to require an anti-bias jury instruction in criminal trials if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you, Chairman Mendelson. Today, along with my colleagues Brianne Nadeau, Robert White, Charles Allen, Brandon Todd, Mary Cheh, and Elissa Silverman, I am introducing the “Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019.”

This legislation would curtail the use of defenses that seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent action.

At the request of community members, we have named the bill after Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista, two victims whose cases were marred by the discriminatory statements that are used in the making this so-called panic defense.

In 2008, Tony Hunter died after being attacked in Shaw while on his way to a gay bar.

The man arrested for the assault told police that he punched Hunter in self-defense after Hunter touched him in a sexually suggestive way.

There were many other factors in the case that made it complex, but the fact that the assailant blamed the victim’s sexual orientation for the attacker’s violent actions was disturbing and inappropriate.

This argument is known as the “gay panic” defense and it seeks to blame a victim of a violent attack for provoking the violence by making a sexual comment, action, or simply by expressing their identity.

It is used around the country and throughout D.C.’s history.

The same argument has been used by individuals accused of attacking or murdering transgender women, arguing that the victim’s transgender identity amounted to deception and therefor justified a violent response.

That is essentially the argument that the killer of Bella Evangelista made after he killed her in 2003, also in D.C..

This legislation would end the use of such arguments in the District of Columbia.

The American Bar Association has carefully considered this topic and has voted in support of this type of legislation—in fact the Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 is based on the model language put forward by the ABA.

I am a passionate supporter of the human rights of criminal defendants, a fair and swift trial, and for alternatives to incarceration.

All of that is possible without resorting to a defense that is premised on bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals

A defense that exploits bias simply should not be acceptable.

This bill is not limited to LGBT victims, but also covers any situation where an individual might seek to excuse their violent actions on the basis of another person’s identity.

The bill also requires that a jury be instructed to not let bias play a role in their deliberations during a criminal trial if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

In this time of heightened rhetoric of hate and violence, it is incredibly important that we act to eliminate bias whenever we can.

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Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019

Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019

Introduced: September 17, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To amend the Human Rights Act of 1977 to recognize the right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization and to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term to term, to give birth, or to have an abortio, to prohibit the District government from interfering with reproductive health decisions and from imposing a punishment or penalty on an individual for a self-managed abortion, miscarriage, or adverse pregnancy outcomes, and to prohibit employment discrimination against health care professionals based on the professional’s participation in or the fact that the health care professional is willing to participate in, abortion or sterilization procedures.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you Mr. Chairman, today along with Councilmembers Bonds, Silverman, Nadeau, Cheh, Todd, and Allen, I am introducing the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019.

 Across the country, reproductive health decisions—and specifically abortion rights—are under attack.

At the same time the Trump administration is fulfilling its promise to nominate more conservative federal judges, legislatures across the country are enacting unconstitutional laws that restrict access to abortion.

In some cases, laws like Alabama’s, the strictest abortion ban in the country, are crafted in such a way to force the court to revisit Roe v. Wade.

In other states, the laws are meant to make access to abortion so difficult that it will not matter whether Roe stands or not.

D.C. residents have the right, in consultation with their doctor and free from government interference, to make medical decisions about contraception, abortion, or carrying a pregnancy to term.

With this bill, the District has the unique opportunity to enshrine a positive right to choose into the D.C. Human Rights Act, leaving no doubt that the District of Columbia stands for reproductive health freedom. The bill will:

  • Recognize the right to choose or refuse abortion care, sterilization procedures, or contraceptives;

  • Prohibit penalizing self-managed abortion; and

  •  Prohibit discrimination against health care professionals by a health care provider, based on the professional’s participation in abortion care.

Since January, 10 states have passed total or near-total bans on abortion.

It is more important than ever to enact policies that articulate a positive right protecting safe, legal abortion.

While we are well aware that the District of Columbia is subject to the whims of Congress, we are fortunate right now to have a pro-reproductive health majority in the House of Representatives;

Nevertheless, it is imperative that as a city we do our part to protect the rights of our residents.

We need lasting protection for reproductive health access now, no matter what happens in Congress.

This legislation ensures that everyone in D.C. has access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.

Our residents deserve more access to health care, not less. This bill will help to secure a future that safeguards abortion care and respects decision-making.

