We have just a few days until the 2022 legislative session is scheduled to end, but before it does, I want to put in a plug for all the little stuff that happens down here in Olympia that doesn’t capture headlines.
Columbia Legal Services is on the ground in Olympia advocating for racial, social, and economic equity for people with low incomes. Sometimes this takes the shape of a big policy push, like banning private, for-profit detention. But a necessary and underappreciated part of the work happens behind the scenes. We scan every bill introduced by legislators. Our expertise can help to perfect flawed language in bills, and it can help to prevent harmful bills from passing that can, at first glance, look innocuous.
In policy advocacy, oftentimes something that did not happen is a real triumph for the communities we serve. For example, we entered the session facing a legislative effort to create a harmful “seasonality exemption” to the newly enacted laws on farmworker overtime. We were successful in helping to keep that bill from moving this session.
We also worked against a bill that would have created a lopsidedly unfair pesticide advisory board, which would have given industry and applicator voices a 2-to-1 advantage over the input of people who would be exposed to those pesticides and their allies. That bill too did not move forward, and an attempt to amend it to the budget also failed.
When farmworker champions like Representative Lillian Ortiz-Self wanted to fund performance audits and a study to determine whether the state is adequately protecting the health and safety of farm workers, we suggested language to strengthen those provisos. We also provided legislators with points to make to fend off the six different efforts to water down or eliminate them.
When Senator Chris Gildon proposed a bill (SB 5692) to evaluate recidivism reduction programming at the Department of Corrections, we offered recommendations to ensure that the evaluation consider the availability of programming across facilities as well as eligibility to participate in that program. When we saw that Representative Brandon Vick had introduced a bill (HB 1874) that would prohibit the use of a juvenile adjudication as a basis for denying a professional license, we co-signed a letter of support with the Washington Policy Center.
We helped to improve language in Representative Tarra Simmons’ hospital charity care bill (HB 1616) that could have unintentionally complicated immigrant access to charity care. We also provided language to protect low-income tenants in a bill (HB 2064) that creates an alternative to the traditional security deposit scheme in the residential landlord tenant act.
Much of the behind the scenes work that happens in Olympia may not be headline material, but those small, unheralded interventions help to protect low-income communities. The little things add up.