Advocacy groups press for legislative action

  • By Laurel Demkovich Washington State Standard
  • Monday, December 4, 2023 1:30am
  • Politics

OLYMPIA — Ahead of every legislative session, dozens of nonprofits, industry groups, unions and government agencies let lawmakers know what they want done — more money for schools, fewer restrictions on certain types of housing, programs to recruit and retain police officers, exemptions from the state’s new climate programs.

But in a short session like next year’s, lawmakers only have 60 days to act. And they will have a lot more money to spend than they anticipated, with a range of revenues ahead of expectations.

While issues around climate, transportation and mental health care are likely to be top of mind for most lawmakers, a host of other matters are certain to grab their attention.

One thing’s certain: there will be winners and losers, as the tight timeline and finite space on the agenda limit what legislators can accomplish.

As we get closer to the 2024 session, the Standard will track priorities from advocacy groups. This rundown will be updated throughout the weeks before Jan. 8 with new asks. If your group has priorities they want to see included, email us at info@washingtonstatestandard.com.

Housing

Housing was the marquee topic last legislative session, and a number of organizations and lawmakers have already said it will again be top of mind in 2024.

The American Planning Association Washington Chapter intends to press for policies to reduce homelessness and increase affordable housing. Specifically, the group, which represents local and regional planners in Washington, wants the Legislature to look at zoning reforms, planning grants and expanding the availability of housing like backyard cottages, duplexes and triplexes.

Another priority for the group is to encourage the construction of more housing near transit. A bill failed this year that would have required local jurisdictions to allow multi-family housing near transit and would have removed off-street parking requirements for developments near transit stations. Lawmakers have indicated they will likely try revive the proposal.

Groups like the Association of Washington Cities are also asking the Legislature for dedicated state revenue to support housing for people at the lowest income levels, and investments in infrastructure that supports housing.

Local groups, including Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties, are also encouraging the Legislature to make changes to allow for more affordable housing.

The group wants lawmakers to make significant investments into affordable housing of all types, including for homeownership. It is also calling on the Legislature to increase investments into preserving and expanding Black homeownership through down payment assistance and property tax relief. And it is asking for more opportunities for cities and counties to streamline affordable housing projects, such as through quicker permitting processes and lower fees.

Behavioral health

Organizations advocating for youth are asking the Legislature to put more money into mental health and substance abuse prevention programs for children.

The Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is asking the Legislature to increase funding for children’s behavioral health services and to improve access to where children can get this type of care.

The Children’s Alliance, a coalition of organizations that advocates for kids, has made youth mental health a top priority. The group is asking the Legislature to improve behavioral health care coordination throughout the system, increase funding to school districts for behavioral health care and create a stipend program to help recent graduates in the behavioral health field pay for supervision hours.

Police accountability

The Coalition for Police Accountability plans to keep pushing three bills that failed to pass last session. House Bill 1513, or Traffic Safety for All, would prevent cops from making traffic stops over minor infractions, like a broken taillight. HB 1579 establishes an independent prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office to handle crimes related to police use of force. The bill aims to reduce conflicts of interest — an issue that came up in the Manny Ellis case. And HB 1445 authorizes the state AG’s office to investigate law enforcement agencies for violations of the state Constitution or state law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington also is advocating for the Traffic Safety for All bill and the bill calling for the attorney general’s review of law enforcement agency violations.

Meanwhile, more help will be sought to fill the ranks of law enforcement agencies. The Association of Washington Cities wants the Legislature to update the local Public Safety Sales Tax to allow councils to use the funds to boost officer pay and increase behavioral health resources. It’s also asking the state to offer more classes at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy and expand regional academies.

Higher education

Washington’s community and technical colleges are urging the Legislature to provide about $1.8 million over three years for a program intended to lower the cost of professional and technical textbooks for fields like welding, early childhood education and law enforcement.

The group also is asking lawmakers to fund at least 15 more undergraduate level computer science programs across the state. The information and communications technology sector is facing a skills shortage in Washington, according to the group, and colleges need resources to train more students.

Community and technical colleges are also asking the Legislature for $103 million to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their proposal includes installing energy submeters in buildings to ensure they are meeting emissions standards and creating decarbonization plans for campuses.

Along with its K-12 priorities, the Washington Education Association is asking the Legislature to increase wages for support staff, including bus drivers and food service, and adjunct faculty in higher education. A lack of livable wages in these positions leads to high turnover and shortages, according to the union’s priorities.

Health

The Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics wants lawmakers to update a statute surrounding the state’s universal purchase program for vaccines.

They say the definition currently includes a “narrow and outdated” definition of what qualifies as a vaccine. The program provides free vaccine access to anyone in Washington younger than 19.

The group says the current vaccine definition creates a technical barrier that limits the state from acquiring newly developed, life-saving immunizations.

The Washington Initiative for Boys and Men wants the Legislature to establish a state Commission on Boys and Men.

The commission would use data and input from experts and business and government leaders to make recommendations for policies and programs intended to help improve the lives of boys and men in Washington. It would focus on issues like mental and physical health, education, jobs and financial know-how.

Boys and men, according to the organization, are struggling and experiencing higher rates of suicide, drug use, homelessness and incarceration than girls and women.

A bill to establish such a commission was introduced last year but never received a committee hearing.

