Yesterday, Councilmember David Grosso re-introduced a bill that would strengthen the D.C. Language Access Act in several important ways. (Last fall, we blogged about the prior version of this bill that Councilmember Grosso submitted during the last Council session.) The new bill, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Elissa Silverman, Charles Allen and Vincent Orange, includes many important changes to current law.
Most notably, the bill would add a private right of action, allowing individuals harmed by violations of the Language Access Act to bring cases for damages and other remedies in D.C. courts. Under the current Act, language access complaints can only be brought before the Office of Human Rights and only lead to “corrective actions” by the agencies, not any compensation to the person actually harmed by violations of the Act. The ability to make whole individuals who have been harmed by violations of the Act is a key provision of the proposed legislation.
The bill also adds the Mayor’s Office, D.C. Council, and local education agencies as “covered entities” under the Act. Covered entities must, among other things, provide oral interpretation in all languages and provide written translations of vital documents for any non-English language spoken by a population of LEP/NEP individuals that constitutes 3% of the population served or encountered by that agency or 500 individuals, whichever is fewer.
The addition of the Mayor’s Office and D.C. Council as covered entities would help to insure that LEP/NEP District residents have full access to the services of their government and equal opportunities to communicate with their local elected officials.
The bill includes several other additions as well, such as establishing a “Language Access Education and Awareness Fund.” This Fund will be created with revenue from new monetary penalties that OHR can impose on covered entities if OHR finds a violation of the Language Access Act by the covered entity. The money in the Fund would be used for, among other things, funding public outreach and education materials to make sure that LEP/NEP individuals know their language access rights. The Bill also makes several additions to the protections for LEP/NEP students in the District.
Legal Aid is proud to have continued to work closely with other members of the D.C. Language Access Coalition, led by Many Languages One Voice (MLOV), to advocate for improvements to the Language Access Act.
Legal Aid hopes that the Council will hold hearings on the Bill at the earliest possible moment and looks forward to working with the D.C. Language Access Coalition and the D.C. Council to strengthen the Language Access Act and its enforcement in order to improve the lives of D.C. residents who are LEP/NEP.