Monthly Archives: February 2020

  • Permalink Gallery

    Child sex trafficking survivors deserve to be protected, not criminalized

Child sex trafficking survivors deserve to be protected, not criminalized

February 28th, 2020|

From Crosscut

by Manka Dhingra & Tina Orwall & Shoshana Wineburg

She was violated and raped in plain sight at all hours of the day and night. She was sold and threatened with violence and death. She scratched and kicked the walls of her motel room. She cried for help from anyone who could hear. Instead of helping, motel staff told her to “keep it down.” She would later be arrested for prostitution that she was forced into.

Her story isn’t unique. It’s the story of American sex trafficking and it’s trapping girls in every community in the sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline.

Between the ages of 12 and 15, a woman known only as M.L., was raped up to 10 times a day at a Motel 6 in Washington state. After employees allegedly turned a blind eye or enabled her abuse, she’s now fighting back with a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Tacoma against the major motel chain and Craigslist for enabling child sex trafficking. The lawsuit claims that many people within the hospitality industry and Craigslist knew that children were being sold for sex and did nothing to stop it. In fact, M.L. alleges that the motel manager tried to buy her, along with other girls, for sex. Once Motel 6 found out about the prostitution, the lawsuit claims, all it did was transfer him to a different location.

Cases like M.L.’s are far too common across the nation. We don’t know the full scope of child sex trafficking within the United States, but studies indicate that 100,000 to 3 million children are purchased for sex each year. What we do know, tragically, is that it’s the most vulnerable children — youth who have been abused or those involved with the child welfare system — who are being sexually victimized and eventually incarcerated.

Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which established the first ever legal definition of human trafficking. Following passage, commercial sex acts “by force, fraud, or coercion,” or performed on people under the age of 18, constituted a “severe form of trafficking.” Thus, the TVPA laid out that children are victims, not perpetrators, of their own sexual exploitation.

While the TVPA defined the problem of human trafficking and established minors involved in a commercial sex act as victims, the law didn’t go far enough. Today in 2020, children under 18 can still be survivors of sex trafficking, yet be prosecuted for the sex crime of prostitution. As a result, it has fallen upon individual states to fix this contradiction by passing safe harbor legislation — policies which exempt minors from charges of prostitution and provide therapeutic services instead of incarceration.

Two years after the passage of the TVPA, Michigan’s Legislature charted the course for what statewide safe harbor policy could look like. As of 2019, 31 states, including Washington, D.C., have passed some form of safe harbor. That leaves 20 states that continue to criminalize child survivors of sex trafficking, including Washington state.

Sexual abuse during childhood is frequently one of the key indicators that girls — disproportionately girls of color — will enter the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Often, they are condemned for crimes related to their own sexual abuse and reactions to traumatic events. This includes substance abuse, truancy, running away and retaliating against their abusers. These crimes are loud cries for help and therapeutic intervention, and should not be met with traditional detention and punishment.

This is why we have proposed a holistic completion of safe harbor legislation (House Bill 1775) in Washington state. The policy would exempt trafficking survivors from crimes related to their own sexual exploitation. It would create a pilot program for therapeutic receiving centers to take children who have been trafficked and establish designated trafficking liaisons within Washington’s child welfare system. These interventions can disrupt the sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline by offering survivors a chance to heal and build a pathway to a life free of exploitation and violence.

This an ambitious but necessary step toward ending sex trafficking. Had safe harbor policies been in place for M.L., she may have been able to get the help she needed sooner.

In 2020, we hope to add Washington state to the growing list of safe harbor states, and we encourage all 19 remaining states to join us. Even in a highly divided nation, this is one area where we should all be able to agree.

  • Permalink Gallery

    Washington State Senate Passes Resolution Honoring Sikh Americans

Washington State Senate Passes Resolution Honoring Sikh Americans

February 28th, 2020|

From India-West

The office of state Sen. Manka Dhingra of Washington state announced that Dhingra and fellow state Sen. Mona Das were among legislators in the Pacific Northwest state that passed a resolution honoring Sikh Americans.

Dhingra, D-Redmond, Das, D-Kent, and others sponsored Senate Resolution 8696A resolution, which passed Feb. 28.

The resolution honors the contributions of Sikh Americans to Washington state’s culture, economy and government, a news release said.

Legislators in the state brought to the capitol many representatives of Washington’s Sikh American community, which has deep roots in Washington state reaching back to 1899, the release said.

“I hope that they felt recognized and appreciated today. Our wonderful state of Washington wouldn’t be the same without Sikh Americans’ dedication to our communities and their commitment to reconciliation and kindness,” Das said. “They demonstrate what close-knit family and friendship should be, and I am so glad we could celebrate one another with such a joyful reception and resolution.”

