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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights: D.C. budget lacks funds to implement part of LGBTQ bill

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Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) helped shepherd the panic defense bill through a public hearing and to its final draft. (Photo public domain)

In a little-noticed development, the D.C. chief financial officer determined in November that there are insufficient funds in the city’s budget to implement an important part of a bill approved by the D.C. Council to strengthen the prosecution of hate crimes, including anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.

The bill in question, the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, won final approval by the Council on Dec. 20 by a unanimous vote.

In a Nov. 23 fiscal impact statement for the bill, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt said a provision in the bill that requires the D.C. Office of Human Rights to investigate hate crimes targeting places of public accommodation would cost $925,000 for increased OHR staff for the fiscal years 2021 through 2024. Those funds are not currently in the fiscal year 2021 budget or the projected fiscal plan for the following three fiscal years.

Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who shepherded the bill through the Council’s legislative process, said Allen’s committee to which the bill was assigned added language that allows all other provisions in the bill to be implemented because no additional funds were needed to implement those provisions.

Among them is a provision that bans the use of the so-called gay and transgender panic defense in criminal trials. Activists say the ban is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

The attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

Another provision in the bill that will be allowed to be implemented, according to Salmi, strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats. LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime.

Juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense attorneys argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime, legal observers have said.

“We are actually very glad that the most critical components of the measure can be implemented,” said Japer Bowles, an official with the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions’ Rainbow Caucus that advocated for the bill.

Bowles and other activists have said they were hopeful that the Council and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will find the additional funds needed to implement the one provision of the bill that requires additional funding when officials put together the city’s supplemental budget for fiscal year 2021 over the next several months.

The finding by CFO DeWitt that there are insufficient funds to fully implement the Evangelista-Hunter bill came four months after DeWitt issued a separate fiscal impact statement finding insufficient funds to implement another LGBTQ related bill, the Care for LGBTQ Seniors and Seniors with HIV Amendment Act of 2020.

That bill, which the Council approved in October, calls for amending the D.C. Human Rights Act to ban discrimination against LGBTQ seniors including LGBTQ seniors with HIV who live in long-term care facilities in D.C.

Similar to their call for the mayor and Council to identify additional funds for the Evangelista-Hunter bill, activists have called for the city to find the additional funds needed to fully implement the LGBTQ seniors’ legislation.

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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights