Weekend Read: South Capitol Street Memorial Act Passes First Council Read

The DC Council this week approved a truancy and youth mental health services bill crafted in response to the South Capitol Street shooting.

Wrote Tim Craig of the Washington Post:

The D.C. Council agreed Tuesday to increase behavioral health services and testing for city youths to try to keep students in schools and out of jail, but officials caution that the District still has to find money to pay for some key provisions of the bill.

The bill, a top priority for council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), calls for an extension of mental health services to all public and charter school students, including those in pre-kindergarten and Head Start.

The District also will implement new truancy rules, mandatory behavioral health screenings for youths in the juvenile justice system and a citywide study to evaluate the mental health needs of District youths.

In a statement to the council, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi warned that there is not enough money in the city’s spending plan through fiscal 2015 to fund the bill.

Gandhi estimated that the bill will cost taxpayers almost $23 million over the next three years, which will require Gray and the council to prioritize the initiative when they make spending decisions later this year.

Columnist Harry Jaffe shared his view on the legislation in the Examiner:

The at-large council member’s “South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act” is scheduled to have its first reading before the D.C. Council on Tuesday. Catania has proposed a bill that would gather data on troubled kids, place mental health services in all schools, use truancy as a trigger to intervene in families with troubled kids, train teachers and juvenile offender personnel to detect mental health problems.

All good, but Catania admits his bill falls short on consequences, such as laws in some states that fine parents or withhold benefits if their kids don’t attend school. “I cannot get majority support for consequences and punishment,” he says. “I would get an avalanche of crybabies about why I cannot hold parents directly accountable.”

Which leaves “the stick” of accountability to the feds, namely U.S. Attorney Ron Machen. Federal prosecutors have gotten convictions and heavy sentences in five cases over the past year in which they charged defendants with intimidating — or in some cases, killing — witnesses. Mark Pray and his associates are on trial now in federal court for running a violent drug ring in Barry Farms and killing Crystal Washington in 2009, a day before she was scheduled to testify against him.

Five people are currently on trial for the South Capitol Street killings. A roundup of coverage of that case is here.

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