2021 Legislative Report

Adrian Murillo, Organizer

In pre-pandemic times, there would be church bells ringing, people dancing in the streets while old folks smile, chat, children run about underfoot and food vendors hawk their treats. The reason for such celebration? This has been an historic year in the life of Washington’s politics.

Legislation we have long held as essential to public safety and racial justice has been passed by a legislature that is the most diverse body of representatives, comprised of more people of color, women, LGBTQ people, than it ever has been before plus progressive Democrats who replaced moderate ones after the November election. A coalition of diverse communities united and concentrated in resolve and focus by the COVID pandemic and the increasing spate of police violence fueled this public-legislative momentum to pass laws that ensure police accountability and progressive tax reform among many other advances such bills to improve the climate, childcare access, and healthcare.

The police accountability reform bills PJALS supported and advocated for have passed. Harmful or deadly police tactics have been banned or severely restricted. No more chokeholds, neck restraints, or no-knock warrants, tear gas can only be used with approval from the highest elected official in the jurisdiction such as mayor, county executive or governor. No more buying of military equipment! Yes! An Office of Independent Investigations will be established. Expanding the conduct that justifies revoking police certification has passed; a bill requiring that one third of the members of the Criminal Justice Training Commission come from the community will now be law. A bill requiring statewide standards for de-escalation situations has also passed. Critically important for life on the streets, police will no longer be allowed to just stand by while another is using excessive force, they will have to intervene.

In the area of progressive revenue, the reforms we sought have passed: a 7% tax on capital gains will bring in $415 million in tax revenue and fairness to a tax system that traditionally favors the rich. Immigrant workers will now qualify for Working Family Tax Exemptions as well.

These are intentional, thoughtfully calibrated, bills that moved forward thanks to the efforts of scores and scores of concerned people and organizations around the state organizing support in concert, through coalitions and community mobilizations to address institutional injustice, neglect, and/or blindness. Once a month during the legislative session, our PJALS SURJ committee held an Action Hour where members and anyone else who wanted to participate were provided updated information about our targeted bills and legislator’s contact information and half the meeting was spent sending messages to legislators urging them to vote yes on these specific bills and why it matters to us. The rest of the time we debriefed our thoughts and feelings, what brought us to take action. What other actions we can do as the year progresses.

These new laws are the seeds that will flower a social and institutional transformation, the chance to finally breathe free as we co-create a better world. The work is far from done but the social justice movement in Washington has taken a giant step forward in the right direction.