The short 60-day session focused on the supplemental budget and restoring some funding to health and education programs cut in last session¹s budgetary shortfall. Still the legislature (and FCWPP) managed to make progress on substantive issues, despite major time constraints and a heavy agenda. FCWPP participated with University Friends Meeting and the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the first Quaker Lobby Day, teaming with our allies, the Lutherans.
Equality Testimony: Civil Rights for Sexual Preference After many years legislation passed (HB-1515) extending Civil Rights Commission jurisdiction to discrimination claims based on sexual preference.
Economic Justice: Tax Fairness As a member of the Tax Fairness Coalition we supported two measures to address tax loopholes. HB-1069 passed, requiring periodic performance audits for most tax exemptions to evaluate whether they provide the intended benefit to the state. HB-1096 (requiring the Governor¹s biennial budget to include a tax exemptions report and recommendations for exemption continuation) failed.
Criminal Justice: Prison and Transition and Reentry Agenda As part of the Transition and Reentry Reform Coalition we continue to aggressively pursue legislation to assist people returning from our prisons to successfully transition back into society and increase their chances of doing so successfully. Our lobbyist, Roger Kluck discussed issues facing people returning to our communities from prison in an interview on the King County (and internet) TV program, Moral Politics.
Joint task for recidivism reduction We supported Senator Carrell¹s proposal (SB-6308) for a joint task force to investigate changes in-prison counseling and programming, sentencing, and community supervision to reduce recidivism (repeat offenses). We testified for this measure and lobbied both houses. It passed unanimously. We expect to be actively involved in this ongoing effort.
Interest reduction for sentencing financial obligations We continued last years¹ effort to reduce the interest rates ex-offenders pay on the restitution, and other financial obligations imposed as part of their sentences (LFOs).The current 12% rate often exceeds the person¹s ability to pay, resulting in demoralization and, we believe, increased recidivism. Our bills (SB-5611 and HB-1359) would reduce the rate to 2% above the T-bill rate (consistent with other legal rates), cutting the rate about in half. Both bills passed in their houses of origin, but neither one was voted on by the second chamber. With the crush of bills competing for legislative attention in the last hours before the end of session, this constituency was once again pushed to the back of the line. During the interim we will meet with leadership to gain their perspective on how to avoid this next year.
Voting Rights* We supported an ACLU bill to reinstate felons’ voting rights upon their release from prison. (HB-2873). This measure failed to move beyond committee. A replacement bill to study the issue of felon voting rights and procedures also failed. Interagency task force on reentry and transition (Roger and Dan along with other TRRC members) to solve problems with solutions involving multiple state agencies.
Separating financial obligations from discharge of sentence Last year we pursued HB-1358 to allow ex-offenders to have their sentence discharged after meeting all non-financial obligations of their sentence. This would result in restoring civil rights (including voting rights) much sooner and begin eligibility for expungement of their record. After discussions with leadership we did not pursue this measure this session and focused on bills more likely to succeed. We will come back to this issue next session, however. Class I prison industries We continued to actively pursue FCWPP language for a constitutional amendment to reinstate Class I prison industry programs. Class I programs provided the best paying jobs in prison and gave inmates valuable job skills. A state Supreme Court decision ended them last year. We have worked with legislators and the Department of Corrections to reinstate them in a manner that protects inmates from abuses. It did not pass this session so we will revive the matter next year. It appears that the language we have proposed will be the starting point for next years’ legislation.
Other FCWPP Initiatives: Peace Testimony School recruiter bills FCWPP initiated two bills (HB-2986 and SB-6681) this session to regulate recruiter access to student records, as well as recruiter behavior, coordinating with a network of peace groups, PTSAs, and counter recruiting groups to generate testimony and visible support. This effort captured considerable interest, generated several news stories and radio interviews and brought FCWPP to the attention of a broad audience. The House bill passed from committee, but did not get to the floor. The Senate bill died in committee, in part because the ranking minority member had recently returned from Iraq and members were hesitant to raise the issue before him. Speaker Chopp¹s Chief of Staff, however, told us the measure has captured the Speaker¹s interest and he wishes to work with us between now and next January to prepare legislation that can pass. In a short session with a crowded agenda he just did not feel there was enough time to explore the issue and move it forward. Next year looks very promising! An interview with our lobbyist, Roger Kluck regarding his work on this legislation was reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer with a follow-up lesson plan for secondary students. They are available on the Seattle P-I‘s web site.
National Guard Exposure to Depleted Uranium (DU)** Depleted Uranium is this generation¹s Agent Orange. Following suggestions by several people, including FCNL representative Bob Schultz, our lobbyist approached two groups concerned with depleted uranium exposure and asked if they were interested in pursuing a bill to test our returning National Guard for DU exposure. Their enthusiasm led to collaboration with veterans and peace groups, again broadening FCWPP’s witness, service and exposure. Measures were drafted, copying those in other states. Sponsors were obtained and the bills received hearings in both houses, with powerful testimony from veterans. However, the issue was new to most legislators who wanted more time to examine the issue than the short session provided so both bills died. However, Sen. Doumit revived our Senate bill as a budget item. We lobbied heavily for its acceptance in the budget and with help from the Governor’s husband, Mike Gregoire, we were successful in getting some of what we had proposed study and an investigation into the budget. Washington has joined Connecticut and Louisiana in moving this issue forward on the national stage! We expect to monitor the study closely and work with others to make sure fundamental information is provided to the Guard and the legislature as the investigation proceeds. We are currently lobbying the legislature and the Governor to have them insist on hearings and Health Department participation in the study.
[*] Since the end of session, King County Superior Court Judge Michael Spearman ruled that denying voting rights based on a person¹s eligibility to pay LFOs violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, thus restoring voting rights upon release from prison. However, Washington¹s Attorney General and Secretary of State are appealing the ruling. [**] The military uses DU (Depleted Uranium) to harden munitions and make penetrating shells and explosives. The radioactivity released is suspected of causing serious health problems and birth defects in both our troops and civilians in the countries where it is used. Like Agent Orange, the military denies a problem and is suppressing research and testing that might prove the risks. Because of federal inaction, several states have committed to studying the issue as it relates to their National Guard. If enough states take action, it may force the federal government to acknowledge the problem. Connecticut and Louisiana have passed bills, New York and Hawaii are also considering bills.