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PARCC scores continue to demonstrate improvement

For Immediate Release:
August 19, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

PARCC scores continue to demonstrate improvement

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), chairperson of the Committee on Education, on the release of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores from assessments administered in the 2018-2019 school year:

“The PARCC results released today demonstrate that public education in the District of Columbia continues to improve. I appreciate the hard work of educators across the District of Columbia whose dedication to our students’ success has produced these positive results.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that every student, regardless of race, disability, or other factor, completes their education prepared for a bright future; and while today’s results show some improvements, we still have more work to do in order to fulfill that responsibility. The data we gain from these assessments will provide us with valuable information about where our focus needs to be in order to continue our progress and put every student in the best position to succeed.”

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Councilmember Grosso endorses plan to expand protected bike lanes by 2020

Councilmember David Grosso, joined by six of his Council colleagues, today sent a letter to District Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian in support of the Washington Area Bicycle Association’s proposed 20x20 plan which calls for the creation of 20 miles of protected bike lanes to be completed by the end of 2020.

You can read the letter below:

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Public comment period now open on Trump Administration's anti-transgender health care rule

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently accepting public comments on a proposed federal rule that would roll back civil rights protections for transgender individuals, making it more difficult for them to access vital health care in the United States.

Today, Councilmember Grosso ensured that the D.C. Council submits comments opposing the proposed rule-making.

Last November, Councilmember Grosso introduced–and the Council unanimously passed–the Sense of the Council in Support of Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Non-Conforming Communities Resolution of 2018 last November.

“Transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people exist and deserve the full and equal protection under the laws of District of Columbia and the United States, the U.S. Constitution, and international law including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” reads the resolution. ”Stigma and discrimination based on gender identity or expression are well documented, including in a national survey of nearly 28,000 transgender individuals that found that…one-third of those who saw a doctor in the previous year faced discrimination. There is no evidence that ensuring civil rights protections for these communities causes harm to anyone else, and in fact leading national experts and associations in the fields of education, health care, child health and welfare, and support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence roundly reject any such claims and support nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.”

The resolution includes a requirement that the Secretary of the Council submit the resolution as public comment on any relevant proposed rule-making, on behalf of the Council of the District of Columbia. I will be following up to ensure that this happens. Today he sent a memorandum to Secretary Nyasha Smith to ensure it is submitted.

“While the Trump administration wants to give a green light to shelters, housing programs, doctors and medical institutions to turn away transgender people, in D.C. the law will not change,” Councilmember Grosso said in May. “Our local Human Rights Act explicitly protects our transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming, and non-binary residents, workers, and visitors from discrimination. It is critical that the D.C. government double down on its commitment to protect these community members from discrimination and get the word out that anti-transgender bias has no place in the District of Columbia.”

Members of the public are encouraged to submit their own comments opposing the proposed rule before the public comment period ends on August 13, 2019. You can visit https://protecttranshealth.org/ to learn more and submit your own comments.

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Councilmember Grosso introduces bills to strengthen safe passage to school and support students on extended medical leave

For Immediate Release:
July 10, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Grosso introduces bills to strengthen safe passage to school and support students on extended medical leave

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, yesterday introduced two bills to support students’ academic success by improving safe passage to school and reducing barriers to academic instruction when medical conditions require them to be away from school for extended periods of time.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our students feel safe from the moment they step out of their home until they return from school at the end of the day,” Grosso said. “Unfortunately, our city has experienced far too many shootings near our schools in just this past year which threatens our students’ sense of safety and negatively impacts their ability to learn.”

According to research conducted by Guns & America, 177 of the 286 shootings in the District of Columbia occurred within a 1,000-foot-radius of a school campus. Most of these incidents were concentrated near schools on the east end of the city.

The Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2019 establishes an Office of Safe Passage charged with improving the safety of students on their way to and from school through the creation of a five-year plan, enhanced agency coordination, grant making, and data collection. It also requires the Mayor to provide a shuttle bus from Metro stations to DCPS and public charter schools with the fewest transportation options.

“With continuous and sustained safe passage programming, I believe our students, schools, and communities will be safer and our students will be in a better position to succeed academically,” Grosso said.

Grosso also introduced legislation to protect the right to an education for students who are absent from school for an extended period of time due to physical or psychological reasons.

“Students in the District of Columbia have a right to an education even when they are unable to attend school for long periods of time due to medical reasons. However, it has become clear that D.C. is not always fulfilling that responsibility to our students,” Grosso said.

