Challenging session ends with several significant successes
This post “Challenging session ends with several significant successes” is also available as a PDF file: 2014 End of Session Report-1. The importance of your voice to the Washington state legislature’s decision making process increases as the Senate’s majority caucus becomes increasingly dominated by other voices that advocate most strongly for reduced government and increased individual control. Friends can frequently tap into shared values of compassion, forgiveness, and community—supported by our Testimonies and the belief there is that of God in everything and every person—to remind legislators we need government as a moderator that preserves or improves our environment, reduces immoral disparities of wealth and opportunity, and creates a better balance between nurturing and coercion to enhance public safety while helping those who committed crimes to create better options for the future. Your efforts and contributions helped pass some important new laws, helped block a few that would have done harm, and helped build momentum for additional future change. Your continuing support helps the Friends Committee on Public Policy (FCWPP’s) be a better partner to other like minded groups such as the Faith Action Network, the Healthy Washington Coalition, and the University Beyond Bars (to name only a few) when we work in coalition. Your support also helps us build relationships and rapport with many legislators, and their staff, who give many hours to our shared goals. Below is a summary of the effort supported in the 2014 legislative session by Friends, and our friends, and by our three Working Groups: Criminal Justice, Economic Justice, and Local Responses to Global Challenges. Addressing the causes of crime, instead of enhancing punishment, to increase public safety.
- A youth opportunity act (HB 1651) was passed to automatically seal records of juveniles who do not commit serious crimes. This brings Washington more in line with 42 other states that do not burden individuals for the rest of their lives with public dissemination of information documenting youthful indiscretions or simple incidents involving law enforcement. This was one of eight issues FCWPP identified before the session began as important to the attainment of our longer-term goals.
- Victims of domestic violence will now be safer due to passage of HB 1840. This bill requires abusers, who remain a threat, to give up their guns when subject to a restraining order.
- HB 2080 remedies one of the past injustices Native Americans suffered by vacating convictions precipitated by the exercise of treaty rights, rights that were later upheld by the Boldt decision. Individuals were burdened with criminal records for decades because they violated state fishing laws that were later found to violate treaties.
- HB 2164 will require youths found to possess guns illegally to participate in programs designed to reduce the probability they will continue to use guns illegally.
- While we did not succeed in passing a bill to limit or reduce the obstacles created for re-entry, reintegration, and redemption that Legal Financial Obligations create, we did get a bill through the House, the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee, and the Senate Rules Committee. A solid foundation has been put down for future work.
- Failure to get legislation passed to reverse the ban on state funding of post-secondary education in corrections was one of the most frustrating experiences this session. The Washington Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) recommended the Department of Corrections be allowed to use part of its budget to provide post-secondary education, which WSIPP calculated would save the state more than $19.00 for every $1.00 spent. The Rand Corporation documented a 42 percent reduction in recidivism amongst those who participate in education programs while in prison. However, concerns amongst both House and Senate Republicans that spending money on college for prisoners might reduce opportunities for those who are not in prison, resulted in this bill not progressing beyond the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.
- Additional criminal justice legislation that was considered, but which did not become law, includes earned early release legislation to reintroduce parole, and a bill to create a Department of Corrections Ombudsman. We look forward in the next months to building on work done on thesebills during session in order to increase support by the 2015 legislature.
Local Responses to Global Concerns Working Group helps block efforts to subsidize unhealthy electricity production processes: Just because it’s different doesn’t mean its green!
- We helped block an effort (SB 6028) to use state funds, previously targeted to encourage development of new green energy production, from being used instead to subsidize existing operations that burn garbage (biomass).
- We also helped defeat a bill (SB 5991) to use state resources to do a study to support construction and installation of “modular nuclear power plants”.
- The Senate and the House could not agree on how to best protect our state from oil-train related catastrophe. Although $300,000 was put in the budget to study the issue, no legislation was passed to create change or to better prepare for an accident.
Efforts to maintain the state’s safety and protect the poor yielded mixed results.
- Grandparents—and others—will benefit from a law (HB 2585) that decreases the reductions to assistance pension that benefits and other “unearned” income currently trigger when they are providing foster care assistance to grandchildren—and others—who are eligible for Temporary Aid to Needy Families.
- Although the House included $500,000 in its budget so the Health Care Authority could determine how to take advantage of the Basic Health Option supported by the Affordable Care Act, the Senate did not. This option supports federally subsidized health care benefits for state residents with incomes between 133 percent and 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (Medicaid covers those whose income is below 133 percent). Sadly, it appears the Senate prevailed. We will hope to get a more supportive hearing next year.
- Efforts to reduce the regressive nature of our state’s tax system, and provide increased revenue needed to pay for education, without further reducing funding needed for social services, ended in stalemate. There were no new tax loopholes created (beyond the $9 billion benefit created for Boeing in November), no new taxes implemented, and no changes to the existing tax structure. Lower income residents will continue to contribute a higher percentage of their income—to pay for schools, roads, prisons, and our social safety net—than is required of their wealthier neighbors.
In addition to your direct involvement in advocacy, FCWPP needs your financial support to continue its work. Credit card contributions may be made online at https://qvwa.org, by clicking on the “Donate” button near the top of the page on the right. Directions for making contributions by check is also on the website. Because FCWPP is a lobbying organization, contributions are not tax deductible.