Today, Councilmember David Grosso introduced a bill that seeks to strengthen the D.C. Language Access Act in several important ways. The bill, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Vincent Orange, Jim Graham, Jack Evans, David Catania and Yvette Alexander, includes many notable amendments to the existing law, such as:
- Adding the Mayor’s Office, D.C. Council, and public charter schools as “covered entities” under the Act;
- Requiring covered entities with major public contact to have a full-time equivalent language access coordinator position;
- Allowing individuals who have filed language access complaints with the Office of Human Rights (“OHR”) to seek review of an OHR decision in the Office of Administrative Hearings;
- Providing individuals harmed by violations of the Language Access Act a private cause of action for damages and other remedies; and,
- Creating a “Civil Penalties Fund” with revenue from new monetary penalties that OHR would impose on covered entities it finds have violated the Language Access Act.
In addition, the bill would require covered entities with major public contact to post a list of oral language services provided and expand language access in public and public charter schools by requiring, among other things, additional training for certain staff on language access matters and an English as a Second Language certified staff member if English language learners make up more than 10% of the school’s population.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the passage of the original Language Access Act of 2004. The Act remains an important civil rights guarantee for Limited English Proficient/Non-English Proficient (LEP/NEP) District residents, requiring, among other things, that “covered entities” with major public contact provide interpretation and translation services to LEP/NEP individuals.
Legal Aid is proud to have worked closely with other members of the D.C. Language Access Coalition, led by Many Languages One Voice (MLOV), to share our collective experiences with language access issues in the District and provide feedback on how the Language Access Act can be improved to better serve LEP/NEP District residents. As Council Member Grosso stated when introducing today’s bill, “true language access allows everyone who lives and works in the District access to higher levels of respect, dignity, and greater participation in all of the programs that the city offers.”
Legal Aid looks forward to continuing to collaborate with other Language Access Coalition members and with the D.C. Council as we strive to continue to improve laws and protections that exist to serve our LEP/NEP client community.