2023 LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK
community Advocacy and Support
The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS) and Tacoma Urban League (TUL) empower Black people through economic parity and strive towards social equity. Our staff work directly with Black and vulnerable people to provide wraparound resources within the context of our current political environment. The Advocacy and Community Engagement department strives to challenge systems and decision-makers to prioritize co-governance with Black and other underserved communities. During the legislative session, we prioritize the opportunity to empower the collective community to join us in this effort.
Washington’s Black community has been promised a return to “normalcy” as attention shifts away from the pandemic and towards a currently troubled economy. Where systemic racial disparities in health exist, we reject the notion that our risks from COVID-19 pandemic are over. We reject that normalcy was ever to our benefit. We fight to be better than before.
We must focus on access to affordable housing, reduced health disparities, economic relief, criminal justice reform and other basic needs because that leads to the safety and stability of our community.
Our collective power in the past few challenging years made powerful gains. There has been a 60% decline in police killings across the state since reform was enacted in 2021(1). Our power passed the Working Families Tax Credit to put direct cash in the pockets of families who need them the most. With legal reform around cannabis possession, fewer Washingtonians must seek housing or work with a criminal record. Your vote and your voice made these wins possible.
But there is still work to do. There is no separating our identity from our economic and social conditions. Our community remains disproportionately targeted by unfair criminalization, excluded from generational wealth, and harmed by housing and work policies that aim to disadvantage those previously incarcerated. Our 2023 Legislative Framework intends to ground the policies our staff and partners identified as necessary towards systemic change into five core beliefs.
Dive into our legislative agenda!
2023 Policy Priorities
legislative goals we support
Focus Area ONE
Grounding Our Framework: Designing Our Democracy to Work for Us
While the 2023 legislative session officially begins on January 9th, it really starts with our elections. Those who were able to participate in the election and who we elected determine what bills will be up for debate and which bills pass or fail. It all goes back to whether we are empowered to elect decision makers who work for us. As you venture through this framework ask yourself, do you like the way you vote?
Numerous efforts to design our democracy will be moving through the legislature.
With a jail system that targets Black and Brown communities, we hold County Election Officials accountable to ensure voting rights and equal access to the ballot in jails.
A democracy voucher is a method of public financing of political campaigns.
The program would provide Washington state residents four $25 vouchers that can be pledged to eligible candidates running for state legislative district offices. It allows eligible WA residents to participate in local government by supporting campaigns and/or running for office themselves.
Our democracy is at its best when every Washingtonian, regardless of race or income, has our voice heard and our vote counted. However, there are still almost one million eligible Washingtonians who are not registered to vote, and people of color and low-income people still face registration barriers.
We successfully fought for automatic voter registration in 2018, and now it’s time to improve our system and ensure that as many voters as possible are ready to make their voices heard in the years to come. If we upgrade our automatic voter registration system more voters would be registered automatically, including people left out by traditional methods.
No matter which values our communities hold most dear, we all want to elect a president who shares those values. But because of our current primary election system, many are afraid to vote their conscience, thousands of votes are wasted on candidates who drop out, and the final candidates may not represent the values of the majority of their citizens. If a voter votes early for a candidate who drops out of the race before primary election day, their vote will not be wasted.
Learn about Ranked Choice Voting through incredible student performers: https://www.facebook.com/seaurbanleague/videos/228347542762990
Bill coming soon!
Focus Area two
Safety Looks Like Having Our Needs Met!
Everyone is talking about safety. Inflation and the economic ramifications of the pandemic have disproportionally destabilized our most vulnerable community members and anyone without the safety net of generational wealth.
As observed by Chanel Rhymes, Director of Advocacy for the Northwest Community Bail Fund, “Poverty is more visible, and people are associating that with more crime”, inciting a reversion to police and punitive justice to address safety. However, we know that the safest communities are those where the basic needs of everyone are met and where everyone is treated with dignity.
Washington made history in 2021 when the legislature passed and funded the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC), a first-of-its-kind policy for the state that will put millions of dollars back into the pockets of families. Eligible households can receive up to $1,200 per year starting February 2023.
In 2023 we are advocating to expand the Working Families Tax Credit. From young college students to seniors still in the workforce, people with low incomes are all trying to make ends meet. However, the current age range for childless workers limits the lifesaving WFTC cash to those who are 25-65 years old.
We want the legislature to increase equity by permanently allowing time limit exemptions for families experiencing hardship and eliminating time limits for child-only cases and removing the requirement for adults with disabilities to repay the state for cash assistance.
We want to improve TANF for all families by increasing access to the program and helping ensure families can earn and keep more of their grant. We also want to shift funding away from invasive and intimidating OFA investigations into increased access to DSHS benefits.
We need a $75 million investments into the Housing Trust Fund to prioritize opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color by directing funding to the Black Home Initiative.
We want to generate opportunities for Black Homeowners by reversing the legacies of redlining and segregation of Black communities to create more middle housing options; this must go hand in hand with requirements for cities to enact anti-displacement measures.
Our legislature must also mitigate the risk to renters in a tumultuous economy by enforcing the obligations and protections for renters, and pass legislation to cap extreme, unfair, or abusive rent increases.
Washington has the opportunity to take proactive steps to lift people out of poverty. We advocate to create and fund a statewide GBI pilot to ensure a baseline of financial stability for people who would benefit most from direct cash assistance. Lawmakers should go further with initiatives to build generational wealth, such as creating and investing in the Washington Futures Fund, a baby bonds program to create savings for children in low-income families.
