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:

  • HB 1090 – 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.
  • HB 1072 – 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.
  • SB 5226 – End the practice of suspending driver’s licenses due to an inability to pay a traffic fine.
  • HB 1525 – 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.
  • SB 5339 – 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.
    • Status Update (3/11/21): Not moving forward this session
  • HB 1412 – Continue their commitment to reform legal financial obligations. Legal financial obligations prevent people from reintegrating back into their communities.
    • Status Update (3/11/21): Not moving forward this session
  • HB 1300 – Protect tenants from unsupported and excessive claims by landlords of damage to rental units. These claims create a barrier to renters accessing future housing.
    • Status Update (3/11/21): Not moving forward this session
  • SB 5355 – Gives most Washington workers whose employers don’t pay their wages a new tool in the fight to recover their hard-earned money.

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

Previous Legislative Sessions: 2020 and 2019.

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 Session Recap

Columbia Legal Services | Impact Litigation |
'2021 Legislative Session Recap'

Given the daunting challenges of holding the 2021 legislative session during a pandemic and fully virtual for the first time, I shared the concerns of many about what the legislature could actually accomplish. Against those expectations, the legislature went big and – together with champions, allies, and the communities we serve – achieved historic successes in passing policies that will reduce poverty and inequality. 

Some key accomplishments: 

  • Reducing the state’s regressive tax structure by funding the Working Families Tax Credit and by passing a capital gains tax 
  • Massively investing in childcare and early childhood education through the Fair Start for Kids Act  
  • Systemic tenant protection legislation, both by passing a statewide “just cause” bill to prevent unfair evictions and by providing counsel to low-income tenants in eviction proceedings 
  • Restoring the right to vote to people leaving total Department of Corrections confinement 
  • Phasing out the discriminatory farm worker overtime exemption 
  • Several police accountability measures 
  • Providing $340 million in disaster assistance for immigrant workers ineligible for unemployment 
  • De-felonizing drug possession 
  • Making retroactive the removal of Robbery in the second degree as a third strike

In that spirit of going big, the legislature passed several of our priorities that we advocated for in collaboration with many allies: 

Even with so many successes, several important bills didn’t pass and we’ll keep fighting for them. HB 1300 aimed to mitigate the harms of tenancy-related debt but was overshadowed by the other landlord-tenant bills and did not move. HB 1412 would help reform legal financial obligations but was caught in the turbulence following the Blake decision which invalidated the state’s felony drug possession statute. SB 5339, our juvenile record expungement bill, failed to get out of committee, sandbagged in part by an unexpectedly large fiscal note.  

In addition to success on substance, there were improvements in process. It’s hard to dispute that the legislature benefited from being forced to using a remote testimony system due to the pandemic. Legislators were able to hear much more easily from people who may not have the ability to reach Olympia, due to geography or other barriers. We’ll encourage the legislature to continue providing robust opportunities for remote testimony for our clients and client communities. 

On the other hand, we were troubled by the inadequate and inequitable provision of language interpretation to keep up with increased opportunities to testify. We’ll encourage the legislature to improve access for people testifying in other languages, as well as develop best practices when preparing community members who want to testify their preferred language. 

There’s more work to do in interim and as we look ahead to a very important session in 2022. For now, let’s celebrate our victories and I want to thank our committed team of advocates, legislative champions, allies, and our client community who shared their stories and lived experiences to help advance social, economic, and racial equity for people living in poverty. 

Thank you, 

Antonio Ginatta
Policy Director