The invocation was given by Giyani Sadhu Singh of Gurudwara Singh Sabha in Renton, and translated by Amarjit Singh, the release noted.

Members of several other Sikh temples were in attendance, including Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurudwara of Kent, Sacha Marg Gurudwara of Auburn, Sikh Center of Seattle and Bothell, and Khalsa Gurmat Center, it said.

  • Permalink Gallery

    Required sex education: One step from passing Washington State Legislature

Required sex education: One step from passing Washington State Legislature

February 27th, 2020|

From the Seattle P.I.

bill to require comprehensive sex education in Washington’s public schools has passed the House Education Committee on a 9-8 vote, a key step for legislation repeatedly approved by the Washington State Senate but never brought to a vote in the House of Representatives.

“We were unable to clear this hurdle last year, so this is the farthest this bill has come and is a significant step in the process for Washington state schools to offer this important curriculum,” Courtney Normand of Planned Parenthood Votes said in a statement.

Sex ed legislation has already passed by a largely party line 28-21 vote in the State Senate. The upper chamber passed similar legislation last year. Sexual education was not brought to the floor for a vote under former House Speaker Frank Chopp. House Speaker Laurie Jinkins has replaced Chopp, who retired as Speaker at the end of last year’s session.

Few issues have caused as much controversy in Olympia.

The sex ed bill is described as “the most dangerous and radical bill so far in the 2020 legislative session” by the Family Research Institute of Washington. The Institute led opposition to marriage equality and lately has mounted a petition drive to support forced resignations of two LGBTQ faculty at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien.

“Comprehensive sexual education is about safety, first and foremost,” the bill’s chief sponsor State Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, said in floor debate. “It does not direct teachers to instruct students on how to have sex or how to promote sexual activity. The curriculum is age appropriate and it is addressed by local school boards.”

The legislation would require every public school to provide comprehensive sex education. Options for local schools would be drawn up by the state’s Office of Public Instruction.

The requirement for grades six through 12 would kick in this September, for kindergarten through fifth grade in 2021. The program’s chief goal, for young students, is to detect and deter sexual violence. It is designed to promote affirmative consent. An opt out clause for parents is included.

A vociferous opponent of the legislation has been State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, co-chair of President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Washington state. It is being pressed by the Legislature’s “urban majority” he argued in a recent article.

“Not just about the birds and the bees, but state-approved theories of gender identity, sexual orientation and relationships, as interpreted by social activist groups,” said Ericksen.

At a contentious House hearing last month, however, a young woman named Jessica Cole testified: “Had I known more about consent, sexual assault, healthy relationships and STI (sexually transmitted infections), I would have been able to protect myself and get appropriate assistance. Comprehensive sex education decreases stigma and increases understanding.”

Sex ed is “about consent and how to understand our bodies,” State Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, a deputy King County Prosecutor, has argued.

The bill passed in the Education Committee has gone to the House Rules Committee. Should there be a floor vote, and sex ed pass the Legislature, it will signal a new era in the House of Representatives.

By Joel Connelly

  • Permalink Gallery

    Legislators Discuss Major Policies in 45th District Town Hall

Legislators Discuss Major Policies in 45th District Town Hall

February 26th, 2020|

From the Woodinville Weekly

Very few bills are directly benefiting Eastside cities during this short legislative session. Aside from various capital budget projects around the county, Woodinville has not been impacted.

With 20 days left in the 60-day session, legislators will be working to pass measures that advance state priorities. Sen. Manka Dhingra, Rep. Roger Goodman and Rep. Larry Springer represent neighborhoods in Woodinville, Duvall, Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish.

Citizens in the 45th District had two separate opportunities to discuss pending bills and important issues with their local legislators Feb. 20 and 22. The Town Hall covered topics related to car tabs, education and the environment. Springer shared his new bill to combat homelessness and housing affordability in King County.

“The bill essentially sets up a system by which employers would pay a payroll tax based on certain criteria and level of income,” Springer said. “Interestingly, the idea was brought up by the business community.”

He said about 10 major employers in the state, including those at Starbucks, Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft, want to help with the housing crisis and are willing to pay. The payroll tax would generate about $120-150 million each year in King County, he added.

In the next 20 years, Springer said this revenue stream could raise up to $1 billion, which would then be distributed to the county, the city of Seattle and other suburban cities for shelters and affordable housing projects.

“I’m just really excited about the stakeholders that are supporting this bill because it really is about the understanding that this issue impacts each and every one of us who live in this community,” Dhingra said. “It is not about us versus them.”

