Bills to Watch in Olympia during WA State 2022 Legislative Session
Before we introduce the over 25 bills and budget items! we're tracking closely this year—a selection of bills that have the potential to positively impact the conditions material to Black lives in Washington State—we want to briefly note the destruction of voting rights taking place nationally and the significance of this moment.
KCEN formed to (i) dispel of the myth that Black America has been progressing—and is currently progressing—towards equal status, equality, or equity; and (ii) to develop and implement solutions to counter this reality locally. Our mission is to develop liberated Black communities that own and control the resources that impact Black lives, with a near-term focus on closing the racial wealth divide. We know that anti-Black racism is the largest threat to American democracy and our specific theory of change calls on all progressive movements to foreground a pro-Black strategy as a necessary tool to achieve sustained success.
Whew - that's a lot of words.
Unfortunately, (but fortunately for explanatory purposes), the recent coordinated attacks to disenfranchise millions of Black voters serve as an example to illustrate each essential point. In order:
- The inaccurate myth that Black America is on a slow but bumpy path towards progress. We consistently uplift data to counter this myth—most clearly shown with stagnant Black wealth rates and the current trajectory of Black wealth towards zero. However, the constant attack on Black voting rights also serves as a relatively contained example for folks to follow. For those keeping score:
- Pre-Emancipation Proclamation and 15th Amendment, 1600 – 1870. Almost all of Black America was barred from voting until approx. 1870, when congress ratified the 15th Amendment granting Black men the right to vote (in theory). Whites began organizing immediately to thwart Black advancement, including the formation of the Klu Klux Klan in 1865.
- Reconstruction Era after the passing of the 15th Amendment, 1870 – 1877. When Congress ratified the 15th Amendment in 1870, it was the first time that Black men ostensibly enjoyed some voting rights broadly in the U.S., specifically the South. However, Blacks still faced extreme violence and risk of life, among other obstacles, when attempting to vote. This period collapsed when the Northern army withdrew from the South in 1877, leaving those in power during Slavery to assume control once again. Importantly, Black America during this brief Reconstruction era completely reshaped the South politically.
- Jim Crow Era post 1877 to the enactment of Voting Rights Act, 1877 – 1968. Black codes, chain-gangs, sharecropping, Plessy v. Ferguson, extrajudicial lynching, and Jim Crow laws sweep the South, all but eliminating the opportunity for Blacks to vote.
- War on Drugs, Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). 1970 - 2010. Nixon, Regan, Bush, and Clinton unleashed programs that targeted Black communities via the “war on drugs,” hyper-militarizing our police force and ballooning the massive PIC. These brutal programmatic attacks on Black community continue to strip away the right to vote from millions of Black Americans.
- Supreme Court guts the Voter Rights Act. 2013 - 2020. The national court and southern states re-enacted anti-Black voter suppression laws in droves. Red states are currently waging a concerted effort to suppress the Black vote by closing polling places, limiting drop boxes, stunting the postal service, throwing out ballots for dubious reasons, disenfranchising people with a record, gerrymandering, and more ala the Jim Crow era.
THIS IS RACIAL REALISM. And what we must defeat at all costs.
Anti-Black racism is the biggest threat to American democracy. Half of our country fought for the right to keep Black people enslaved in the Civil War and those divides have always remained. America's avoidance to face anti-Black racism head-on has jeopardized our country's security, stability, and the purported bedrock of democracy—the right to free and unencumbered voting. In an upcoming newsletter, we’ll explore more deeply the real possibility of pending civil war. But for now, the signs of an ever-building feud on racial lines are abound. Biden's impassioned plea in Atlanta a few days ago underscores what has always been at stake in not addressing anti-Black racism—the very essence of our nation.
That progressive movements must foreground a pro-Black strategy to achieve sustained success. The recent voting rights fight demonstrates the risk to all progressive movements if they fail to foreground a pro-Black strategy. Again, this is something we highlight often. Our police systems are militarized because of anti-Black racism. Abortion rights have been strategically scaled back by weaponizing anti-Black racism. We have a broken education system that relies on property taxes for funding because of anti-Black racism. We have a failed health system that bankrupts families seeking basic care because of anti-Black racism.
