Back in January, we announced OneAmerica’s 2017 Legislative Agenda – our policy and budget priorities for this year’s State Legislative Session – and now it’s time for an update.
Given the concerns and fears of immigrant and refugee communities under the Trump Administration, the State legislature is one place where we can shape policies that could make a significant difference for our communities. Going into the 2017 session our primary proactive strategies focused on voting rights, education reform to better support English learners and increased funding for citizenship programs. We also sought to shape the debate in the legislature over Washington’s response to climate change to ensure that it reflected the voices and needs of front-line communities and workers, while significantly reducing pollution and its disproportionately negative impact on lower income communities of color.
Yesterday was the House of Origin cutoff in Olympia. Any bills not deemed necessary to implement the budget had to receive a ‘yes’ vote from the chamber in which they were introduced in order to stay alive. What survived cutoff, and what comes next for OneAmerica’s priorities?
The Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA), which creates a mechanism to ensure all communities have an equal chance at representation in local government, passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 51-46! All 50 House Democrats supported the bill, and Representative Larry Haler, a Republican from the Tri-Cities, joined in support. The bill has historically had a tough time in the State Senate, where it’s headed next. Republican State Senator Mark Miloscia from Federal Way has proposed an alternative bill that has also been referred to as the “Enacting the Voting Rights Act”. It passed the Senate last week on party lines after a controversial debate. OneAmerica does not support this bill, because although it allows for districted elections – an important tool in reforming election systems that disenfranchise immigrant communities and communities of color – it does not require those districts to be drawn in a way that allows those communities an equal chance at representation. We hope Senator Miloscia, who chairs the Senate State Government Committee, will give the House bill the hearing it deserves in the coming weeks. To learn more about the WVRA, check out the coalition web page.
Building on the success of a pilot project we championed in 2015, our Dual Language Learning bill (DLL) is one of the few things Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on this year in Olympia. The House bill, HB1445 passed last week 64-34, with 14 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in calling for fully-funded bilingual programing in early learning and K-12, as well as training for bilingual educators. Compelling speeches by representatives from all over Washington State made it clear that our legislators support better educational outcomes for all students. The House version of the bill is already in the Senate awaiting a hearing in the Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education.
Our push to expand access to citizenship by increasing the funding level for our Washington New Americans program continues in earnest. This successful program is a partnership between OneAmerica and Washington State and receives funding through the State’s Operating Budget. The House and Senate will each release their budget proposals in the coming weeks, so we’ll know more about their commitment to new Americans soon.
The Clean Energy Transition Act, an innovative and equitable approach to action on climate change, will be heard in the House Environment committee on Tuesday, March 16th. If you’re interested in showing your support for this exciting bill, please RSVP with the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy here. This bill faces serious challenges in both the House and the Senate, but we anticipate a productive debate about how Washington State can lead on climate action.
Some other bills we’re tracking are also making headway in the legislature. Both the House and the Senate passed similar versions of a bill to improve the translation of emergency notices so that communities can receive critical notifications in their own languages. The House also passed a bill to allow Legal Permanent Residents (green card holders) to serve as police officers and firefighters in an overwhelming show of support for immigrants. They voted 91-7 and sent it on to the Senate, where it will be heard on Wednesday, March 15th. And in partnership with key allies, we have been able to defend against attempts to weaken our state’s strong protections against predatory lending.
One major point of concern this session is how Washington’s legislature may choose to comply with the federal REAL ID Act, which requires new license security features and data sharing with federal security agencies. Conservative and liberal groups have opposed implementation of the REAL ID Act due to serious concerns over cost, and violations of privacy and civil liberties, particularly under a Trump Administration that appears all too ready to surveil American citizens.
The Senate recently passed a bill that would create a two-tier driver’s license system, increasing access to an enhanced driver’s license that would be available to citizens, and marking the current Washington driver’s license so that it could only be used for state and local purposes. The House may act on a similar bill soon. OneAmerica opposes any legislation that would bring our state into compliance with the REAL ID mandate, and we’ve made clear that should the House move forward, it must ensure that a second tier license must not be used by law enforcement agencies to profile vulnerable populations, including immigrants and refugees.
Finally, earlier this session, in response to broad activism among immigrant and allied communities, Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order affirming that Washington will remain a welcoming state, and among other decrees, that no state agency may discriminate based on national origin and that state resources may not be used to enforce federal immigration laws or to contribute to the creation of a Muslim registry.
Regular session is halfway over! Each of our proactive priorities still has a long journey to the finish line, but we are off to a strong start. If you’re interested in learning how to support our efforts in the legislature, contact Ellicott Dandy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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