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Interfaith advocates present overview of 2023 bills

Donna Christensen, Jessica Zimmerle and Kristin Ang


By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

At the 2023 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference on Jan. 21, legislative advocates from three faith-based organizations shared insights on bills that address issues of concern to faith communities during the Washington State Legislature, which is a long session this year running from Jan. 9 to April 23. 

Many bills being proposed in the legislature have support from the organizations.

Each representative spoke on legislation they support or oppose, bills that are also priorities of the other groups.

Kristin Ang from Faith Action Network (FAN) of Washington, also a Commissioner for the Port of Tacoma, briefed participants on issues in four areas: 1) promoting economic justice, 2) protecting and expanding the social safety net, reforming the criminal justice system, increasing gun responsibility and protecting public safety, 3) supporting immigrants and refugee rights, and 4) protecting healthcare access.

The bill, Working Families Tax Credit (HB 1075/SB 5249), makes more people eligible by lowering the age of  beneficiaries to 18 and ensures that those eligible receive benefits.

Statewide Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI)—HB 1045—would establish a pilot program in Washington building on a program in Pierce County to put cash in the pockets of people experiencing economic insecurity.

Krisin sees Washington Future Fund Baby Bonds (SB 5125) as a game changer for poverty alleviation and long-term economic development for communities. It would create funds every child born under Medicaid could use as adults for home ownership, education or starting a small business.

Wealth Tax on Billionaires (HB 1743/SB 5486) would ensure the wealthiest in the state would pay their fair share, Kristin said. The tax would be levied on holdings $250 million and up.

Repeal Statewide Advisory Votes (HB 1158/SB 5082) would end nonbinding advisory votes and add fiscal information to voters' pamphlets.

To protect and expand the social safety net, FAN supports Free School Meals for All Students (HB 1238/SB 5339) to provide meals to every students as part of the right to education.

To reform the criminal justice system, increase gun responsibility and protect public safety, FAN supports the following bills.

• Solitary Confinement Reform (HB1087/SB 5135) would make confinement practices in state prisons and immigration detention centers more humane.

• Real Labor, Real Wages Act (HB 1024) would require workers incarcerated in state prisons be paid minimum wage. Prisoners could save the funds to assist in their transition from prison, one of the most difficult things for those leaving prison.

• Repealing the Death Penalty and other Unconstitutional State Statutes (HB 1090/SB 5087) would correct defects and omissions in the Revised Code of Washington.

• Establishing Firearms-Related Safety Measures to Increase Public Safety (HB1240/SB 5265) would prohibit the sale, manufacture, transport and import but not possession of assault weapons.

• Firearm Industry Responsibility and Gun Violence Victims' Access to Justice Act (HB 1130/SB 5078) would require the firearms industry to establish, implement and enforce reasonable controls.

• Require a Permit to Purchase Firearms (HB1143/SB 5211) would mandate a comprehensive background check, safety training and a waiting period to purchase a firearm.

• Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & People (MMIWP) Cold Case Unit (HB 1177/ SB 5137) would create a cold case investigation unit with the attorney general's office.

• Civil Remedy for Victims and Families of Police Misconduct (HB 1025) would allow victims and their families to sue for violations of state laws, without the federal shield of qualified immunity.

FAN also  supports three proposals on rights of immigrants and refugees.

• Unemployment Benefits for Undocumented Workers (HB 1095/SB 5109) would create a permanent separate unemployment system for undocumented workers.

• Additional State Funding for Refugees and Refugee Serving Organizations would include legal services for those in need.

• Healthcare Equity for Immigrants Campaign (HEIC) would create a fund for a health coverage program by 2024 for people who are ineligible for federal assistance.

The second speaker, Sister Jessica Zimmerle of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light (WAIPL) shared about several bills focusing on environmental justice and creation care.

• Earth Ministry/WAIPL advocates expanding the 1990 Growth Management Act (GMA) that requires cities and counties to develop comprehensive plans.

• Planning for a Climate Friendly Future (HB 1181/SB 5203) would require counties and cities to address resilience and the climate crisis in land use plans and by reducing the miles vehicle travel by including transit and bike/pedestrian planning.

• An additional environmental justice update to the GMA (bill # pending) would require that both environmental justice and climate change be addressed in local comprehensive planning with specific goals, progress reports and measures to reduce impacts and disparities. It includes more equitable public participation requirements and funds.

• WA Recycling and Packaging Act (SB 5154/HB 1131) would require consumer product producers to fund statewide residential recycling services for packaging and paper products. It would place graduated fees on packaging manufacturers based on products' ability to be reused, composted or recycled. Fees would fund infrastructure improvements, provide uniform access for residents and create a clear list of what can be recycled.

• Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act (HB 1047) would ban hazardous chemicals—such as PFAS, phthalates, formaldehyde and lead—in cosmetics by 2025, fill gaps in information on hazards of chemicals in cosmetics and provide incentives for businesses to make safer cosmetics.

The third advocate, Donna Christensen, a contract lobbyist for Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC), discussed bills on housing, citing a report that Washington is 50th of 50 states in providing housing. 

She said the Governor's proposed budget allows the state to issue bonds outside its debt limit to frontload $4 billion of housing construction over the next six years. A referendum, if approved, would add about 5,300 housing units from 2023 to 2025 and 19,000 the next six years. The referendum would need approval from legislators and voters.

Donna then presented several bills that the WSCC supports.

• Protecting tenants from excessive rent and related fees (HB 1124) would require landlords to provide at least six months' notice for rent increases, allow tenants the right to terminate a tenancy without penalty and limit late fees.

• Protecting tenants by prohibiting predatory residential rent practices (HB 1388) would apply the Consumer Protection Act to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act and the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act.

• Concerning residential rent increases under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act and the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act (HB 1389) would stabilize residential rent increases by tying rental rates to the rate of inflation or 3 percent, whichever is greater, up to a maximum of 7 percent with certain exemptions.

• SB 5197 addresses landlord-tenant relations by providing technical changes to eviction notice forms and modifying certain eviction processes.

• HB 1074 addresses processes for landlords' claims for damage to residential premises. It would require a landlord to substantiate the cost of damages withheld from a deposit and establish a one-year statute of limitations for a landlord to take action against a tenant to recover sums over the damage deposit.

The WSCC opposes SB 5224, because it believes that the bill would not effectively establish performance requirements of homelessness service providers.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February 2023