WA Gov. Inslee announces package of equity proposals

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday announced a package of proposals for the legislative session that are aimed at addressing equity issues in Washington state.

The package includes $365 million in policies and budget items, according to his office, and comes at the end of a year that has featured both widespread calls for racial justice reforms and a pandemic with disparate impacts.

“Today we are committing to make investments to help all Washington communities thrive, especially communities of color that have been marginalized for too long,” Inslee said. “These proposals are important steps in the right direction, but we acknowledge the massive work that needs to be done to right the decades of inequity.”

Inslee said the public will hear more on equity this week as his office rolls out climate, economic, education, and health policy budget proposals. He called this initial announcement a “first installment” of what will be “threaded throughout” his proposed 2021-23 budget.

Among the proposals Inslee revealed Monday are:

$26 million to create an Office of Independent Investigations within the executive branch. Inslee said this proposal was shaped by a task force formed in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Manuel Ellis in Tacoma earlier this year.

The office would conduct investigations of police use of excessive force, according to a policy brief, and the budget proposal includes funding for prosecutions that result from those investigations.

After the 2021-23 biennium, the office is expected to cost about $17 million.

“We believe this investment is not only fair to … those communities disproportionately impacted by police use of force, but also necessary,” Inslee said.

$2.5 million investment to fully fund the state’s Equity Office created by the Legislature in the 2020 legislative session.

The office will “develop and implement a five-year equity plan for the state” and help agencies create their own diversity, equity and inclusion plans. An online dashboard will monitor agency progress toward the goals in those plans, according to the governor’s office.

Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, sponsored the bill creating the office and spoke about it at Monday’s press conference.

“I think what rings true now, more than ever, is that the data tells us over and over again that we aren’t … serving the most vulnerable and the most marginalized communities well enough. And that it’s not overt racist practices and policies, but it’s about looking at all of them to identify and implement effective, well-thought out approaches.”

The office, she said, will “bring expertise and accountability” to those efforts.

$10 million more in funding to the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund. The proposal is in addition to $40 million previously allocated, Inslee said, and the $22.6 million recently requested from the Legislature.

“Immigration status cannot be what stands between a person and shelter and food and safety,” Inslee said, later adding that the fund is a “vital resource” for immigrant workers who otherwise can’t access most available economic supports.

If workers can stay home when they’re sick, Inslee reasoned, that also will minimize the COVID-19 pandemic while helping their families.

Officially establishing the holiday Juneteenth. Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, is sponsoring a prefiled bill to establish the holiday, which commemorates the date June 19, 1865, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas.

“We did a great thing this last summer in the Black Lives Matter movement. We all came out, we protested, we shouted in the streets, and we loved your support,” Morgan said. “And so the next step that we have to do is actually take it to the leadership and the Legislature and the next step is policy.”

The bill to establish Juneteenth has strong support from a range of organizations, she said. According to a policy brief, the governor supports a proposal with a total of $7.3 million in funding to cover the costs to maintain critical services during the new holiday.

Other legislation in the equity package includes a request from Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to ban the use of credit scoring in auto, homeowner, renter, and boat insurance-rate considerations in an effort to address systemic racism in the insurance industry.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” Kreidler said, referring to companies using credit to determine premiums. “It’s unjust, it’s unfair, and it’s especially hard on people as they struggle with the devastating impacts of a pandemic that we’re going through right now.”

Three groups that represent auto, home and renters’ insurance released a statement Monday in opposition to that proposed ban, defending the use of credit-based insurance scores and instead calling for legislation that would let insurance companies offer consumers help during “extraordinary events, such as today’s pandemic-related economic shutdown.”

In the state’s capital budget, Inslee said he’s proposing $400,000 for the Department of Commerce to create an equity work group, $400,000 for the Recreation and Conservation Office to review equitable distribution of grants, and funding for five specific capital projects: Asberry House in Tacoma ($800,000, capital bonds), Miller Park in Yakima ($625,000, capital bonds), Africatown Land Trust in Seattle’s Central District ($13.8 million, capital bonds), Rainier Valley Food Bank in Seattle ($1 million, capital bonds), and McKinney Center in Seattle’s Central District ($480,000 general fund, $1 million capital bonds).

In a press release Monday, the Senate Members of Color Caucus co-chairs, Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, and Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, voiced their support of the governor’s proposals.

“Our communities have long been calling out for leadership that takes a hard look at inequity in our state and steps forward with bold action to respond to these needs,” said Sen. Saldaña in a prepared statement. “I look forward to partnering with the governor in this work to serve every Washingtonian, especially the historically marginalized and underrepresented.”

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019 as a county and courts reporter. She now covers Washington state government for The Olympian, The News Tribune, The Bellingham Herald, and Tri-City Herald. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.

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