OLYMPIA (Feb. 16, 2016) — Hundreds of rank-and-file members representing unions from across the state became lobbyists for a day at the Washington State Labor Council’s Legislative Lobbying Conference on Friday.
In his opening remarks for the conference, WSLC President Jeff Johnson described what had happened the previous Friday, when Senate Republicans unexpectedly fired Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson with no notice and no chance to defend herself and her department. He said that kind of D.C.-style partisan politics makes the participation of all who attended the conference even more important.
“Unfortunately, this breeds cynicism and disengagement from the political process as people get frustrated because no matter how good an idea is, they feel it will not get decided on its merits, but rather by backroom deals and political expedience,” Johnson said. “But Sisters and Brothers, we have to recognize that they want us to become cynical and disengaged. They win when we disengage… We are organized labor. Everything we have achieved, we have done so through struggle and activism.”
After Johnson and WSLC staff gave a brief overview of some of the priority issues facing working families, busloads of attendees went to the State Capitol to track down their districts’ senators and representatives to talk about these issues and other priorities for their local unions.
Among the issues that participants asked their state legislators about were:
AEROSPACE TAX INCENTIVE ACCOUNTABILITY: HB 2638 would tie Washington’s $8.7 billion aerospace tax incentives to job creation and maintenance. Although it’s overwhelmingly supported by voters in all demographic categories, the bill has been temporarily blocked from a vote in the state’s House of Representatives, leaving the aerospace giant free to continue taking tax breaks from Washington, even if it keeps cutting jobs, just as it announced again last week.
Delegates told legislators not to give up on this bill. Washington voters should know whether their representatives support or oppose creating some accountability and transparency for this massive tax break.
LEGAL FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS — People convicted of crimes often cannot afford to pay victim restitution, fines, prosecution costs, and other penalties, which accrue 12% interest in Washington state, the highest rate in the nation. This creates a cycle of debt that prevents payment of the victims’ principal restitution, erects barriers to reentering society, and increases recidivism.
The ACLU and WSLC support HB 1390, which unanimously passed the House 97-0 on Feb. 3, to adopt common sense court fee reforms to help ex-offenders reintegrate in to society, and avoid re-imprisonment due to court debt. A similar bill also passed the House last year, but was never voted upon in the Senate, so delegates asked their senators to allow a vote in 2016.
For more information, download a fact sheet on the LFO legislation.
WASHINGTON VOTING RIGHTS ACT — HB 1745 is a meaningful civil-rights bill that allows cities to convert to district elections. Yakima was forced to do this by the courts because their elections were clearly disenfranchising Latino voters, and sure enough, after they went to district elections, three Latinas became the first ever to be elected to Yakima City Council. But the court case cost Yakima taxpayers $1 million.
Legislative action is needed, not only to ensure that all communities of color are properly represented and not disenfranchised, but also to avoid more lawsuits and legal costs at the expense of taxpayers. HB 1745 passed the Democratic-controlled House on Feb. 4 and is now in the Republican-controlled Senate, where last year it died without a vote. WSLC conference delegates asked their senators to allow a fair vote on this overdue civil-rights bill.