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Columbia Legal Services 

OVERVIEW

We develop our legislative priorities over months and years. We narrow them down by weighing our mission and values, our anti-racist principles, the needs from other legal aid organizations in the Alliance for Equal Justice, our capacity, and most importantly – the individuals and communities most impacted. This year we are asking legislators to:

  • Prohibit private for-profit detention. Driven by a motive to profit, for-profit private prisons and detention centers often cut corners. They lack transparency and oversight, leading to inadequate medical care, poor nutrition and mistreatment.
  • End the state prohibition on providing legal aid funding to programs that serve undocumented immigrants. This prohibition is contrary to the state’s commitment to not discriminate against its residents on the basis of their immigration status.
  • Increase the rate at which people in confinement can earn time off their sentence. An increase in earned time for people participating in positive programming promotes public safety and reentry.
  • Ensure that all legislation involving the criminal legal system be explicitly retroactive; and to avoid legislation that promotes the harmful idea that people who have committed “violent” offenses are “unworthy” of and should be categorically excluded from relief.
  • Continue their commitment to reform legal financial obligations. Legal financial obligations prevent people from reintegrating back into their communities.
  • Give low-wage workers a vital tool to recover their wages. The Wage Recovery Act would give low-wage workers who have been victims of wage theft the ability to put a hold (a lien) on their employers’ assets.
  • End the practice of suspending driver’s licenses due to an inability to pay a traffic fine.
  • Protect tenants from unsupported and excessive claims by landlords of damage to rental units. These claims create a barrier to renters accessing future housing.
  • Automatically protect bank accounts from being garnished by debt collectors. The automatic protection should be for enough funds to pay for rent, food, and medical needs.

For questions or to find out more about getting involved, please contact Antonio Ginatta, CLS Policy Director, at antonio.ginatta@columbialegal.org.

TEAM

Antonio Ginatta
Antonio Ginatta
Policy Director
Nick Allen
Nick Allen
Deputy Director of Advocacy
Diana Garcia
Diana Garcia
Assistant Deputy Director of Advocacy
Bonnie Linville
Bonnie Linville
Attorney
Sarah Nagy
Sarah Nagy
Attorney
Andrea Schmitt
Andrea Schmitt
Attorney
Laurel Simonson
Laurel Simonson
Attorney
Nick Straley
Nick Straley
Assistant Deputy Director of Advocacy
Xaxira Velasco Ponce De Leon
Xaxira Velasco Ponce De Leon
Attorney
Hannah Woerner
Hannah Woerner
Attorney

2021 Legislative Priorities & Agenda

Columbia Legal Services | Impact Litigation |
'2021 Legislative Priorities & Agenda'

Columbia Legal Services is a statewide legal advocacy organization that works to dismantle and transform the systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice. Our work is informed by the communities we serve across Washington. In 2021, we are asking state policymakers to:

Transform structures that perpetuate injustice

Driven by a motive to profit, for-profit private prisons and detention centers often cut corners. They lack transparency and oversight, leading to inadequate medical care, poor nutrition and mistreatment. Washington should prohibit private for-profit detention in the state.

Washington currently prohibits state civil legal services funding for programs that serve people without lawful immigration status. This prohibition is contrary to the state’s commitment to protect its residents regardless of immigration status and should be repealed.

Increasing the rate at which people in confinement can earn time off their sentence by participating in positive programming promotes public safety and reentry. Increasing earned time should apply to sentence enhancements and not be limited to “non-violent” offenses.

Remove barriers to reentry

Washington should allow for the complete expungement of juvenile records so that mistakes of youth don’t burden a person throughout their lifetime.

Legal financial obligations prevent people from reintegrating back into their communities. Washington should take the next step in reforming its LFO laws to ensure that while they prioritize restitution, they do not continue to prevent individuals from successful reentry.

Respect workers’ safety and dignity

The Wage Recovery Act gives low-wage workers who have been victims of wage theft the ability to put a hold (a lien) on their employers’ assets.

Protect Washingtonians from the burden of unfair debt

A driver’s license is a necessary tool to allow people to drive to work. Washington should end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses due to an inability to pay a traffic fine.

Landlords’ unsupported claims of damage to rental units creates a barrier to renters accessing future housing. Washington should require better documentation of repair costs and more clearly define “wear and tear” to prevent excessive claims for routine maintenance.

To prevent unnecessary economic harm as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington should automatically protect bank accounts from being garnished by debt collectors. The automatic protection should be for enough funds to pay for rent, food, and medical needs.

 

Support Agenda

Columbia Legal Services supports principles and legislation proposed by community partners and allies that help to advance social, economic, and racial equity for people living in poverty. These include:

Ending mass incarceration

  • Ensuring that all sentencing reform legislation be explicitly retroactive.
  • Avoiding legislation that promotes the harmful idea that people who have committed “violent” offenses are “unworthy” of and should be categorically excluded from relief.
  • Supporting all efforts that will immediately and permanently reduce Washington’s prison population by a significant amount.
  • Ending the one-year time limit to collaterally challenge a criminal conviction.
  • Allowing for all incarcerated individuals to earn good time credits on their sentences.
  • Stopping the use of juvenile conviction history to determine length of adult sentences.
  • Promoting robust post-conviction review processes.
  • Supporting policies that reduce the likelihood of contact with the criminal legal system.
  • Ending solitary confinement.
  • Decriminalizing drug possession offenses.
  • Preventing landlords from unfairly rejecting potential tenants due to their criminal history.

Promoting immigrant equity

  • Increasing eligibility for the children’s health insurance program to age 26, regardless of immigration status.
  • Prohibiting retaliation against immigrant farm workers on H-2A visas who try to improve wages or working conditions on the farms where they worked.
  • Protecting Washington workers who have lost their jobs but are unable to access unemployment benefits due to their immigration status.

Note: this resource is living document and the legislative session moves quickly – please check back for updates, links to additional bill information and resources, and ways to get involved.

For questions or to find out more about getting involved, please contact Antonio Ginatta, CLS Policy Director, at antonio.ginatta@columbialegal.org.