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Monthly Archives: January 2018

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    State bills allowing same-day voter registration, local redistricting to empower minorities move ahead

State bills allowing same-day voter registration, local redistricting to empower minorities move ahead

January 22nd, 2018|

Sequim Gazette / Jan. 20, 2018
By Josh Kelety

The state Senate passed several bills aimed at expanding access to voting and promoting minority representation in local governments through redistricting.

On the evening of Jan. 17, in a reconvened Senate floor vote session, the body passed SB 6021, which would allow voters to register for elections in-person up until 8 p.m. on the day of an election and eight days before if registering online or by mail.

The bill passed 29-20 and now goes to the House.

The Senate also passed the 2018 Voting Rights Act: a bill which allows local governments to restructure electoral districts to avoid gerrymandering that disenfranchises minority groups. The legislation also allows for for lawsuits to be filed against governments that refuse to restructure their electoral districts if disenfranchisement is identified.

Versions of the bill have passed the House five times over the past few years, but have always died in the then Republican-controlled Senate and have never made it to the floor for a vote.

“I’m really tickled that we’ve been able to get this long reworked bill to the floor for a vote,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, prior to the Jan. 19 vote.

“We’re doing something that has not been done anywhere else in the country,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, the primary sponsor of the bill. “We are creating a process where communities can give notice and work together with jurisdictions to find a solution that works for their city and district without a long drawn out process that causes division and bitterness.”

While the bill was passed on Jan. 19, it was originally brought up for a floor vote two days before. Senate Republicans attempted to add several amendments, which were all voted down, before they blocked an attempted early vote on the bill.

On the Senate floor, Senate Republicans argued that the bill, as written, will result in a torrent of lawsuits against local governments claiming that their electoral districting disenfranchise minority groups.

“This bill is actually the gerrymandering and litigation act,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that the legislation is unnecessary due to longstanding federal law: “Where there is allegations of real discrimination, there is the Federal Voting Rights Act which was passed in 1965 and we have 50 years of interpretations.”

Senate Democrats countered that the bill designates legal action as a measure of last resort, and that the bill gives local governments the option to voluntarily redesign their districts.

“The primary purpose is to provide local decisions to local leaders and governments without ever having to go to court,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia.

“There will be no court case unless a local government refuses to act and unless there has been a pattern proven of discrimination.”

“What you have before you, I believe, strikes a good balance,” said Sen. Saldana. “Good process and dialogue can prevent litigation.”

On Jan. 17, Hunt was impatient with his Republican colleagues’ attempts to amend the bill at the last minute before passage.

“We have been working on this bill for six years now,” Hunt said. “It is all worked out. It is a good solution.”

The bill passed with a wide margin of 29-19 with one excused absence.

  • Permalink Gallery

    VICTORY! Washington Voting Rights Act wins approval in the state Senate for the first time

VICTORY! Washington Voting Rights Act wins approval in the state Senate for the first time

January 22nd, 2018|

The Cascadia Advocate / Jan. 19, 2018

The United States Senate may be wracked by dysfunction and disagreement — especially this week — but here in Washington, our State Senate is on a roll, working diligently to advance the good of all the people under its new Democratic majority. After having passed the DISCLOSE Act, same-day voter registration, and the capital budget earlier this week, our Senate today voted for the first time to adopt the Washington Voting Rights Act (ESSB 6002), liberating a bill that had been stuck in the Senate Republicans’ graveyard of progress for years.

“This bill is a significant step forward in our ongoing effort to expand access to democracy in Washingtonian, and establish a truly representative government,” said Senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-37th District: Seattle).

“We saw a dramatic change in representation in cities like Yakima and Pasco after they implemented district-based elections. Washington needs a voting rights act so that every local jurisdiction has the opportunity to do this, and so that impacted communities can truly have a voice that counts.”

“Voting is a right, not a privilege,” agreed Senator Sam Hunt (D-22nd District).

“We don’t need barriers to voting, we need pathways. It is our most basic duty to make our democracy accessible to every single eligible voter. We won’t succeed by just by increasing opportunities for voting. We must also increase transparency in our elections by shining a light on hidden money. This package accomplishes those goals. Access to democracy is essential in having a strong government.”

“After years of hard work by committed community leaders and legislators, today the Washington Senate passed the Voting Rights Act,” said Rich Stolz, Chief Executive Officer of OneAmerica Votes. “This is a tremendous victory for communities of color striving for greater representation across our state, made possible by community members who campaigned to elect Senator Manka Dhingra in the 45th Legislative District.  Today, Dinghra is one of two women of color in the State Senate.  The other, Senator Rebecca Saldana (LD37), sponsored this legislation.”

“The Senate’s action today stands in stark contrast to the theatrics and threatening rhetoric emanating from the White House. Washington State is setting its own path toward greater equity, representation and a stronger democracy.”

