Eastern Washington Legislative Conference 2019
Faith community lobbyists present overview of bills in current session
The Faith Action Network's 2019 legislative agenda includes advocating for a biennial budget that "protects the poor and vulnerable, restores justice in the criminal justice system, funds housing for all, protects environmental justice, protects immigrant families and civil rights, ensures health care and mental health care for all," said Paul Benz, co-director of the Faith Action Network of Washington, during the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference.
At the conference, he discussed several issues. A full list of bills FAN supports and the status of bills are online at www. fanwa.org, to help people more effectively advocate with legislators.
"Most issues have a price tag," said Paul, speaking to the importance of the 2019 to 2021 budget.
To influence legislation, he suggested using the legislative hotline, 800-562-6000.
By calling it, citizens can be connected with their representatives, senators and the governor to have messages sent on their support for particular legislation.
Donna Christensen, a lobbyist for the Washington State Catholic Conference, said that housing and homelessness are "the biggest issues" in the state.
"There is homelessness in every corner of the state," she said. "It's a complex problem that needs attention at every level—from people not being in the work force to the need to expand mental health and substance abuse treatment."
She urged that the Housing Trust Fund provide $5 billion in funding for affordable housing through grants of $200 million.
"Over the past few years, we have seen properties completed to reduce homelessness," Donna said. "Housing Trust Fund projects need to be eligible for federal tax credits if they provide 40 years of affordable housing as leverage to increase affordable housing. More needs to be done. HB 1406 would allow local governments to use part of the sales tax for affordable housing to reduce homelessness.
Donna said one problem is eviction for failure to pay rent by the due date. Renters can be evicted for paying three days late or $14 short. Negotiations with landlords could prevent evictions, but some want a quick turnover of apartments.
"An eviction goes on someone's record, making it harder to find a new rental," Donna said.
Under Housing and Essential Needs (HEN), counties fund housing vouchers for people with disabilities and mental health issues, because people do better if they have housing and services, she said, adding that a capital gains tax would make it possible to fund HEN. For information, call 206-301-0556.
Paul then described three criminal justice bills.
• The New Hope Act 1041 focuses on restoration of people who go to jails and prisons so they come out equipped to adjust to society and unlikely to return to jail.
"For certain low-level offenses, once a person has done time and been supervised, that act vacates the criminal record to eliminate a barrier to housing and employment," Paul said.
• H1282 or SB5328 would not punish people for failing to appear for an infraction when their license is suspended, which Paul likened to "driving while poor."
• Given that the State Supreme Court ruled in the fall that the death penalty as applied in Washington is unconstitutional because it is based on racial and other biases, SB 5339 would repeal the death penalty.
In a workshop, Paul gave an overview of health care and nutrition legislation FAN supports.
• The Washington Health Security Trust would make affordable, quality long-term health care accessible to all residents, financed with a payroll tax.
• The Public Option/Cascade Care bill would move the state closer to a single payer health care system, ensuring no one pays more than 10 percent of their income on premiums.
• Budget increases for mental health funding would facilitate the slow transition from institutional care in hospitals to community care in clinics, group homes, and apartment living with support services.
• Another priority is protecting immigrants and their rights in the Keep Washington Working bill.
"The goal is to keep families together, to keep people working, to reduce the fear within immigrant communities and to make clear the roles of federal immigration officers and police," Paul said.
"The state legislative website is an invaluable resource for citizen advocates at leg.wa.gov," he added. For information, call 206-625-9790.
In concluding the conference, the Rev. Mike Denton, conference minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, pointed out that "without connections there is no life. Where connection is, there is life."
"We are intentionally focusing on deepening relationships along with emphasizing that people of faith are called to "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly" (Micah 6:8)," he said. "This scripture puts the words 'require' and 'justice' together. This part of my Bible is well worn."
To "require" means more than to "have to do" something. It's like a flower requires sun, and a baby requires love. These are the things that give life, Mike added.
"Do justice means to make things right or do things right. Justice is worked out in community by listening to each other, being with each other," he said.
"Love kindness is partly charity, but often charity is seen as giving what we have in excess, a few extra dollars or cans of lima beans," said Mike, pointing to a deeper understanding. "It harkens to justice, to do things right, pre-emptive restitution, working in community to make things right.
"Walk humbly refers to two translations of 'humbly.' One is to recognize we are human and God is God, so we have different roles. The idea is also walking wisely with God and understanding that the world is larger than ourselves," Mike said.
"By being in connection with each other and God, there is life. We are called to the larger connection to be in relationship with those in the room and those not in the room," he said.
"Our call is to make connections with legislators, to be bridges and connectors, to make sure all have life abundantly," Mike said. "We come from different places with different stories. When we connect, we find life.
"We are to help make the world be full with life, whoever the people are, whatever their skin color, culture, gender, ability or other identity," he said. "The conference brings us together and sends us out to do what the Lord requires: do justice, love kindness and walk humbly."
For information, call 206-725-8383.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2019