Dhingra said more tech companies and industries are moving to the Eastside, including a potential new satellite division of Google in Redmond. Businesses flock towards talent and locality, which will eventually provide more job opportunities in the 45th District, she added.

“There’s a lot of partnerships that are already occurring without the need of government being involved at this time,” she said.

She said many companies offer incentives to students interested in computer science and technology, providing them with scholarships and internship opportunities in the summer and during the school year.

In the last session, the legislature focused more on higher education to ensure all students can access college without extreme debt. Dhingra said she is continuing to look at trauma-informed care and adverse childhood experiences to meet the needs of students across the district.

This session has placed more emphasis on early learning and pre-K education to prepare students for success in school. Goodman said he has been working on legislation to expand access to high-quality preschool.

“Public education is, first of all, in the state constitution as our top priority,” Goodman said. “But it just makes sense to make it our top priority in any event. Everything comes back to education.”

Springer said the state has spent an additional $10 billion over the last six years to support the K-12 system. About 52% of the entire state budget goes to K-12 education, he added.

Another financially debated topic on the minds of many is Tim Eyman’s car tab initiative. Springer said the law passed by voters will have a “devastating effect” on the people least able to get around.

“The cold hard reality of that car tab initiative is that we will lose 40,000 hours per year of Metro bus service in our region,” he said. “That will be particularly impactful for developmentally disabled residents of the district, as well as the elderly who depend on paratransit.”

Even though the initiative is being challenged in court, Goodman said there is a high probability that it will remain an effective law. He added that this law creates a $2 billion loss in funding, which would otherwise go towards bike lanes, pedestrian pathways, fish culverts and other transportation-related expenses.

“In the future, we’re going to have to figure out a way to finance transportation projects,” he said. “The next biennium, we’re probably going to be considering a comprehensive transportation finance package.”

By Madeline Coats

  • Permalink Gallery

    Washington mother fights to lower threshold of involuntary commitment during mental health crisis

Washington mother fights to lower threshold of involuntary commitment during mental health crisis

February 21st, 2020|

From King 5 News

A bill to make it easier to get someone mental health treatment, against their will, has the support of Jerri Clark.

The Vancouver, Washington mother said current law made it hard to get help for her adult son, Calvin Clark.

“My son met criteria for involuntary treatment the moment that he stepped off the roof of a hotel and plunged to his death,” Jerri Clark told state Representatives Friday.

His mother said he started suffering from severe mental illness when he was 19.

After he acted out and attempted suicide, his mother tried getting him committed.

“I had a crisis responder say to me, ‘He’s clearly not well. I don’t think he’s safe, but he doesn’t meet the criteria under the law,” Clark said.

She spoke in favor of Senate Bill 5720, a bill to allow involuntary commitment if someone is deemed to be unsafe.

Currently someone can only be involuntarily committed if it can be proven that the person’s “routine functioning” is impacted.

The legislative proposal replaces that phrase with “safe behavior,” a threshold that’s easier to reach, enabling earlier intervention, supporters said.

“It’s about making sure we are keeping people safe, it’s about making sure people are not a danger to themselves, or others,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond.

The bill would also extend the evaluation period from three days to five days.

RELATED: Proposal for longer involuntary commitment holds in Washington

Lawmakers did hear testimony against the proposal.

Kirkland resident Zelda Menard told legislators the current system is easy enough.

Menard testified she was involuntarily committed three times between 2005 and 2009 without having to present as violent. She does not think the treatment made her better.

“They wanted me to take meds I didn’t want to,” said Menard, “I was put in four-point restraints and drugged.”

Menard said making it easier would only, “Ensnare even more people in a system that does nothing helpful for those in mental crisis.”

“People have lost homes. People have lost jobs. College students drop out of school,” said David Montes from the King County Department of Public Defense.

Clark hoped telling her son’s story would have an impact.

“I think they understand that individuals who are very, very ill are falling through the cracks,” said Clark.

By Drew Mikkelsen

Felons’ voting rights won’t change in Washington state

February 21st, 2020|

From the AP

Voting restrictions for people with felony convictions will remain unchanged after the Washington state Senate rejected a bill that would have restored their voting rights.

Currently, felons lose their voting rights after they are convicted and regain them once they have served their prison term and completed community custody or probation.

The bill would have allowed felons to vote after they are released from prison but before they have completed probation or paid restitution.

The Democratic senators who control the state Senate did not collect enough votes on the legislation ahead of the Wednesday deadline to pass non-fiscal policy bills, the Olympian reported Thursday.