Research conducted by Councilmember Grosso’s office found major shortcomings across sectors in the provision of home and hospital instruction services to students.

At DCPS, many parents are unfamiliar with their home hospital instruction program. There is no transparent process for determining a child’s eligibility, no clear mechanism for appealing a decision, and no basic public data about the program.

Further, students who are admitted into the Psychiatric Institute of Washington or St. Elizabeth’s Hospital do not receive any instruction at all. It is also unclear if all public charter schools have a program in place, what the requirements are, or if they are in line with best practices.

The Students’ Right to Home or Hospital Instruction Act of 2019 requires every local education agency to adopt and implement a home or hospital instruction program that provides academic instruction and support to students who have been or will be absent from their school of enrollment for 10 or more consecutive or cumulative school days due to a physical or psychological condition. It also creates an appeal process to be administered by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

“This long overdue legislation sets basic expectations for local education agencies to ensure they are meeting their responsibility to educate our students,” Grosso said.

Councilmembers Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Trayon White joined Grosso as co-introducers of both bills.

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Students’ Right to Home or Hospital Instruction Act of 2019

Students’ Right to Home or Hospital Instruction Act of 2019

Introduced: July 9, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, Trayon White

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To require every LEA to adopt and implement a home or hospital instruction program that provides academic instruction and support to students who have been or will be absent from their school of enrollment for 10 or more consecutive or cumulative school days due to a physical condition or a psychological condition; require OSSE to administer the appeals process; require OSSE to promulgate regulations.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Today, along with my colleagues, Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Brandon Todd, Mary Cheh, Robert White, and Trayon White, I am introducing the Students’ Right to Home or Hospital Instruction Act of 2019.

This legislation requires every local education agency to adopt and implement a home or hospital instruction program that provides academic instruction and support to students who have been or will be absent from their school of enrollment for 10 or more consecutive or cumulative school days due to a physical or psychological condition. It also creates an appeal process to be administered by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Over the past year, I and my staff have spent time reviewing the policies and practices of DCPS and speaking to the community about DCPS’ Home Hospital Instruction Program.

What I’ve learned is there is no transparency of process for determining a child’s eligibility, no clear mechanism for appealing a decision, and no basic public data about the program.

Further, students who are admitted into the Psychiatric Institute of Washington or St. Elizabeth’s Hospital don’t get any instruction at all. And it's not clear if public charter schools have a program in place, what the requirements are, or if they are in line with best practices.

More troubling is that I’ve consistently heard that many parents don’t know this program exists which puts our students further behind in their schoolwork. This legislation attempts to overcome all of these barriers so that our students can continue to learn no matter their circumstance.

I welcome any co-sponsors. Thank you.

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Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2019

Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2019

Introduced: July 9, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, Trayon White

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE | FACT SHEET

Summary: To establish an Office of Safe Passage to ensure safe passage for students traveling to and from LEAs between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Monday through Friday during the school year and summer; and to require the Mayor to provide a shuttle bus from the metro station to a DCPS and public charter school within a priority area with the fewest public transportation options.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you, Chairman Mendelson.

Today, along with my colleagues, Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Brandon Todd, Mary Cheh, Robert White, and Trayon White, I am introducing the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2019.

According to research conducted by Guns & America, there were 286 identified shootings in the District of Columbia between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. during the 2016-2017 school year. 177 of these shootings were within a 1,000-foot-radius of a school campus. 82% of these incidents happened near schools on the east end of our city.

And, as many of you know, we've had several scary incidences this past school year.

DC PREP and Ketcham Elementary School have repeatedly gone on lockdown because of the proximity and intensity of the shootings in their neighborhood.

A family was attacked on their way back from KIPP DC Douglass Campus to Anacostia metro station.

Shootings have occurred near Savoy and Tubman Elementary school.

More recently, shots were fired during a movie night at Hendley Elementary School and they’ve been occurring in close proximity to their building over the course of many days.

And we’ve had multiple children die due to gun violence this year on their way to and from school.

This is not normal and it’s not okay. And for far too long, adults have turned a blind eye to this. How do we expect our students to learn when they can’t rely on us to keep them safe to and from school?

This legislation establishes an Office of Safe Passage to ensure students are able to travel safely to and from schools every day during school hours and after school activities. It also requires the Mayor to provide a shuttle bus from the metro station to a DCPS and public charter school with the fewest transportation options.