In Washington State, it’s not a coincidence that we have the most regressive tax system in the nation AND the worst Black homeownership rates in the country.
So, what is a pro-Black agenda and how can progressive movements implement such an agenda? For starters, it requires doing an audit of your institution or organization’s resources and assets and identifying how to dramatically reallocate them to empower local Black community to develop, execute, and lead the strategy in the respective progressive space.
That is, Black community should be leading our state fight to improve our tax code. Black community should be leading our state fight to improve education systems. Black community should be leading our state fight to improve our criminal justice systems, and so on.
Because anti-Black racism corrupts these systems to their core, the Black community must be empowered (read: adequately and sufficiently resourced) to build something new. And when we say lead, we mean funded in ways that have never happened before—sufficiently and adequately to accomplish our vision and projects. This is not switching the onus on Black community to fix our problems. Rather, this is a point about how much money is resourced to non-Black organizations to solve issues they have failed to solve and can never solve.
So with that intro and without further ado, we provide below our inaugural watch list of bills that pose opportunity to do good. Follow-along in the coming weeks as we organize and continue to uplift ways to engage and support these bills and build equity in Washington State.
2022 WATCH LIST
Take steps toward criminal legal improvement by:
- Ending the torture of solitary confinement.
- Funding fair representation for those seeking to vacate their sentences.
- Raising the age of who qualifies for juvenile court to 13-years-old.
- Expanding the board that decides whether someone gets clemency to include community, re-entry service provider, and behavioral health representation.
- Retroactively eliminating juvenile felonies in adult sentencing.
- Allowing people to seek release who are serving long sentences for actions committed before they reached 25 to seek release.
- Expanding eligibility for early release.
- Establishing independent prosecutions.
- Reducing inequitable sentencing enhancements.
- Requiring meaningful reentry plans.
- Eliminating “drive-bys” as a basis to elevate charges.
- Improving good time programs through study and reporting.
- Adding mental health as mitigating factor in sentencing.
- Introducing more fairness and discretion in legal financial obligations.
Take steps to close the wealth gap by:
- Restoring affirmative action for public employment, education, and contracting.
- Helping homeowners at risk of foreclosure and forfeiture because of property taxes by exempting them from property taxes for up to $250,000 of their home value.
- Taxing Billionaires so our state has significantly more funds for education, child care, public health, housing, and public safety.
- Making the estate tax progressive (that means removing the estate tax from small estates and raising it on big ones).
- Allowing “missing middle” housing, like duplexes and triplexes, near transit in areas traditionally with otherwise big single, detached homes. This is part of the Black Homeownership Initiative 7-point plan policy reform recommendations. It aims to help correct the historic injustice of zoning laws originally place to exclude non-white families that simultaneously places all housing growth on the backs of Black and brown families and spurs gentrification.
- Giving affordable housing providers more finances to build more affordable housing, by exempting them from the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET).
- Replicating four cities’ pilot programs for Housing Benefit Districts, without taxes and with one-time, state-funded support for 100% affordable housing on the land leased.
Take steps to improve education by:
- Extending the timeline to file for new charter schools (which are majority-minority) to 2026. There is some incredible Black organizing happening behind the scenes to ensure Black education is self-determined. Our support for this depends on that success.
Take steps to implement health justice by:
- Giving the Tubman Center for Health and Freedom $4.5 million to help base build one of the first Black community -owned and -centered health clinics in the Pacific Northwest.
- Certifying #Doulas4All, and providing them Medicaid reimbursement (through a likely budget proviso).
The list above is not complete. There are several bills that propose to improve Black equity circulating through our ecosystem. Please be on the lookout for opportunities to engage in these bills, behind-the-scenes advocacy, and policy changes as we proceed through the short (and virtual) legislative session this year!