“It’s exceptionally disappointing, given the overwhelming evidence that this helps re-entry and doesn’t affect public safety negatively at all. It seems punitive, short-sighted and counter-productive,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer, the bill’s sponsor.

Supporters of the bill, which included the state Department of Corrections, have argued the legislation is consistent with efforts to reintegrate people convicted of felonies into society and to reduce their chances of re-offending, Kuderer said.

Some Republicans countered that felons should not be allowed to vote until prison time, community custody and restitution is completed.

Multiple amendments to the bill were proposed including exempting those convicted of sex offenses from getting their voting rights restored earlier than under current law and prohibiting people on community custody from voting if they were convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm and were criminal street gang members or associates.

There’s no correlation between the right to vote, criminal activity and public safety, Democratic Sen. Manka Dhingra.

Kuderer vowed to try to get the bill passed next year.

Narrow Senate vote approves collection of gun violence data

February 21st, 2020|

From the Sequim Gazette

The Washington Legislature is closer to creating an Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention to collect data on gun violence and suicide following a 25-23 vote in favor of Senate Bill 6288.

The office created by this legislation would be tasked with identifying new ways to collect gun violence data, analyzing and sharing that data, as well as making policy recommendations based on the data collected.

The office would work with law enforcement agencies, county prosecutors, researchers, and public health agencies across the state.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said the legislation is intended to bring a research-driven and data-based approach to recognizing the impacts of gun violence and suicide.

Dhingra said the legislation is about transforming the state’s criminal justice system from a crisis response model to an early prevention and intervention model.

She said programs such as King County’s Shots Fired project save taxpayers money because it helps to prevent deaths, injuries and incarcerations that burden our societal systems.

“This bill is about understanding where violence occurs in our communities and how we can intervene to address it—and making sure that we are helping victims of violence,” Dhingra said.

Adrian Diaz, Assistant Chief of Collaborative Policing in Seattle, testified to the Senate Law and Justice Committee in support of the bill. Diaz said the legislation would help fill gaps in gun violence data and develop policy solutions to improve community safety.

The bill would also create the Washington Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, which would be managed by the office.

Through the program, grants will be awarded to gun violence prevention initiatives and organizations in disproportionately affected communities in King County.

“Through my violence prevention work in Seattle, I have seen how effective holistic and community-based programs can be in reducing violence,” Diaz said in support of the grant program. “Research on similar programs in cities like Oakland, Milwaukee and New York has found the same to be true.”

Republican senators have raised some issues with the legislation.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he is concerned the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention could end up being an advocacy group used to push gun regulations and take away gun rights.

“It just bothers me to have another bureaucracy and more tax dollars going to promote a particular viewpoint,” Padden said.

Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said she is concerned that data collected for a database could be misused or targeted.

The bill will now have to pass in the House before it has the chance to be signed into law.

By Cameron Sheppard

  • Permalink Gallery

    Editorial: Pass bills to reduce firearm violence through research, limiting magazine capacity

Editorial: Pass bills to reduce firearm violence through research, limiting magazine capacity

February 19th, 2020|

From the Seattle Times

The first step to reducing gun violence is understanding it — and its causes. Lawmakers should support potentially lifesaving research by passing SB 6288.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, would establish a state office to coordinate and promote state and local efforts to reduce firearm violence. The office would work with law enforcement, county prosecutors, researchers and public-health agencies to track gun-related deaths and injuries and identify effective interventions. It would oversee a grant program to advance evidence-based efforts to reduce gun violence and save lives.

This should not be a controversial proposal, freighted with Second Amendment tit-for-tat arguments. Rather, the approach is in alignment with the American College of Surgeons’ recommendations to tackle firearm injury, death and disability as a public-health crisis rather than a divisive political problem. It would yield valuable information to help policymakers and the public find common ground.

Opponents say the bill is driven by gun-control advocates’ political agenda — their concerns mimicking the slippery-slope arguments that helped stifle federally funded gun-violence research for two decades. In fact, more research and greater access to data can help eliminate misguided and ineffective gun-control legislation by helping decision-makers create targeted policies, support violence reduction programs that work and craft legislative proposals based on more than an educated guess.

This is happening on a small scale, through local efforts such as King County’s Shots Fired project, which collects and standardizes data from more than a half-dozen law enforcement agencies to create a clearer picture of the number and types of shooting incidents. Last year, the state awarded a $1 million grant to Harborview Injury and Prevention Research Center to fund gun-violence research. It was the state’s first meaningful investment in this vital inquiry in a decade. Expanding the breadth and scope of inquiry only makes sense.

Lawmakers are considering a number of firearm-related bills this session, including two that would ban high-capacity magazines.

