2017 Washington State Legislative Round-Up

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This post was written by OneAmerica Econonmic and Environmental Policy Manager Ellicott Dandy.

This past Sunday, the Washington State Legislature ended its regular session without a deal on the State’s Operating Budget, which funds government programs like public education, hospitals, and human services. The Governor called legislators back on Monday for a 30-day Special Session to reach an agreement.

How did OneAmerica’s priorities fare in the regular session?

Close the Opportunity Gap

The Dual Language Learning Bill passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support! This bill had incredible grassroots support, and we were inspired by the testimony of so many powerful community leaders in favor of expanding dual language education programs. The bill is on Governor Jay Inslee’s desk, awaiting his signature. Because implementing this new law depends on funding for the programs, the final word goes to budget negotiators.

Protect Voting Rights

If you’ve been following along, you might remember that we were cautiously optimistic about our major priorities back in the middle of session. Unfortunately, the Washington Voting Rights Act, despite receiving a hearing in the Senate, stalled when Senator Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) failed to advance the proposal. Voting rights and representation in elected office are incredibly important to our communities, especially now, when federal leaders appear ready to abandon their enforcement.

Act for Climate Justice

Our Clean Energy Transition Act, a broad coalitional effort to put a price on carbon pollution and reinvest in frontline communities and green jobs, did not pass out of the House Environment Committee. However, lawmakers continue to explore ways for Washington State to lead on equitable climate action, with our comprehensive bill as a model.

Flip our Upside-Down Tax System

The legislature remains under pressure to significantly increase funding for public education and mental health services. Because we firmly believe that these vital investments cannot come at the cost of other essential programs and services, we have urged legislators to adopt innovative ways to raise funding that invite Washington’s wealthiest to pay their fair share. We continue to support the revenue package proposed by House Democrats, and hope to ultimately see some improvements to our state’s upside-down tax structure when legislators head home for good.

We also pushed for an increase in funding to the Washington New Americans program, a partnership between OneAmerica and Washington State. In budgets proposed by both chambers, the program’s funding level was increased to $1 million per year (up from less than $400,000). Nothing is certain until legislators reach a final budget agreement and Governor Inslee signs it, but we are hopeful that the cross-chamber agreement on this funding level will survive budget negotiations.

Defending our Fundamental Values

We fought hard to maintain access to driver’s licenses for all of Washington State residents regardless of immigration status, despite pressure on the legislature from the federal government to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005. “REAL ID” is a federal law that excludes undocumented immigrants from obtaining federally recognized forms of identification, like driver’s licenses.

We’ve opposed state compliance for years because it would threaten public safety, diminish civil liberties, harms asylum-seekers, and will make car insurance more expensive without meaningfully protecting us from the threat of terrorism. However, under pressure from the federal government, state lawmakers finally agreed to bring our driver’s licenses into REAL ID compliance.

The bill, which awaits Governor Inslee’s signature, maintains our existing two-tiered system of regular driver’s licenses and REAL-ID compliant Enhanced Driver’s Licenses. The only differences are that regular driver’s licenses will now be marked as inadequate for federal identification purposes and that law enforcement is prohibited from using licenses to profile immigrants. More information about these changes will be available soon.

Washington State’s strong consumer protection laws are perennially targeted by the predatory lending and debt collection industries. In coalition with anti-poverty partners, we helped defeat bills that would have allowed collections agencies to increase their already inflated fees and that could have increased medical debt. We also helped stop a bill that would have changed the definition of theft in a way that could have disastrous consequences for noncitizens.

Other Priorities

We supported a number of other priorities with mixed results.  A bill requiring local cities and towns to translate emergency notifications for natural disasters like wildfires and landslides passed the legislature with our support, and awaits Governor Inslee’s signature.  We also supported efforts to reform Legal Financial Obligations, but the bill failed to pass the Senate. The Senate held up another bill that would have allowed Legal Permanent Residents to serve their communities as police officers and firefighters. Our efforts to curb unnecessary exposure to pesticides failed in the House.

While we did not achieve all that we had hoped to, it’s clear that the direct engagement by grassroots community members can make all the difference. Dozens of OneAmerica leaders made the trek to Olympia on six separate lobby days, sending clear messages to their legislators that they are ready to push for critical policies and to also hold elected officials accountable for their actions.  

As budget negotiators return to Olympia to reconcile their differences, we hope they keep our communities’ priorities in sharp focus.

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