Local government

The Association of Washington Cities and the Washington State Association of Counties are the heavyweight organizations lobbying on behalf of local governments.

In addition to recruiting more law enforcement, their priorities include increasing funding for infrastructure and creating greater access to behavioral health services and substance use disorder treatment.

Cash-strapped local governments want greater flexibility in how they spend revenue they collect and will seek again to get rid of the 1 percent cap on annual property tax increases that voters imposed a generation ago.

Counties will push for increased state funds to cover the cost of counsel for those facing criminal charges who cannot afford an attorney. They’ve made the request for several years. They’ve also sued to force the state to provide adequate funding or means to raise revenue on their own. Cities and counties also want more financial support for removing thousands of locally-owned culverts and other structures that are blocking waterways used by migrating salmon.

Environment

Combatting plastics pollution and climate change will be focal points of the 27 statewide environmental organizations that make up the Environmental Priorities Coalition.

They want to get the Washington Recycling And Packaging Act, better known as The WRAP Act, across the finish line. The legislation to modernize the state’s recycling system and impose tougher rules on packaging incited much debate last session but did not reach the floor in either the House or Senate.

Getting school districts to replace diesel-powered buses with electric ones is another priority.

And the coalition will push for legislation to require oil firms to provide greater transparency with how they set gasoline and diesel prices.

Another coalition of conservation groups, the Washington Association of Land Trusts, wants more money for community forest programs, which allow residents to be involved in the development and management of logging lands that are near where they live. The group is asking for $5.8 million to advance two community forestry projects, one in Hoquiam and another on Whidbey Island.

The group is also asking for additional funding for the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program. These projects were underfunded last year, according to the group.

Education

Funding increases, resources for staff and inclusive learning are top of mind for education organizations across the state.

The Washington Education Association, which is the union that represents public school educators, is calling on the Legislature to continue work it did last year and fully fund special education. The Washington Association of School Administrators is also urging the Legislature to fully fund special education across the state. In their priorities, the administrators say school districts often spend substantially more on special education than their allocated funding.

Similarly, school administrators are asking for policy changes to get a higher ratio of administrative staff per student.

The Washington Education Association also is asking the Legislature for additional resources for students with behavioral health challenges, including increased staffing and professional development for those educators.

School administrators are urging the Legislature to provide more equitable access to education resources for school districts and more tools and resources to help ensure equitable opportunity for all students.

Lastly, amid book bans across the country, WEA is asking lawmakers to support inclusive curricula and to oppose the removal of books from libraries and classrooms.

Washington Communities for Children, a coalition of organizations representing child care providers, families and others, want to see more support for child care and preschool in areas where families lack access to care and boosted pay and benefits for child care providers. The state Department of Children, Youth and Families estimates only 27 percent of children in need of child care in Washington are served by a licensed child care, preschool or subsidized child care.

Immigration

The top priorities of the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, a coalition of immigrant leaders and organizations, are providing unemployment insurance and benefits for undocumented workers and expanding health care access to immigrants.

Secondary priorities for the group include improving resources for newly arrived migrants through legal services and emergency housing, getting clarity on the process for undocumented people applying for professional licenses, and the bill that came up last session to end traffic stops for non-moving violations.

The group is also supporting a long list of tertiary priorities, ranging from personal data privacy rights to independent investigations for incidents where police use force to a violent extremism commission.

________

Laurel Demkovich writes for the Washington State Standard (https://washingtonstatestandard.com), an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces original reporting on policy and politics.

More in Politics

House, Senate release spending proposals

Supplemental budgets to be negotiated

Plan to cap how much landlords can raise rent moves ahead

Statewide caps on annual rent increases could take effect in… Continue reading

State House approves unemployment benefits for strikers

Workers who are on strike or locked out of their… Continue reading

Chapman explains votes

Rep. Mike Chapman was among the few Democrats who voted… Continue reading

Democrats Franz, Randall stockpile cash in battle for US House position

Cash is flowing into campaign coffers of two Democrats dueling for an… Continue reading

Ruling: Trump to stay on primary ballot

Eight voters argued Jan. 6 actions made him ineligible

Should police be allowed to engage in high-speed pursuits if they just suspect someone is engaged in a crime? The state Legislature is set to debate that issue following verification of a citizen initiative that gives police more leeway in decision making. (Mary Murphy/Washington State Journal)
State Legislature to debate high-speed police pursuits

Initiative 2113 would amend law to be ‘reasonable suspicion’

State officials turn to schools in opioid fight

Legislation would require fentanyl-use prevention education once per year

Eight voters challenge Trump on Washington state ballot

Kitsap judge to hear arguments Tuesday

Nisqually Tribal Chairman Willie Frank III, right, discusses the newly designed statue mockup of his father, Billy Frank Jr., with other attendees at Wednesday’s unveiling. A full-scale, bronze statue of Billy Frank Jr. will be placed in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., next year. (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)
Design unveiled for Billy Frank Jr. statue at U.S. capitol

Bronze rendering will honor Native American fishing rights activist

Members of the House, including Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, and Rep. Eric Robertson, R-Sumner, at front, walk into the House chambers during opening ceremonies on the first day of the legislative session at the Washington state Capitol on Monday in Olympia. (Lindsey Wasson/The Associated Press)
Legislature kicks off with a housing focus

Fentanyl deaths, climate change top topics as well