Thanks for continuing to follow along with my series of end-of-session updates. Please visit my legislative website to see my previous four reports. This is the last e-newsletter I’m able to send before our election year communications restrictions begin. These restrictions are important to ensure that state resources are not used for campaign purposes, but they do not affect your ability to continue reaching out to me with your questions, comments, and concerns.
Criminal Justice Reform
As a state, we must protect all people from crime and injustice. But we must also seek to build trust between communities and police by breaking down systemic barriers that perpetuate injustices.
Reforming the police “use of deadly force law”
When someone is shot or killed by police and the law doesn’t offer pathways to clear justice for the victim, it damages the community, the reputation of law enforcement, and the notion of justice. For years, community groups, law enforcement, and lawmakers have been working to find a way toward justice, while ensuring law enforcement can continue their work.
In 2017, community members organized across the state to bring Initiative 940, also known as “De-escalate Washington”, to the Legislature. This session, families, community groups, and law enforcement representatives met to find shared goals and agree on clarifying language in the initiative’s policy implementation. These conversations focused on solutions for faster implementation of the policy and in turn, enabling the healing process between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The result of that dialogue, House Bill 3003, strengthens and clarifies the language of Initiative 940.
This measure will improve public safety and the interactions between communities and law enforcement by increasing training and accountability, requiring law enforcement to render first aid at the earliest opportunity, instituting processes for independent investigations for deadly force incidents, and including standards for family and community notification. The new policy also removes “malice,” and replaces it with an objective good faith standard by which prosecutors can more clearly evaluate deadly force incidents. This update will help provide the tools for law enforcement to carry out their difficult jobs while creating accountability for aggrieved communities. By building this bridge, Washington begins the important healing necessary for a safe and more equitable society.
This issue is not yet settled, and I’m monitoring potential developments as they make their way through the courts.
Improving law enforcement mental health field response
People experiencing mental health crises are more likely to encounter law enforcement than they are the mental health resources they need. Instead of facing jail, people experiencing crisis may be better served if they are connected with services or diverted to an appropriate facility. House Bill 2892 focuses on sending the appropriate help by supporting partnerships between mental health professionals and law enforcement. It establishes a grant program through which law enforcement agencies can establish and expand their mental health response capabilities, from the dispatch level to the field response.
Improving community reentry for prisoners
Every year, about 8,000 people are released from prison here in Washington. Too many end up going back, because they don’t get the help they need to make a successful transition into the community. Research has shown that the first six to 12 months after release are crucial to finding a place to live, getting a job, and reconnecting with family and community members. Adequate programming, supervision, and support helps people who have served their time and are preparing to transition back into a productive life. House Bill 2638 expands eligibility for work release and allows certain offenders to serve up to six months of the end of their sentence in home detention under electronic home monitoring, easing the transition into the community and helping ensure that those who have served their time have a better chance of succeeding after release.
This year the legislature reformed the way we treat young people who make mistakes. These bills are a first step towards recognizing that we can hold kids accountable while still providing the support and services that will give them a second chance.
Eliminating adult court jurisdiction for certain crimes
Evidence shows that youth housed in juvenile rehabilitation facilities go on to commit fewer crimes than those housed at the Department of Corrections.
Instead of pushing kids into the revolving door of the adult criminal justice system, the juvenile justice system uses proven interventions and strategies to give kids a new opportunity. Senate Bill 6160 eliminates adult court jurisdiction for youth and young adults up to age 25 who commit certain crimes, and places them within juvenile court jurisdiction, a system designed specifically for rehabilitation and to drive down recidivism.
Expanding juvenile diversion programs
Senate Bill 6550 expands juvenile diversion programs that keep kids out of the juvenile court system and helps get community-based support instead.
Young people are still developing – they need guidance, education and support.
Supporting Youth and Families
Democrats led the fight to reform and improve our child welfare system by creating the new, cabinet-level Department of Children, Youth and Families. Last year’s budget funded this landmark reform, and invested in our foster care system by hiring additional social workers to lower caseloads and make numerous improvements to services for families and foster parents. This year’s budget enhances those efforts in key areas.
Supporting Washington’s 1.1 million K-12 public school students
Our biggest investment in the 2018 supplemental operating budget was nearly $1 billion of additional funding to support the 1.1 million students in Washington’s public schools, and make sure their teachers are paid a fair and proper salary. We hope and expect that this money – including roughly $48 million in additional funding for Seattle Public Schools – will finally resolve the McCleary litigation and bring the state into compliance with its constitutional (and moral) obligation to provide ample funding for public schools. We also passed legislation to change the formula for allocating special education money to school districts. This is a desperately needed increase state spending for special education by $97 million over the next four years, and we know that we have a lot more work to do in the next biennial budget.
Increasing affordability and accessibility of childcare and early learning
Too many kids show up on their first day of kindergarten already behind their peers and most never catch up. One of the best ways to make sure that all children
are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten is to create more opportunities for high-quality early learning. The Legislature has made significant investments in early learning including increasing quality and expanding access. We must continue to build upon our past successes to ensure that early learning providers, young children and their families have the tools and resources needed to get off to a great start in life.
Additionally, parents across Washington are struggling to find childcare. Even if parents can find a childcare provider that has an opening, the cost is a significant financial burden on working families.
HB 2367 establishes the child care collaborative task force, designed to examine the effects of child care affordability and accessibility on the workforce and on business. The task force is directed to develop policies and recommendations to incentivize employer-supported childcare.
Thanks again for following along as I send these end-of-session updates. It’s an honor to serve as your State Representative. Please keep in touch about the issues that are important to you.