Advocating for social justice legislation seemed a daunting task indeed when confronted this session by a budgetary deficit, by initiative and referendum votes that suggested to many a lack of public support for increased revenue, and by initial budget proposals to eliminate many safety net programs. Given the challenges that confronted us, we are very pleased with the successes you helped create. Much of our effort focused on salvaging programs for the more marginalized and attempting to create new revenue sources by closing tax loopholes.
Basic Health, Apple Health for Kids, the Take Charge Family Planning program, and Disability Lifeline are all retained by the 2011-2013 Budget.
Legislative action supporting restorative justice and reform of the 3-strikes law this session laid a foundation for additional progress when these issues come up next session. FCWPP led the efforts – with the drafting of a bill by Paul McCold — to gain support for restorative justice. Bills we supported that passed into law include a coal-free future for Washington, laws supporting all modes of transportation, a reduction in the financial burdens for former prisoners along with a reduction in the number of people incarcerated, and state provisions to help implement the national health plan. We advocated for legislation that supported medicinal use of marijuana that fell victim to the governor’s veto, but passage by both the House and the Senate reduces the demonization frequently associated with marijuana. This year we welcomed Steven Aldrich, long active with FCWPP as a volunteer, as our Legislative Advocate and Policy Analyst beginning in September 2010. Steven maintained close contact with many legislators and their aides, worked with other lobbyists, testified at public hearings, and kept FCWPP activists engaged in the legislative progress to support our issues.
A total of 17 Action Alerts and Updates were emailed to activists during the past year; most were posted on our new website. Some Alerts focused on FCWPP supporters in specific districts.
Quaker Lobby Day: February 21, 2011
Our third annual Quaker Lobby Day attracted 52 Friends who met at Olympia Friends Meetinghouse for a morning session with keynote speaker Representative Sherry Appleton, followed by a presentation and discussion on maintaining health care and safety net programs, criminal justice issues including restorative justice and 3-strikes reform, and environmental concerns including a coal-free future for Washington. Eleven o’clock found us eating lunch, heading for the capitol campus, and scattering in small groups to lobby legislators from fourteen districts. Individuals reported that meetings with legislators and/or their aides went well, and they felt that the relationships stressed by Representative Appleton were beginning and would continue.
Further information about our efforts during the 2011 Session follows:
Our current state budgetary system encourages reductions in state services. The state constitution requires a balanced budget. A deficit can be eliminated with a simple majority vote by reducing or eliminating services the state provides its citizens; however, Initiative 1053 requires a 2/3 majority vote to backfill any budgetary holes created during an economic recession when sales and other taxes decline. This biases the system to favor cuts to funding for safety net, education, and other programs. The result this session was an “all cuts” budget at a time of economic crisis when the needs the state is supposed to serve may be greatest. Rather than increase revenue to retain health care benefits for people in need, eligibility requirements were tightened to reduce those benefits. Funding for K-12 education was cut by $1 billion. The biennial budget bill for 2011-2013 includes funding for Basic Health (the BHP), Disability Lifeline, and Apple Health for Kids. Although these programs continue, enrollments and some benefits are reduced. FCWPP supported efforts to more closely monitor tax exemptions and to eliminate tax exemptions for elective cosmetic surgery, some privately owned aircraft, purchase of out-of-state coal, and out-of-state shoppers. One bill, HB 2078, would have required multi-state banks to pay tax on first-mortgage interest, with revenue dedicated to reducing K-3 class size. It failed, receiving majority — but not the necessary two-thirds — support. Health Benefit Exchange legislation that helps implement the national health plan was passed into law.
Restorative Justice for juvenile offenders: HB 1775. Restorative justice brings together victims, juvenile offenders, their families, and relevant community members to encourage offenders to accept responsibility for repairing the harm caused by their offenses. The program must be informed by and sensitive to the needs of crime victims and voluntary on the part of the victim. HB 1775 provides the option of diverting certain cases to restorative justice programs. Next session should resolve differences between House and Senate versions.
Sentencing Reform. Several bills offer opportunities for offenders to redeem themselves and reintegrate into society.
1. Bills for earned release time and review of juveniles sentenced to life without parole, as well as the death-penalty bill, were heard in committee—and we testified—but did not attain committee approval.
2. SB 5423 provides for reduced interest liability on legal financial obligations (LFOs) for prisoners returning to society. It passed the Senate and House and was signed by the Governor. With our ground- breaking work on this issue beginning in 2004, this success provides a lesson in focused persistence.
3. SB 5236, which was a primary issue for us earlier in the session, would provide for review of certain three-strikers after 15 years and was made eligible for a floor vote in the Senate, though no vote was taken.
4. SB 5891 reduces the number of people incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses and reduces Department of Corrections supervision of low- and moderate-risk felony offenders. The Governor is expected to sign it. Drug Reform. E2SSB 5073 would have supported access to marijuana for medical purposes and regulated its production and distribution. It was passed by both the House and Senate, but the Governor vetoed the significant clauses. Still, legislative action moved the state closer to more rational regulation of marijuana use, including treating abuse as a medical problem instead of as a crime, which is a FCWPP priority.
Local Responses to Global Challenges
Coal-free Future for Washington.
SB 5769, which has been signed into law, will phase out over time Washington’s single largest source of dangerous & toxic pollution, the state’s only coal-fired power plant. The bill also provides funding for transition in employment in the area where the plant is located.
ESHB 1071 and HB 1129, both signed into law, require that streets be designed to provide safe access to all users, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, and provide for a bicycle and pedestrian safety curriculum in certain traffic schools and safety courses.
SSB 5912, which the Governor is expected to sign, expanded the Take Charge family planning program to cover family planning services for women with incomes up to 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; however, family planning provided to low-income women through the Department of Health was reduced.
Washington Investment Trust (State Bank). This proposal to keep state revenue funds local and available for loans to state business and farmers received hearings in both chambers. Although the initial version died in committee, a replacement bill, HB 2040, which focused on structuring a study, was voted out of Committee.
The FCWPP Legislative Committee, May 27, 2011