Council Extends Youth Crime and Opioid Public Health Emergencies

At the final Legislative Meeting prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Council voted unanimously to extend the existing public health emergencies regarding youth crime and opioids until February 15. The Council took the lead on the opioid public health emergency, recognizing that sadly, the death toll from the opioid epidemic is twice that of the District’s annual homicide total. The Council passed a Sense of the Council measure on November 7, urging the mayor to recognize the gravity of the opioid epidemic and to declare a public health emergency in response. The mayor heeded the Council’s recommendation, and declared not just an opioid public health emergency, but also public health emergency in regards to youth crimee.

By law, public health emergencies declared by the mayor last only fifteen days. In an important, built-in separation of powers/checks-and-balances limit on mayoral authority, the law requires that any and all subsequent extensions of the mayor’s public health emergency powers be extended by a vote of the Council. During the COVID public health emergency, these powers were extended multiple times by unanimous Council votes.

In regards to the opioid and youth crime public health emergencies, the mayor requested even broader authority than had been the case during the COVID public health emergency. The Council unsuccessfully sought clarity from the mayor in regards to exactly which specific laws she sought broader flexibility with. In attempting to balance the urgent need for action with the Council’s essential role as a check to mayoral power, the final Council bill limited the extent of that flexibility to procurement, as was the case during the COVID public health emergency.

The Council also pared back the end date of the measure, from a proposed March 20 expiration to the February 15 date included in the passed measure. The hope is that prior to that date, and the unfortunately likely need for the public health emergency to be extended, the mayor will come forward with a detailed plan as to how she will use both her existing and temporarily expanded powers to directly address both public health emergencies.

Additionally, also in regards to youth crime and juvenile justice, the Council passed an emergency measure extending the life of the Office of Independent Juvenile Justice Facilities Oversight (OIJJFO). Created as part of the settlement agreement closing out decades of litigation and court monitoring regarding the state of the District’s juvenile detention facilities, the OIJJFO’s purpose was to independently oversee facilities run by the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. OIJJFO was created via Mayor’s Order in November of 2020, and opened the following January, but was subject to a three-year sunset provision. OIJJFO’s existence could be extended, but only through deliberate action.

Although the Council proactively pre-funded OIJJFO through the end of the current fiscal year (September 30, 2024), the mayor’s office indicated an intention to allow the Office to sunset. Given the youth violence public health emergency declared by the mayor and extended by the Council, the Council chose to double down on its earlier expression of financial support for the OIJJFO, by also unanimously passing emergency legislation at the most recent Legislative Meeting explicitly extending the life of the office. Assuming the legislation is enacted after being sent to the mayor, the OIJJFO will remain in existence at least through the end of the fiscal year, with the same duties, responsibilities, and authorities as it has had previously. (Leading up the the Council’s action, the mayor had belatedly taken action to extend OIJJFO’s life, but the Council wanted to guarantee this by making this extension law, so it did.)

In additional action, the Council approved a number of nominations, including for a Metro board seat, and reappointments of the District’s Rent Administrator and the District’s longstanding Chief Tenant Advocate in the Office of Tenant Advocate.

The Council’s next Legislative Meeting will be held on December 5.