SB 6077, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, and HB 2240, sponsored by Seattle Democrat Rep. Javier Valdez, would restrict firearm ammunition magazines to 10 bullets or less. Nine other states have limited magazine capacity to 15 or, more commonly, 10 rounds.

This is a reasonable restriction that would not interfere with legitimate uses of firearms. Legislators should usher the bills into law.

  • Permalink Gallery

    State House passes legislation for survivors of child sex trafficking

State House passes legislation for survivors of child sex trafficking

February 19th, 2020|

From the Kent Reporter

The state House in Olympia passed ‘Safe Harbor’ legislation (House Bill 1775) to better help child survivors of sex trafficking.

“Children cannot consent to sex. They are victims of serious crimes,” said prime sponsor Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, in a Washington House Democrats news release. “Traffickers target the most vulnerable, which means our foster youth are the most at risk. These are kids in all our communities, and they are experiencing severe trauma and abuse that can last a lifetime. We need to help them heal.”

The legislation would:

• Prohibit charging anyone under the age of 18 with the crime of prostitution

• Allow law enforcement to take youth victims into custody for their protection when the child is in danger

• Create liaisons within the Dept. of Children, Youth and Families to connect youth to services

• Pilot two therapeutic receiving centers, one on each side of the Cascades, where law enforcement can take sexually exploited children instead of detention. Youth will be able to receive intensive wrap around services to begin the process of recovery

The legislation passed on Tuesday out of the House 96 to 1. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. The 60-day legislative session will conclude on March 12.

“These young people have experienced enough trauma for a lifetime. They need help, resources, and a trauma-informed care approach, and that’s what this legislation will provide,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, who sponsored the Senate companion (Senate Bill 5744).

Washington state has one of the highest rates of commercial sex trafficking in the United States. In the Seattle/King County alone, law enforcement estimates between 300-500 youth are trafficked each year, however sex trafficking is an underreported crime globally.

  • Permalink Gallery

    Washington considers new agency to study firearm violence prevention, safety

Washington considers new agency to study firearm violence prevention, safety

February 19th, 2020|

From the Spokesman-Review

Washington could get a new state agency dedicated to reducing gun violence and improving safety under a bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.

And that wasn’t the only gun-related bill to move forward in the Legislature: The House passed a bill that would require a background check on certain parts needed to build a firearm.

On a narrow 25-23 vote, the Senate approved setting up the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention within the Department of Commerce. Democrats turned back a series of amendments from Republicans who called for more emphasis on suicide prevention, narrowing the agency’s purview to safety or expanding it to all forms of violence, and limiting where the agency could give state grants.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the agency should stick with promoting safety and giving grants for that purpose.

“Does anyone here not promote safe firearms practices?” he asked.

That would change the entire purpose of the bill, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said. She’d be willing to look at a separate bill if Schoesler wanted to propose one.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, a certified firearms instructor, wanted to add a section on developing safety programs for pre-K through high school, with groups including the National Rifle Association. There are other bills that do that, Dhingra, the bill’s prime sponsor, said.

Three-fourths of all firearms deaths in Washington are from suicide, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said, and the agency should have a focus on reducing those deaths.

“We have multiple groups and task forces working on that issue,” Dhingra said.

The bill does list the problem with firearms suicide in its opening section, which describes the reason for the new agency.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he was worried about the costs of setting up and running a new state agency and called for a restriction on state grants to any group “owned by a billionaire.”

“They’ve got billions and billions and billions of money, they don’t need Washington state taxpayers’ money,” Padden said.

Democrats did, however, promise to add a word that was inadvertently omitted and that Republicans said suggested the agency would be trying to reduce firearm use in general.

“One could only assume we’re going after law-abiding citizens,” Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said. “Law-abiding citizens have never been the problem.”

Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the concern was a result of a line that called for “an evidence-based firearm reduction initiative.” The word “violence” belongs between firearm and reduction, and will be fixed when the bill goes through the House, he said.

In the House, Democrats approved a bill to expand background checks dealers must conduct on anyone seeking to buy or transfer certain parts of a gun, such as a frame or a receiver, that can be built into a functioning firearm. A person who doesn’t pass the background check can’t purchase those parts.

The FBI has stopped conducting federal background checks for firearms parts.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said building firearms is a “cultural thing, a family bonding thing” for some people. The bill is another attempt to incrementally infringe on fundamental rights to keep and bear arms, he said.

It will only affect law-abiding gun owners, said Rep. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, and “do nothing to keep firearms away from criminals.”

The bill was sent to the Senate on an 56-42 vote.

By Jim Camden