WASHINGTON, D.C. — Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will begin enforcing an additional slate of emergency protections for District residents in the “COVID-19 Response Supplemental Emergency and Temporary Amendment Act of 2020,” passed unanimously this afternoon by the Council of the District of Columbia. The bill authorizes OAG to enforce prohibitions on utility disconnections and new consumer protections around debt collection and funeral services, and to obtain maximum penalties and relief for each discriminatory action that violates the District’s Human Rights Act. The bill also allows for the creation of electronic wills and grants non-violent, low-level arrestees more time to report to a police station during the public health crisis.
“I applaud Chairman Mendelson, Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Chairman Charles Allen, the Council, and the Mayor for establishing these critical protections for District residents during the coronavirus crisis,” said AG Racine. “OAG worked collaboratively with our partners throughout government to ensure this emergency legislation meets the urgent needs of District consumers, workers, business owners, and our most vulnerable residents. We thank the Council for unanimously approving our proposed consumer protections for funeral services and enhancing OAG’s authority to enforce the District’s antidiscrimination law. We will immediately begin enforcing these new protections to keep residents safe.”
Among the provisions in the COVID-19 Response Supplemental Emergency and Temporary Amendment Acts of 2020, Mayor Bowser can extend the District’s emergency declaration for 90 days, extending OAG’s expanded emergency enforcement authority. The legislation also establishes additional protections and relief measures for District residents while the declaration remains in effect. Following OAG’s enforcement efforts around the COVID-19 Response Act, and feedback the office has received from District consumers, the labor and business community, and other community stakeholders, OAG successfully advocated for several key provisions in the legislation, including:
- Establishing funeral service consumer protection measures: Given that the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to tragic loss of life, the bill creates consumer protections regarding funeral services. To ensure grieving families are treated fairly, the bill creates a Funeral Bill of Rights requiring pricing transparency, which OAG will monitor. This provision enacts core pieces of legislation OAG had previously proposed, initially informed by a 2017 investigation of alleged consumer protection violations by funeral service providers in the District.
- Enhancing OAG’s civil rights enforcement authority: To protect residents from discrimination, the bill enhances OAG’s ability to enforce the District’s Human Rights Act (HRA) during public health emergencies. OAG may pursue discrimination cases by seeking subpoenas, along with injunctive relief—forcing defendants to end discriminatory behaviors—and obtaining maximum civil penalties for each action that violates the HRA, and each day that a discriminatory advertisement is posted.
- Prohibiting certain debt collection practices: The bill prohibits debt collectors on initiating, filing or threatening new collection lawsuits; visiting consumers’ homes; and repossessing a vehicle, among other consumer protections. The prohibitions will remain in place for 60 days after the public health emergency concludes.
- Granting OAG authority to monitor and enforce utility disconnection prohibitions: The bill clarifies that OAG has the authority to monitor and enforce the ban on utility service disconnections established in the previous emergency legislation. It also prohibits cable, internet, and broadband providers from disconnecting, suspending, or otherwise degrading services during the emergency.
- Authorizing electronic wills: The bill allows District residents to create a will with a witness present via video chat, with satisfactory audio and visual capacity.
- Extending period for non-violent, low-level, non-custodial arrestees to report to police: Rather than taking a non-violent offender committing a minor misdemeanor into custody, law enforcement can opt to issue a field arrest form. Normally, a field arrest form requires the offender to report to a police station within 15 days, after which law enforcement can request an arrest warrant from OAG. The legislation expands that period to 90 days, avoiding unnecessary additional penalties during the public health emergency.
The COVID-19 Response Supplemental Emergency and Temporary Amendment Act of 2020 builds on the emergency protections established in the COVID-19 Response Act, passed on March 17.
A copy of the legislation as introduced is available at: http://lims.dccouncil.us/Download/44543/B23-0733-Introduction.pdf
Report Violations to OAG
Residents should report consumer protection violations to OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection by:
To report civil rights violations, contact OAG’s Civil Rights Section by:
OAG’s COVID-19 Resources
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is teleworking until at least April 27. You can access OAG services online and over the phone during our telework period at:
- Website: oag.dc.gov
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
- Phone: (202) 727-3400
- Fax: (202) 347-8922
- TTY: (202) 727-3400
For updates from OAG on COVID-19, consumer tips, resources, and warnings:
- Sign up for OAG’s newsletter
- Bookmark and visit OAG’s Coronavirus Information Page
- Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
Know Your Rights: Read OAG’s Consumer Alert—available in multiple languages—to protect yourself from scams, price gouging, discrimination, and to get information about consumer, worker, and tenant rights during the pandemic.
For more District Government updates about coronavirus, visit coronavirus.dc.gov