January 10, 2023

January RSJ Spotlight | 2023 Washington Legislative Session


3 minute read


This year’s Washington legislative session has begun in Olympia. Being an odd-numbered year, we’re headed into a long session (105 days) which means more time to pass bills and negotiate a brand new biennial budget for 2023-2025, with the fiscal year starting July 1, 2023. This will also be the first in-person session since the pandemic began. 

What even happens in a legislative session?

Members are sworn in and a House speaker is chosen. Despite being a longer session, here’s hoping it won’t take 4 days. A schedule will be adopted and session ends April 23.

So, what’s on the agenda?

According to a Crosscut/Elway poll, cost of living, housing costs and related economic aspects were top voter priority, accounting for 34% of poll responses. Public safety, including crime and drug use, came in second place with 23%, and 22% of respondents said addressing homelessness should be the legislature’s main priority this year.

Housing

Washington is expected to need over 1 million new housing units across the state in the next two decades. One option on the table is to change zoning statewide to allow denser housing in city neighborhoods, including those now zoned for single-family homes. Separately in the budget is a $4 billion bond package to go toward the construction of affordable housing. If approved, it will go before a vote this November.

Public Safety

Gun safety and gun rights advocates will go up against proposals backed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Inslee to ban military-style, semi-automatic rifles and to institute a 10-day waiting period for gun purchases, along with a mandatory safety training course. This also includes the creation of a permit-to-purchase system for firearms.

Other public safety issues include the possible rollback of strict criteria for when police can initiate a high-speed pursuit.

One big issue lawmakers are split on has been agreeing on how to treat possession of illegal drugs.

At the core of this debate is how to give substance-abuse treatment to people who won’t voluntarily accept it without engaging the penalties of a legal criminal system. Statistically, life is harder for those living on the economic edge, as a felony conviction can make it difficult to secure jobs and housing.

The question follows the ruling of the State v. Blake, known as the Blake decision. That ruling struck down the state’s felony drug possession statute, invalidating decades of criminal convictions and legal financial obligations that come with convictions.

In the wake of the Blake decision, legislators and Governor Inslee approved a law making possession of a drug a misdemeanor crime upon a third violation. Additionally, officers are supposed to give voluntary treatment options for the first two violations. This law sunsets July of this year, so lawmakers will need to act quickly during this legislative session. Learn more about drug policy reform here.

Lawmakers will be looking at ideas like tuition assistance or student loan forgiveness for treatment staff in order to address workforce issues. Other proposals to address public safety include budgeting money to make grants to local agencies for officer hiring, retention bonuses, and opening additional police academy campuses in central and eastern Washington so trainees can stay closer to home while preparing to become law officers.

Abortion Rights

Despite repeatedly codifying abortion rights into state law through ballot measures, Democrats in Olympia want to go further. With support from Governor Inslee, Seattle-area senators propose to preserve abortion rights in the state constitution. However, the proposed state constitutional amendment doesn’t appear to have the two-thirds support in the Legislature to advance.

Other abortion-related measures focus on protecting the privacy of people who come to Washington State to terminate a pregnancy from a state that has outlawed abortion.

Education

The reemergence of K-12 education comes after the closing of schools, shortage of resources and teachers, and providing for special education during the pandemic unearthed gaps in the education system. A district-by-district analysis found the average pupil in the United States lost over half a school year in math and nearly a quarter of a school year in reading, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Senate Majority Leader Billig said a big focus will be early learning programs and special education and an increase in nurses, counselors and other staff. Inslee’s proposed budget contains about $2 billion in K-12 spending, including $1 billion for salary increases and another $314 million to add more school nurses, psychologists, social workers, and counselors.

Stream the 2023 Washington legislative session here.

Key resources:


YWCA Spokane’s Racial & Social Justice Committee

Our vision is to strive to be a consistently accurate resource for information on racial, ethnic, and cultural awareness to promote belonging, equity, diversity, and inclusivity in employment, in business practices, and in the care and services provided throughout the communities we serve. For 2023, the RSJ Committee is focusing on:

  • Community Partnerships
    • Enhance outreach efforts to community partners and liaisons to share ideas, support each other with action, and solidify connections. View the list of our RSJ Partners.
  • Events
    • Develop and host or co-host events to connect various groups of community members to share and understand each other’s stories. Events include movie nights, Stand Against Racism, the Equity Challenge, and Transformations Camp for youth, primarily young women of color.
  • Education & Training
    • Provide training to YWCA staff, board of directors, mission partners and the community to allow awareness of subconscious thoughts or attitudes that affect our perceptions about people, the decisions we make, and the impact on our community.

Join the conversation with our Facebook Group and learn more about our RSJ Committee at ywcaspokane.org/racialjustice.

CHECK OUT OUR PREVIOUS SPOTLIGHTS FROM 2022

If you or someone you know should have their advocacy work highlighted through our RSJ Spotlight series, please email our equity coordinator, larae@ywcaspokane.org.

By: Lara Estaris

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