It takes an engaged community to raise their voices and impact legislative change. Thank you to all who joined us in the fight this year, this is what WE accomplished in this 2022 legislative session.
This was a short session (60 days), in an election year, and amidst a deep political divide all across our nation. It was the second remote session due to the ongoing health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, which creates additional challenges in our advocacy work. However, we are very proud of the hard work put in this session that will bring relief to some of those who most need it. We wanted to thank all of you for your support, and offer a brief review of the session.
HB 1818, promoting successful reentry, sponsored by Representative Simmons. HB 1818 expanded the housing voucher program for those exiting incarceration from three months to six months, and made them available to anyone at risk of releasing into homelessness. It also got rid of ALL supervision fees for those under community supervision as part of their sentence. This bill passed out of both chambers with tremendous bipartisan support, 87 yeas/20 nays in the House, and it passed unanimously off the Senate floor. HB 1818 is a great first step to support our loved ones exiting incarceration to build a strong foundation for successful reentry into our community.
HB 1412, legal financial obligations (LFOs), sponsored by Representative Simmons. HB 1412 makes important progress to reduce the devastating impact that LFOs have on communities living in poverty and communities of color. A few of the changes to our LFO system are below, and we will prepare a more thorough summary fact sheet to send out later.
- Allows the court to not impose or waive restitution and accrued interest owed to any insurer or state agency, except restitution owed to Labor and Industries under the crime victim compensation program, if the person does not have the current or likely future ability to pay.
- Allows a court to not impose interest on restitution after considering the defendant’s financial circumstances.
- Allows individuals owing restitution to request a waiver or reduction of restitution interest accrued while they were incarcerated.
- Allows people currently incarcerated to motion the court for relief.
The LFO Coalition is still meeting as there is more work to be done to eliminate racially unjust LFO laws, including abolishing mandatory LFOs, such as the Victim Penalty Assessment (VPA) and the DNA collection fee, and providing for broader relief from restitution.
HB 1874, reducing barriers to professional licensure for individuals with previous arrests or criminal convictions, sponsored by Representative Vick. HB 1874 creates a process that allows an individual with a criminal history to find out whether their prior conviction would disqualify them from obtaining a professional license administered by the Department of Licensing (DOL). This bill allows individuals to have their previous history reviewed prior to investing time and money into an education or training program that leads to licensure before ensuring they are eligible to be licensed in their field of choice. Continued work is still needed to fight employment discrimination and help more people find careers and living wage jobs.
We are very excited about new budget allocations that bring much-needed investment into our communities. The budget directs $200 million toward grants to help communities disproportionately impacted by criminal laws and penalties for illegal drug sales and possession. This money will be used for several things, including economic development, legal aid, violence prevention and re-entry services. The legal aid and re-entry investments will bring much needed support to help those dealing with post-conviction legal issues that are holding them back, as well as provide more assistance to our loved ones exiting incarceration.
Bills that didn’t make it this session
HB 2017, the Housing Justice Act, sponsored by Representative Davis. We are proud of the Housing Justice Coalition’s work in putting forward one of the most progressive anti-discrimination housing bills in the country. Although HB 2017 never made it out of the policy committee, we received strong support from the committee chair and a commitment to support this bill next year. The Housing Justice Coalition will begin meeting again in May to build on the work done this year and come back stronger in the 2023 session on this important legislation.
HB 1681, modifying requirements for vacating conviction records, sponsored by Representative Simmons. Another bill we were sad to see not move forward, which would have updated the language for vacating misdemeanors so the amount of time required to wait before being eligible to vacate was not tied to paying off your LFOs.
SB 5588, reentry and discharge planning, sponsored by Senator C. Wilson. SB 5588 would have required DOC to develop a more robust discharge planning process to promote a more successful reentry. This included things such as assistance with obtaining identification, enrolling the person in all applicable state and federal government assistance and benefits programs, transferring prescriptions and medications to a pharmacy in their area of release, and connecting them to employment, education, and housing opportunities in their area of release.
There were several other bills that we supported to reform sentencing laws and prison conditions that also did not pass this session.
Bills we helped stop
There were a few bills we had to organize to stop from passing through the legislature, which would have caused more harm to our community. These included:
SB 5663, establishing procedures for compliance with the State v. Blake decision in order to create efficiencies, and reduce costs, sponsored by Senator Dhingra. Although we support finding a streamlined and efficient process for dealing with the Blake decision, SB 5663 would have prevented people eligible for Blake relief from having an attorney advocate for their rights to be fully restored, and would have given complete immunity to the counties and state for the harm caused by the unconstitutional war on drugs in WA.
SB 5561, concerning the restoration of the right to possess a firearm, sponsored by Senator Dhingra. SB 5561 perpetuates the racial inequities in our criminal legal system by making it harder for those with a criminal conviction to have their firearm rights legally restored. There was no data, research, or stakeholder engagement that showed any need for this legislation. This bill would have furthered the stigma attached to those with a criminal conviction and was an attack on our civil rights. It is already very hard to restore our rights. The process does not need to be made harder as our rights are needed to prevent further criminalization and be around family members who own or possess firearms.
Direct participation in the legislative efforts
In support of all these legislative efforts, we held a weekly directly impacted legislative caucus meeting where we helped educate those most impacted by the criminal legal system to understand the legislative process. We provided weekly updates on where the bills were, what the next steps were, and provided action alerts for people to easily sign up to testify, have their position noted for the record, or submit written testimony. We walked people through navigating the legislature’s website, brought in special guests, watched testimony from hearings and floor debates, and helped recruit and prepare people for testifying.
On President’s day, we held a systems impacted lobby day in collaboration with 11 other organizations to spend the day together in community with guest speakers and legislators joining us throughout the day. Civil Survival arranged 15-minute zoom appointments with as many legislators as were available so people could meet their own legislators and have their voices heard. For many, this was their first time talking to their legislator, or any legislator at all. It was a very powerful day and an opportunity to grow our collective power.We will continue to meet on Mondays, alternating between planning and strategizing for next year’s legislative session, and spending time in community and supporting each other with the many barriers those of us with a conviction history face. If you’d like to join us, please contact email@example.com. We would love to have you included in the movement!