Grassroots Immigrant & Refugee Leaders Claim Victory in Olympia

This month, the Washington legislature adjourned following a particularly intense and active 60-day legislative session.  OneAmerica grassroots leaders from across Washington, staff and allies met with legislators, led phone banks and drove statewide communications strategies in support of an ambitious issue platform.  These efforts were highlighted by a statewide advocacy day on February 1st that featured Governor Jay Inslee and several powerful women of color legislators driving elements of our agenda.  The following bills are on their way to the Governor’s desk for signature.

Democracy Reform.  After six years of trying, this year OneAmerica led a statewide campaign that finally passed the Washington Voting Rights Act (SB6002) through the state legislature.  The bill will allow residents to challenge local election systems that disadvantage candidates of color and ensure that every person’s vote will count.  The mechanism to increase representation involves shifting at-large elections (every voter votes on candidates running for office) to districted elections (voters have the opportunity to vote for candidates that live in and represent their own districts).  This would lower the cost of running for office and would ensure that candidates will campaign in communities long neglected under our current system.  It could also open up hundreds of local elected seats to qualified candidates of color across Washington State, creating a deeper bench of experienced candidates prepared to run for higher office.  Special thanks to Rep. Mia Gregerson and Sen. Rebecca Saldana, who led efforts in the House and Senate.

In addition, the Legislature passed a bill that would allow prospective voters to register to vote up to the day of the election (SB6021, same day voter registration), a bill that would allow for automatic registration of eligible voters who also sign up for an enhanced driver’s license and other government services, and creates a task force to explore automatic registration of naturalizing citizens (HB2595), and a bill that pre-registers 16 and 17 year-olds who would be eligible to register to vote when they turn 18 (HB1513).

Dream 2.0 (HB1488).  The State Legislature passed a bill that will build on the WA State Dream Act that OneAmerica campaigned for in 2014 by allowing undocumented immigrant youth to qualify for the College Bound Scholarship.  It would also ensure that individuals with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) will continue to be eligible for state financial aid and in-state tuition, following President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program.  Special thanks to Rep. Drew Hansen who led efforts in the legislature on this important bill.

Police Training and Accountability (HB3003).  Just before adjournment the Legislature passed Initiative 940, a landmark proposal that will bring the legal standard for the prosecution of police officers involved in the deaths of civilians in line with other states, require additional training for law enforcement to de-escalate potentially violent situations, require law enforcement officers to render life-saving aid, establishes independent mechanisms to investigate civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement, and establishes an oversight task force representative of community and other stakeholders.  For OneAmerica staff and leaders who gathered signatures for this initiative to the legislature, the breakthrough was an unexpected victory.  Unfortunately, the legislature’s action will be challenged in the Courts, so it may still be the case that I-940 will be on the ballot in November.

New Funding.  The Supplemental Budget passed by the legislature establishes a $1 million program to provide legal services to immigrants, sets aside $464,000 to launch community outreach programs in preparation for the 2020 Census, and invests an additional $950,000 into dual language instruction programs in Washington State.

Other important bills that are on their way to the Governor include HB1022, which expands access to U-Visa certifications for immigrants who are victims of crime; HB1939, which establishes a day (March 31) in honor of Cesar Chavez; SB1645, which opens up first responder jobs to legal permanent residents; HB1783, which reduces the burden of legal financial obligations issued by courts on low-income residents; and SB6529, which establishes a Work Group to make recommendations to protect workers and communities from the application of pesticides.

Important bills that did not pass that OneAmerica advocated for include a Carbon Tax bill (SB6203) that would have created a tax on carbon emissions and invested revenue from the tax in strategies to reduce carbon pollution.  With the legislature unable to take action on this bill, OneAmerica joined with other members of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy to file a ballot measure that would go to the voters this November.  OneAmerica also advocated for HB1451, which would have required schools to improve language access for families that do not speak English well.

While we’re not keeping score, for comparison, here’s OneAmerica’s legislative agenda for the 2018 session.  Thank you to the grassroots leaders who brought their concerns and aspirations directly to legislators at home and in Olympia, and thank you to the legislators who stood up for immigrant and refugee communities and demonstrated that when we organize, we win!