Legislative Priority Discussion Topics

Economic Justice

Promote comprehensive state tax and funding reform.

This is a complex and politically difficult issue. However, the overarching goals can be clearly stated. The aim of comprehensive tax reform is to reallocate the tax burden, as a percentage of personal income, proportionally across all income levels. That would take Washington from having the most regressive tax system in the country to having the least regressive… from worst to first.

The second goal is for the State to fully fund basic education adequately and equitably across all school districts in the state on a per student basis, with some allowances for higher teacher salaries in high cost of living districts. This must be done while providing full public investment in other services that provide a sound return on investment, such as preventive and mental health care and substance abuse treatment, among many other programs.

Increase the minimum wage to $15.

Seattle’s $15 minimum wage has not increased prices (Univ of WA study) and there is no conclusive evidence that it has had an impact on employment/unemployment. Whether it actually helps families live better is still a question because it may make more people ineligible for food stamps, AppleHealth, and housing subsidies. It does, however, help low-income individuals, especially young people in the service sector.

Advocate paid “Sick and Safe” leave.

Seattle's Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance (PSST) requires employers to provide paid sick and safe time for employees. PSST can be used for an employee's absence from work due to illness, medical appointments, or critical safety issue, including domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. The ordinance applies to all employers with more than four full-time equivalent employees. All employees are eligible for the new benefit, including full time, part-time and temporary workers.

Preservation of the Democratic Process

Follow-up on WAMend: corporations are not people; money is not speech.

Now that I-735 has passed in Washington and Prop 59 in California, 19 states have passed resolutions calling on Congress to put forward a Constitutional Amendment clarifying that money is not equivalent to Free Speech and that corporations, being creatures of the state, do not have Constitutional rights. The next steps toward the 28th Amendment are twofold:

  1. Get “Ready to Ratify” - Lay the groundwork in the Washington legislature to ratify the Amendment once it is put forward by Congress, and/or elect state senators and representatives who “Pledge to Ratify.”
  2. Convince our U.S Senators and Congress members to co-sponsor and vote for the “We the People” Amendment, and/or elect senators and representatives who “Pledge to Amend.”

Promote best practices for maximum eligible voter participation.

Washington's mail-in elections are a model for increasing participation in elections. Washington is reasonably progressive in allowing convicted felons to vote once they are out of prison and off supervision, though supervision is extended when people cannot pay their Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs).

In jails, where accused people and misdemeanants are eligible, most provide no means to register, vote privately, or return ballots without postage. The main issue in Washington is to challenge districting that devalues minority voters, and challenge "at large" elections that structurally eliminate minority participation. For more info: http://www.disabilityrightswa.org/need-accessible-voting-jail-august-2016

Challenge current voter limitations

Other states have implemented procedures to allow easier ballot access for several groups: 

  • Early registration for 16-18 year olds - usually with driver's license.
  • Same day registration – which especially helps migrant populations.

After implementation, the voting percentages of populations have increased. Both candidates for Secretary of State endorsed more open voting. We should hold them to their promise.

Establish transparency guidelines.

In order to implement transparency - (a common goal) - we must enforce disclosure of contributors, and their compliance with state standards. Timely publication of infractions will increase compliance with existing state regulations.

Environmental Justice

Promote carbon emissions accountability.

Work to support the Clean Air Rule in any challenges by the legislature or courts. Work with alliance partners such as Earth Ministry and Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy to support new initiatives on climate change.

Strengthen safety regulations on oil and coal trains.

Stop fossil fuel infrastructure. Railroad safety regulation was made a national standard under the Railway Safety Act of 1948. However, that act did allow for state regulation in cases of uniquely local circumstances.

The citizens of Spokane are currently proposing an ordinance that would make it a civil infraction for the owners of rail cars carrying uncovered coal or high volatility oil to allow those cars to pass through Spokane’s city center on elevated rails or over the Spokane aquifer.

It is important to note that the oil and coal railcars are owned by the oil and coal companies, not by the railroad companies. High volatility oil is defined as any having a vapor pressure above 8 PSI or a flash point of less than 73 degrees F. Basically this restriction requires the oil car owners to ‘condition’ the crude oil before shipment instead of upon reaching the refinery. The fines imposed would roughly equate to the cost of conditioning, or about 2-4 cents per gallon.

It would be faster and more powerful for the Washington State Legislature to impose these regulations in the upcoming legislative session.

Protect public lands; respect treaty rights.

Follow up on efforts to stop coal and oil terminals on Gray's Harbor, Longview and Vancouver to protect treaty fishing rights and health. Support Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

Ensure adequate liability coverage for environmentally destructive industries.

Rivers and cities are exposed to the increased risk of Bakken Crude oil transport in Washington State. Until these shipments are stopped, we need at least $1 billion liability insurance coverage for those who profit from transporting this dangerous material.

Human Rights & Criminal Justice Reform

Support Black Lives Matter movement.

The UUA Board has followed up on General Assembly commitment to support the Black Lives Matter Movement. In the wake of the election of a law-and-order President, efforts to assure no increases in stop and frisk procedures, assuring efforts towards deadly force reduction and police accountability take on additional importance within our state.

Promote deadly force reduction, police accountability.

A task force formed in the 2016 legislature is examining changes to the current "deadly force" criteria for law enforcement staff. Now that the conversation has begun, we must keep focus and exposure of progress in creating accountability for officer actions. Current state law makes it virtually impossible to indict abusers.

Utilize community-based alternatives to incarceration.

Expanded authority for Drug Courts, Probation and Community Sentencing options including Intensive Probation, Day Reporting, Home Confinement and Electronic Monitoring, Community Service, and Restorative Justice programs have been shown to reduce the high cost associated with incarceration, help maintain family stability and reduce recidivism and crime rates. Such options are also widely supported by the public.

Reform the Legal Financial Obligation system.

Legal Financial Obligations - mostly court costs and legal service fees - are a strong link in the chain of events that stop rehabilitation of those imprisoned or newly released. In 2016, both the House and Senate got LFO reform through committees, but the reforms died in the special session. With proper emphasis, 2017 could be the year to get this barbaric system reformed.

Reduce or eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentences.

Allowing more judicial authority in sentencing gives judges added capacity to review the particulars of any case and the life realities of any offender before they render judgments. Letting judges use judgment in simple drug possession and other categories of non-violent offenses reduces prison costs supports families and reduces recidivism. Flexible sentencing guidelines and Safety Values that allow for exceptions to mandatory minimums when specific sentencing criteria are met are effective in reducing crime and reducing prison populations.

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Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice - Washington
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