The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
ESSB 6002
Voting rights act
3rd Reading & Final Passage
1/19/2018

Yeas: 29; Nays: 19; Excused: 1

Voting Yea: Senators Billig, Carlyle, Chase, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Dhingra, Fain, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hobbs, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Liias, McCoy, Miloscia, Mullet, Nelson, Palumbo, Pedersen, Ranker, Rolfes, Saldaña, Sheldon, Takko, Van De Wege, Wellman

Voting Nay: Senators Angel, Bailey, Becker, Braun, Brown, Ericksen, Fortunato, Honeyford, King, O`Ban, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Short, Wagoner, Walsh, Warnick, Wilson, Zeiger

Excused: Senator Baumgartner

Four Republicans crossed over to support the Voting Rights Act: Joe Fain, Brad Hawkins, Mark Miloscia, and Tim Sheldon. Senator Baumgartner did not vote on final passage. The remaining eighteen Republicans voted nay, while the entire Democratic caucus was unified in support of the legislation.

Passage of the Voting Rights Act is one of NPI’s legislative priorities for 2018. We’re thrilled to see today’s action on the floor of the Senate. The approval of the WVRA is fantastic news for the people of the State of Washington.

ESSB 6002 now goes to the House, which has previously voted several times to pass previous versions of the Washington Voting Rights Act.

State Senate passes voting rights

January 22nd, 2018|

SeattlePI / Jan. 19, 2018
By Joel Connelly

The Washington State Senate, unlike a gridlocked Congress in the “other” Washington, has powered ahead on multiple fronts this week, culminating Friday with passage of the long-delayed Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA).

The Senate cleared up a six-month impasse, late Thursday night, by passing a $4.2 billion state capital construction budget.

The capital budget, left hanging when the Legislature adjourned last June, funds 1,400 projects across the state, creates 19,000 jobs and protects Blanchard Mountain south of Bellingham. A compromise on water rights cleared the way for its passage.

“What a week!” said State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle. “We’ve been able to bring to the table (things) that have been flattened for the past five years . . . There is a powerful desire here to make government work.”

Democrats retook control of the Legislature’s upper chamber last November, after being under Republican control since 2013.

The WVRA passed on a bipartisan 29-19 vote. It has repeatedly passed the state House of Representatives in recent years, but stalled when Republican Senate leaders refused to bring it to a vote.

But on Friday, it passed with the blessing of Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman, and the votes of such front-rank GOP legislators as State Sens. Joe Fain, R-King County and Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way.

The act removes barriers in state law and allows counties, cities school boards and other elected bodies to change their election systems. It is designed the facilitate creation of district-based elections, notably in Eastern Washington counties where at-large voting has excluded large Latino populations from pubic office.

“It will encourage people to run for office, it will boost turnout by voters long neglected, and it will make people running for office go into parts of communities they have ignored,” said Rich Stolz of OneAmerica, the immigrant rights group.

Using their one-vote Senate majority, Democrats have already pushed through a package of voting legislation — including provision for same-day voter registration.

“We don’t need barriers to voting, we need pathways: It is our basic duty to make our democracy accessible to every single eligible voter,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who chairs the Senate’s state government committee.

Want to know the need for WVRA? Yakima proved Exhibit A. The city, more than 40 percent Latino, had never elected a Latino city council member or school board member with at-large voting.

When the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit, the city ran up legal fees in the seven figures fighting to maintain its all-Anglo government. A federal judge found evidence overwhelming, ruling for the plaintiffs without a trial. The Yakima City Council has two Latina members elected by district.

The WVA will produce “truly representative government,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, WVRA sponsor. “We saw a dramatic change in representation in cities like Yakima and Pasco after they implemented district-based elections.”

The state capital budget was dammed up last spring in a dispute over water rights. The State Supreme Court, with its Hirst decision, left some rural property owners unable to drill wells on their own land.

The divided Legislature plowed through three special sessions, did pass a budget at the 11th hour, but adjourned with Republicans holding up the capital budget and insisting on a fix of the Hirst decision. Democrats engaged in broad-scale blaming and grandstanding over projects put on hold.

The dam was breached this week. A bipartisan compromise, reached in short order, eased regulations on small wells and committed $300 million to water conservation projects.

Both the water bill and capital budget passed with overwhelming majorities, cleared the House, and were on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk by Friday afternoon.

The highs and lows of the capital budget can be seen in the northwest corner of the state, the district of State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. The budget permanently protects Blanchard Mountain south of Bellingham, the state’s premier takeoff point for hang gliding. It renovates buildings and upgrades labs at Western Washington University. It invests in the Skagit Valley Family WMCA.

The partisan rancor is not gone from Olympia.

“It is extremely unfortunate and, frankly, irresponsible that for nearly a year Republicans stalled these projects and refused to vote on the $4.2 billion capital budget,” Gov. Inslee tweeted as he prepared to sign the budget.

The Senate has ventured into social policy as well. On Friday afternoon, it passed bills to ban so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ children, and to prevent bullying in schools.

If the Trump administration and Congress seem intent on making the federal government look dysfunctional, the Washington Legislature seems intent on showing an innovative, activist state government.

A lot of heavy lifting — e.g. gun safety legislation and Gov. Inslee’s proposed carbon tax — remains in the days ahead.