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Legislative Update on Criminal Justice Reform: some disappointment, many victories

By Shar Lichty, PJALS Organizer

This year’s short legislative session was a whirlwind with the new majority seeming to have an agenda of finally pushing through as many progressive bills that have been stalled in recent years as possible. A lot of legislation that will advance equity and justice in our state was passed this year. As an organization guided by our member-driven priorities, PJALS was focused on several bills centered on advancing criminal justice reform including police accountability, removing barriers to re-entry, and ending the death penalty. We had a lot of victories this year and some disappointment.

Supporting incarcerated and decarcerated individuals: Following our victory at the City level, the State passed the Fair Chance Hiring Act (HB 1298) “banning the box” from unemployment records. After years of statewide organizing and leadership from impacted communities, Legal Financial Obligation reform (HB 1783) passed reducing the financial burden folks face upon re-entry due primarily to out of control interest rates. Legislation to create an Office of Corrections Ombuds (HB 1889) to improve conditions and programs for inmates also passed this year.

Advancing police accountability: PJALS endorsed I-940, the De-escalate Washington initiative to the legislature during the signature collection phase. We were excited to see it pass through the legislature and be signed into law by the Governor during the session. This initiative requires all law enforcement officers in the state to receive violence de-escalation, mental health training, and to provide first-aid to save lives. It also amends the standard for justifiable use of deadly force by law enforcement, including adding a “good faith” standard and requiring an independent investigation.

Repealing the death penalty: PJALS has worked on this issue at various levels for more than three decades. In recent years, our work with our statewide partners increased bi-partisan support yet we continued to face obstruction from Senator Padden in his role as the Chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee. This year due to the change in leadership, we made history with successful votes in both the Senate and House Committees and a successful vote on the Senate Floor. Despite the bi-partisan support and momentum, the bill seemed to have this year, it was not brought forward for a House Floor vote before the deadline. Despite our disappointment in not clearing our last hurdle this year, we celebrate the historical victories we did achieve and will continue our efforts next year.

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