With continuous and sustained safe passage programming, I believe our students, schools and communities will be safer.

I welcome any co-sponsors.

• Thank You.

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Councilmember Grosso calls on Councilmember Evans to resign from the D.C. Council

For Immediate Release:
July 8, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Grosso calls on Councilmember Evans to resign from the D.C. Council

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso regarding Councilmember Evans’ latest dishonesty to the Council about the nature of his relationship with lobbyist Bill Jarvis:

“Tomorrow, the Council will consider resolutions to remove Councilmember Jack Evans as chairperson of the Finance and Revenue Committee and hire a law firm to conduct an investigation into his potential violations of the Council’s Code of Conduct. While I appreciate that the Council is finally acting to take Councilmember Evans’ misconduct seriously, it is frustrating that it has taken us this long to act to protect the Council’s reputation and hold our colleague accountable.

“Regardless of the actions we take tomorrow, given new revelations over the weekend of Councilmember Evans’ dishonesty, I believe the public trust in Councilmember Evans is irreparable and it is in the best interest of the Council and the residents of the District of Columbia that Jack Evans resign as the Ward 2 Councilmember. Short of that, I will be offering an amendment that would also remove him from all committees until the conclusion of this investigation.

“Last week, Councilmember Evans attempted to present his case to Councilmembers in response to the release of a memo from a law firm hired by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to investigate Evans. This memo illustrated that Mr. Evans was not forthcoming and not truthful with his colleagues and the public about the findings of the WMATA investigation.

“My colleagues and I asked many questions, including the nature of the relationship between Mr. Evans and his consulting firm NSE Consulting with lobbyist Bill Jarvis. Councilmember Evans maintained that Mr. Jarvis was merely a long-time friend who helped file the paperwork creating NSE Consulting. However, over the weekend The Washington Post ran a story contradicting Mr. Evans’ claims yet again, summarizing e-mails demonstrating that Mr. Jarvis acted on behalf of the firm by negotiating contracts with potential clients.

“It is no longer possible to trust anything that Councilmember Evans has told us since this ordeal began. Councilmember Evans lied about what happened with the WMATA report, and now he’s lying about the nature of his relationship with a well-known lobbyist, Mr. Jarvis. We must now question votes and actions he has taken on the Council during his many years as chairperson of the Finance and Revenue Committee, and particularly during the past decade in which he has not once recused himself from a Council vote.

“Especially troubling is his rush to legalize sports wagering and to sole-source the contract to ensure his business partner’s client remains the incumbent vendor. The relationship between Councilmember Evans and Intralot’s lobbyist Bill Jarvis only reinforces my view that we should disapprove the proposed $215 million lottery and sports wagering contract, decouple the two issues, and open both to competition.

“This is an unfortunate situation of our own making. The Council failed to address the allegations of Councilmember Evans’ corruption, conflicts of interest, and misconduct when they first surfaced in early 2018. At that time I privately requested that Chairman Mendelson create an ad hoc committee made up of five Councilmembers to investigate. I re-iterated those calls in the subsequent months as new allegations and information came to light. The Chairman still has not appointed an ad hoc committee and has indicated that he is unlikely to do so until the fall.

“Rather than investigating these allegations at the first hint of wrongdoing, it has taken the work of the press to bring Councilmember Evans’ conflicts and dishonesty to light. We are continually distracted by new allegations of wrongdoing or new information that casts doubt on Councilmember Evans’ honesty. Who knows what else this week will bring? Further distraction can be avoided if Councilmember Evans takes the appropriate action by resigning from the Council.”

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In Recognition of National Children’s Awareness Month

In Recognition of National Children’s Awareness Month

By: Alejandra Barrera* 

The month of June has been established as National Children’s Awareness Month. It is the perfect time to raise awareness on the vulnerability of children exposed to violence and the importance of providing school-based mental health support.

At the most fundamental level, investing resources in children to help them flourish and develop to their full potential is a moral imperative. But investing in children is also important on practical grounds. Their well-being contributes to poverty reduction, income equality and economic growth in our common future.[1]  Since the foundation of an individual’s health and well-being is set in early childhood, it is during that time that we have to provide the most support with better policies and interventions.

