2017 Legislative Priorities

Columbia Legal Services believes that justice is for everyone. We are actively working on behalf of our client communities during the 2017 Washington State legislative session to ensure that everyone across our state has access to justice, strong and enforceable rights for workers, consumers, and voters, plus the stability and opportunity necessary to achieve their dreams.

In many cases, we take leadership roles in advocating for bills, while at other times, we work closely with allies and within coalitions. We also play defense in working to block proposals that threaten our communities. Here is a list of our priority bills we're fighting to pass this session - information and resources provided below:

Providing Opportunities to Our Most Impacted Youth

We’re protecting our children and our teenagers. We are advocating for laws that protect abandoned and neglected immigrant teenagers. The Vulnerable Youth Guardianship Program (HB 1988 and SB 5559) would allow the courts to appoint a guardian for consenting vulnerable young adults who has been abandoned, neglected, or abused by their parents. The bill successfully passed the House and is currently before the Senate.

We aim to ensure that young people in trouble with the law have a chance to stay in juvenile court and not suffer the harms of adult court and an adult conviction simply at the whim of a prosecutor. A bill to keep youth in juvenile court (HB 1876 and SB 5519) reduces the number of offenses that give prosecutors the power to try a youth in adult court. Unfortunately this bill did not go forward. Advocates are continuing to push this work through other avenues.

The Legal Representation for Youth in Foster Care bill (HB 1251 and SB 5363) would require that all youth in dependency proceedings be appointed and represented by an attorney at all stages of the proceeding, including before their 72-hour shelter care hearings. Unfortunately this bill did not go forward. Advocates are continuing to push this work through other avenues.

Protecting the Health and Safety of Washington's Workers

We continue our decades-long work protecting the health and safety of Washington workers and families. We are urging the legislature to pass the Pesticide Exposure bill (HB 1564), a law that requires companies spraying pesticides to simply inform their neighbors so that they can protect themselves and their workers from pesticide exposure. Pesticide exposure causes farm workers to suffer more chemically-related injuries and illnesses than any other occupational group in the nation. Click here to find out more about our work to improve worker health and safety and improve systems of pesticide notification and accountability in Washington State. Unfortunately this bill did not go forward. Advocates are continuing to push this work through other avenues.

The Wage Recovery bill (HB 1486): allows workers who are victims of wage theft to put legal holds on the employer’s property so that there is something left to collect after the workers prevail in court. Many of the workers who would benefit from this bill are women of color and typically low-wage workers.

We’re helping people and families who are working their way out of poverty. We are pushing for changes in laws so people can take vocational rehabilitation classes and still qualify for government assistance, as better education leads to better and more secure and higher paying jobs. By making small changes to the WorkFirst program (HB 1566 and SB 5347), we can improve the TANF program so people have a better shot of moving successfully to a job.

Reducing the Burden of Debt

We’re fighting to protect people from unfair debt. Whether a patient gets a daunting hospital bill when she should have qualified for free care or a student trying desperately to pay off her loans, we think people shouldn’t be permanently harmed by debt. So we're fighting for laws that help provide better notice for people who may qualify for free or reduced hospital costs and that give people the tools to pay off their student loans. And we want to create opportunities for people returning from jails or prisons to move on with their lives and not be unnecessarily hindered by financial obligations.

The Charity Care Notification bill (HB 1359 and SB 5231) would require that patients receive written notification about the availability of Charity Care in English and the second-most spoken non-English language in the hospital's service area. The cost of medical services, especially during emergencies, shouldn’t prohibit people from seeking hospital care or result in crippling debt. Yet, too many low-income uninsured and underinsured emergency room patients are unaware of the availability of Charity Care and then have their medical bills sent to collections which results in wage garnishment and debt. The bill successfully passed the House and is currently before the Senate.

The Student Opportunity, Assistance, and Relief Act (HB 1169) would provide Washington's higher education students with no-cost, independent financial counseling to help them make informed financial decisions about student loan debt and to help student loan borrowers in default avoid loss of professional license or certification, which hinders repayment. The Act would also support student loan borrowers in default to avoid financial hardships by making the post judgment interest rate for private student loan debt more comparable to market rate and increase the exemptions for bank account and wage garnishments. The bill successfully passed the House and is currently before the Senate.

We are fighting to reduce the burden of the fees, fines, costs and restitution imposed by courts beyond a criminal sentence (also known as legal financial obligations, or “LFOs”). The LFO reform bill (HB 1783) helps to reduce the enormous burden LFOs put on people in poverty who are trying to return to their community after serving a criminal sentence. Find out more about a debt system that punishes people for their poverty while bringing little benefit to government or the public in a joint report CLS issued with the ACLU of Washington and a short video we produced. The bill successfully passed the House and is currently before the Senate.

Fighting for Fair Representation

And we’re fighting for fair representation in government. The Washington Voting Rights Act (SB 5267) is a matter of economic justice – when ethnic and racial communities don’t have a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choice due to outdated election systems, decisions about schools, parks, policing, roads, and other vital services end up not considering their perspectives. Unfortunately this bill did not go forward. Advocates are continuing to push this work through other avenues.

Things change very quickly in Olympia, please check back here for updates. Contact Antonio Ginatta, CLS Policy Director, with any questions or suggestions: antonio.ginatta@columbialegal.org