When credits rolled on a certain classic Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, it was clear who fell into the categories of “good,” “bad” and “ugly.”
That was true for the Racial Equity Team on March 29, when the most recent Washington state legislative session came to a close.
The group — a people-of-color-led network of lobbyists, community leaders and activists who work to build racial equity into state policy — had seen precious few wins and a number of hard losses in a wide array of legislative arenas.
The work, though difficult, was critical to improving Washington for communities of color, said Senait Brown, lead coordinator of the Racial Equity Team at a press conference.
“We’re taking on not just the issues, but the institutionalized racism that underlies these issues,” Brown said.
The team broke bills down into three categories.
“The Good” meant bills that benefit people of color and are still viable, whether or not they passed the Legislature this year.
“The Bad” represented good bills that died or that lawmakers are not moving forward.
“The Ugly,” on the other hand, were bills that put additional burdens on people of color.
Summarized below are some of the highlights and low moments of the session.
Racial Equity Impact Statements (HB 2076, SB 5752): These bills would have required racial and ethnic impact statements for proposed legislation so that policymakers could consider the consequences of bills before they were actually passed. Although neither bill survived, there was a study on how to implement racial impact statements in the final budget.
Education Opportunity Gap (HB 1541): This bill changes the disciplinary system in schools to cut down on the most extreme forms, such as suspension or expulsion, and recommends the disaggregation of certain student data based on ethnicity so that, for example, all Asian students — a category that comprises many nationalities — are not lumped together under one broad label. The governor signed this bill March 30.
Toxic Free Kids and Families Act (HB 2545): Do you like cancer-causing chemicals near your children? Neither does the Legislature, which banned five toxic flame retardants and gave the Department of Health authority to ban more. The governor signed this bill April 1.
Washington Voting Rights Act (HB 1745, SB 5668): Had this bill passed, it would have authorized district-based elections, required redistricting and new elections in certain circumstances and established the legal right to sue if protected classes, like people of color, did not have an equal chance to elect representatives of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election.
Ban the Box (HB 1701, SB 5608): This bill would prohibit employers from asking questions about convictions and arrests on job applications so that job-seekers are evaluated based on their merits rather than weeded out of the job pool before a formal background check.
DNA on Arrest (SB 6366): This bill, now dead, would allow the collection of identifying DNA even when an individual had been arrested but not convicted. Though the bill is technically dead, the group considered it so dangerous that it needed to be kept on the watchlist because of the impact on communities of color.
Police Body Cameras (HB 2362): The bill, signed by the governor on April 1, sets up rules for law enforcement agencies to use body cameras as well as a legislative task force to “examine their use.” The Racial Equity Team believes this will give law enforcement a tool to use against communities of color without adequate checks and balances.
Debt Settlement and Installment Loans (HB 1922, SB 5899, SB 5613, HB 1398 and SB 5321): None of these bills passed, but the organization thought them too toxic not to include. They would ease restrictions and regulations on for-profit companies that offer high-interest payday loans.
Gender-specific Bathroom Bill (SB 6443, SB 6548): These bills would have prohibited transgender people from using the bathrooms designated for the gender with which they identify. They almost passed the Senate. The movement is not dead, however, with an initiative in the works that could appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.