Focus Area three
How We Address Harm Can Transform Our Community
Police and the criminal legal system continue to favor harsh punishment over creating opportunities for reentry, stability, and community-based restorative justice. Abolition is a practice, and there are steps we can take to better address harm in our community within the realities of our current system that work towards this ultimate vision.
Our communities have fought for our civil liberties and protection from punitive systems and as a result, successfully reduced the number of police killings across Washington State. We want to strengthen the ability to provide justice for victims of police misconduct and bring systemic change to departments.
One bill creates a private right of action against law enforcement for violating the Washington constitution or state law, without the shield of qualified immunity. We also want to strengthen the Attorney General’s authority to investigate and hold police departments and jails accountable where there are systemic violations of the Washington constitution or laws.
We can refocus police efforts away from pulling drivers over for low-risk violations such as expired car tabs. The Traffic Safety For All Bill provides funding for jurisdictions to shift focus away from fees, fines and punitive enforcement and towards helping people fix their vehicles to increase compliance and road safety. The bill also restricts police from pulling people over for low-risk violations and protects people from irrelevant questioning and unnecessary searches.
Bill coming soon!
We are supporting Legal Fines and Obligations Reform that would allow thousands of Washingtonians who are struggling to pay fines and fees tied to a court case. Unpaid fines and fees keep Black, Brown, and Indigenous people from achieving financial stability, especially for youth who often enter adulthood bearing an oversized debt.
We must reduce fines and fees for people who do not have the ability to pay down their debt and ensure people are free of old debt after 10 years.
We are advocating end the use of long-term Solitary Confinement. As it may go by many different names, the practice of isolating a person for any amount of time without access to fresh air, comfortable quarters, and other people is inhumane.
Prolonged solitary confinement is recognized by the United Nations as torture. We support reform to limit the use of solitary confinement and establish requirements for the conditions while in confinement. This will bring the state one step closer to eliminating the practice all together.
We also push to reform sentencing laws for both juveniles and adults to give those incarcerated more opportunities to seek an earlier release and reduce their time removed from their family and community.
HB 1169 – Relieving legal financial obligations
HB 1024 – Ensuring incarcerated persons make state minimum wage and keep earned funds
Focus Area four
Our Environment is Our Health
We said it before, and we’ll say it again: Your zip code is the greatest predictor of your life expectancy. Where we are and our environment is a key deciding factor of our social determinants of health – the context of our lives in which we live, learn, work, and play. Thus, disparities in our environment often mirror those in our health. With the pandemic, protecting our health became a top priority.
At the same time, we began to closely examine how environmental justice is an intersectional issue, where social hierarchies—racism, capitalism, other –isms- drastically impact our health outcomes.
While climate change contributes to extreme weather patterns, access to electricity is an essential basic need to the survival of people across Washington. Therefore, we support Energy for All, a policy to ensure a universal right to energy access and affordability, no matter our utility district, and supported by a statewide Energy Assistance Trust. This trust would be a permanent, independent organization that collects and analyzes critical energy consumer and provider data to gauge needs relative to services, offers technical assistance and capacity to support providers in meeting their obligations, and provides program participation assistance for eligible households.
Bill coming soon!
Economic disparities serve as another barrier to environmental justice. For example, while healthy full meals are essential to the development of our youth, they are not accessible to all students. Thus, we support legislation to ensure free school lunch for all public-school students.
Affordable and reliable transportation is one of the biggest indicators for social mobility. It is essential that we prioritize state funding for the expansion of frequent and accessible public transit and set targets to build back the public transportation network, while ensuring that vulnerable communities are prioritized in the process rather than displaced.
While energy, food, and transportation justice are some hot topics, environmental injustice appears in many different forms—the devil is in the details. Did you know that a pair of jeans requires about 10 years’ worth of drinking water? Studies have found that the fast fashion industry emits more carbon emissions than aviation and shipping combined. This year, we are supporting a bill to address the extensive use of fast fashion which would require fashion retail sellers and manufacturers to disclose environmental and social due diligence policies.
Bill coming soon!
The recent Roe v. Wade case was an illustration of how sexism threatens the lives of women in our country and their trust in our healthcare system. Anti-abortion advocates have threatened to abuse health data to advance policies that harm pregnant individuals. This session, we are supporting a bill that advocates for strengthening health data privacy. It is imperative that we build trust in our healthcare system and allow our community members to access all forms of health information to make informed decisions about their well-being.
HB 1155 – Strengthen Health data privacy
SB 5101 – Concerning extraordinary medical placement for incarcerated individuals at the department of corrections.
SB 5095 – Creating parks Rx pilot program
Focus Area five
Follow the Lead of Our Youth
Youth voice is essential to the future leadership of our communities. Yet they are often excluded from decision making and policy conversations. We commit to following the lead of youth advocates in this legislative session and growing our network’s support for the initiatives they put forward.
On November 14th, thousands of Seattle students held a demonstration in protest of gun violence after the fatal shooting of a student at Ingraham High School. We honor the lives of youth lost to gun violence and hear the cacophony of student voices calling for the adults and decision makers to act. We hear the call from youth loud and clear – we need gun reform now. We advocate to ban the sale of military style assault rifles and support additional efforts to hold gun buy backs to reduce the number of weapons in the community and ensure access to justice for those harmed by illegal firearms industry conduct.
Black and indigenous youth disproportionately experience homelessness, criminalization, and are overrepresented in the foster care system. We support the roster of legislation proposed by the Mockingbird Society, including legislation to expand Extended Foster Care eligibility up to age 26 and increase the monthly payments. We must learn from their lived experience to pass legislation that protects self-determination and addresses the real needs of foster youth.