While maltreatment and traumatic experiences are unacceptable for anyone, it’s particularly detrimental and damaging during childhood as children are going through a process of cognitive, emotional, and physical development. Today, children and youth are in high need of mental health support given the high exposure to different forms of violence, such as domestic violence, bullying, and gang and gun violence that are prevalent in our schools and communities. These environments put children in a state of distress that can eventually lead to lasting physical, mental and emotional harm.

A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, and 91 percent of child abuse is committed by parents.[2] Further, 4 to 5 children die from abuse or neglect every day in the U.S., and 75 percent of these children are under the age of 3 years old.[3] U.S. teens and young adults have reached their highest suicide rates. In 2017, suicide claimed the lives of 5,016 males and 1,225 females between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States.[4] More than 3 million adolescents aged 12-17 reported at least one major depressive episode in the past year.[5]

The latest Child Maltreatment report published by the Children’s Bureau at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) shows us that as society, we are making progress in reducing victimization and deaths due to maltreatment; however, the numbers of victims and deaths are still higher than they were five years ago, which is concerning.

In 2017, Children Protective Services agencies received a national estimate of 4.1 million referrals of child maltreatment in the United States involving more than 7.5 million children. Of that estimated 7.5 million children who were included in referral, 3.5 million children received an investigation or alternative response. An estimated 674,000 children were determined to be victims of maltreatment. In total, three quarters or 74.9 percent of victims were neglected, 18.3 percent were physically abused, and 8.6 percent were sexually abused.  For 2017, an estimated 1,720 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.32 per 100,000 children in the national population.[6]

D.C. has historically had one of the country’s highest child fatality rates. [7] In 2008, 182 children died in the District; by 2013, it dropped to 91. Child fatality statistics show that total deaths have increased steadily again since 2013, rising to 100 in 2014 and 124 in 2015, though the city’s overall rate of child deaths decreased from 2008 to 2015. According to Child Fatality Review Committee in the District of Columbia, between 2011 and 2015, only 17 of the child fatalities reviewed were the result of abuse or neglect.[8] In the Child Maltreatment report, DC reported four fatalities in 2017, and its child fatality rate per 100,000 children was 3.21, demonstrating the city's commitment to reducing violence of any form against children. [9]

For this FY 2020 budget, Councilmember David Grosso and the Committee on Education worked to fund a number of priorities that focused on child welfare.[10] These investments included fully funding bills such as the School Safety Act, which will ensure schools are working to prevent and properly handle cases of sexual assault and abuse through better policies, including protocols for responding to and reporting allegations.  

Additionally, the Fair Access to School law will reduce the use of exclusionary discipline and address the root causes of student behavioral issues through school-based mental health services. Councilmember Grosso and the Committee on Education were also able to  fully fund Students in the Care of D.C. Coordinating Committee Act that will create a committee to identify challenges and resolve issues that students in detainment, commitment, incarceration, and foster care face in order to improve educational outcomes.  

The commitment of the community, parents, caregivers, teachers, leaders, government officials, and students themselves have helped shape policies that better serve our children as a whole, however there is room for continued improvement in the District’s child welfare system. 

Advocates, parents, and Councilmembers alike have all called for the allocation of additional funding to support and expand school-based and community-based mental health services so that kids can get the help they need, or tackle risk factors that lead to dysfunctional families, which in many cases increase the likelihood of child maltreatment or neglect. Additionally, the city should continue working to implement a comprehensive counseling program in our schools by setting counselors-to-student ratios.

Though more work can be done to strengthen our policies, the city should take pride in its efforts thus far. The D.C. Council and the Mayor have demonstrated a shared commitment to comprehensively addressing critical issues facing children and youth, by bringing new approaches and bills that seek to optimize child well-being in the District of Columbia. Through these efforts and continued engagment with the community, the District of Columbia will become a leader in advancing robust policies that protect the health and well-being of our children and youth.  

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso. Alejandra is a former intern and now current Office Manager with the Office of Councilmember Grosso.*

[1] (UNICEF, n.d.)

[2] (Health Alliance, 2018)

[3] (Health Alliance, 2018)

[4] (Los Angeles Times, 2019)

[5] (Los Angeles Times, 2019)

[6] (Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019)

[7] (Washington City Paper, 2019)

[8] (Washington City Paper, 2019)

[9] (Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019)

[10] (David Grosso DC Council At-Large Blog, 2019)

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