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    Olympian Op-Ed: Legislature should move presidential primary earlier to complete voting reforms

Olympian Op-Ed: Legislature should move presidential primary earlier to complete voting reforms

February 4th, 2019|

An op-ed by Sen. Sam Hunt, explaining the need to change Washington’s presidential primary and expand access to democracy, appeared in The Olympian on Jan. 30, 2019.

The bill would move Washington’s presidential primary date to the second Tuesday in March, and take advantage of the state’s successful vote-by-mail program.

History shows us that primaries are more representative than party caucuses.

Caucuses are often inaccessible to people who work Saturdays or have other time commitments. Our military personnel serving overseas and people working out of state are denied access. It’s time to move away from that antiquated system.

Sen. Sam Hunt

Read the full piece on The Olympian’s website.

Hunt’s presidential primary bill passes out of Senate

February 4th, 2019|

A measure to make Washington’s presidential primary process more accessible and relevant passed out of the state Senate on Jan. 30.

Senate Bill 5273, sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), would move Washington’s presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March. California, Texas, Massachusetts, Alabama and seven other states have primaries and caucuses scheduled for the first Tuesday in March.

“A new presidential primary system would allow for greater voter participation, expanding Washingtonians’ access to democracy,” Hunt said. “It will provide Washington voters with an easy and effective way to participate in the nomination of the next president.”

Voting earlier in the election cycle would increase Washington’s influence in the presidential nominating process. Hunt’s bill would also require voters to voice their preferences through the state’s vote-by-mail system–every voter will receive ballots.

An earlier date will make the presidential primary meaningful. It will increase participation. The bill will enable the major political parties to use primary election results instead of caucuses to allocate Washington’s national convention votes to nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates.

The presidential primary came to the Legislature in 1989 as Initiative 99 with nearly 203,000 signatures and was enacted by the House and Senate.

SB 5273 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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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.

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    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.

Washington State Senate honors Project Linus

April 19th, 2017|

OLYMPIA- The Washington State Senate today passed Senate Resolution 8646, honoring the participants of Project Linus, a national organization that provides handmade blankets to seriously ill and traumatized children.

Formed in 1995, Project Linus gained national notoriety in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting when organizers founded National Make a Blanket Day, sending handmade blankets to local chapters in Denver. With 11 chapters in Washington state, local blanketeers create, collect and distribute thousands of blankets to children in need every year.

“The simple gesture of providing blankets made with love to children diagnosed with severe illnesses so often brings a moment of peace in the face of pain,” said sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, whose wife, Charlene, is a chapter member. “I commend Project Linus and every blanketeer for their compassion and heartfelt efforts to help kids in need. Thank you.”

Having grown to 296 chapters in all 50 states, Project Linus also provides blankets to homeless shelters and social service agencies and, as the organization often says, ”anywhere a child might be in need.”

“We applaud the Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap and Mason Counties Chapter of Project Linus for their efforts to deliver over 3,000 blankets in Western Washington,” said Project Linus National President Patty Gregory. “Our volunteers make our organization, they are amazing and a constant reminder that this is about so much more than blankets. It’s about people.”

National Make a Blanket Day is designated as the third Saturday in February.

Time to fix a broken election system

March 13th, 2017|

As published in The Seattle Times

ALL communities deserve opportunities to elect public officials who best reflect those communities.

Unfortunately, flaws in our election system often result in elected bodies that do not accurately reflect the communities they represent.

Election processes that result in voter disenfranchisement are illegal. And while there’s ample evidence that these unfair systems exist in our state, it is nearly impossible for local communities to do something about it.

That’s why the state House has passed the Washington Voting Rights Act (VRA) five years in a row. Local communities need more options at their disposal to fix unfair election systems.

The Seattle Times editorial board recently voiced its support for a state voting rights act [“Lawmakers should give Washington a new Voting Rights Act,” Opinion, March 3] and noted the laudable work by legislators to find agreement on a measure that we can get to the governor’s desk.

While we agree with the editorial board’s overall opinion, we take issue with its assertion that the House and Senate bills might lead to more lawsuits.

While that is likely true of the Senate version of the VRA (SB 5067), the House version (HB 1800) will likely result in fewer lawsuits.

A primary goal of the House version of the VRA is to give tools to disenfranchised communities to solve the problem before going to court. The House VRA requires parties come together first, outside of the courtroom, to find fair solutions that work for everyone.

Local governments would be empowered to enact their own local solutions, such as electing members by district, without ever going to court. Lawsuits would only be used as a last resort if other remedies were not successful.

In many localities across Washington, elected officials are chosen using at-large voting systems. At-large voting significantly diminishes the ability of minority groups to gain representation in their local governments.

For example, despite having a Hispanic population of more than 40 percent, Yakima had an at-large voting system where candidates had to run citywide, which meant the city had never elected a Hispanic council member. Its at-large system was ultimately challenged in federal court and replaced with a fairer, district-based system.

What were the results after district-based voting was put in place? Voters elected three Latina council members — a huge win for that community.

The editorial board recognized that different jurisdictions need different solutions to meet their unique needs. We agree, which is why the House bill does not prescribe a particular outcome or solution — instituting district-based elections is only one option. Unlike the Senate bill, the parties can produce the solution that best meets their needs (and a judge will review their work to make sure it is constitutional).

Unfortunately, the Senate one-size-fits-all VRA falls short of providing meaningful solutions and would likely result in more litigation.

It would force communities into one alternative: district-based or a hybrid of at-large and district seats. This could have the effect of one bad voting process being replaced by a worse voting process. And it would force communities to start the replacement process all over again. They’ll have to collect all new data and likely file more lawsuits.

The Senate VRA also falls short because it silences the voices of those being disenfranchised. The Senate bill provides no framework for bringing people together to form a collaborative process for deciding what is best for their community.

This collaboration piece is especially important and is at the heart of the House VRA. Our bill is a result of more than five years of collaborating with various stakeholders. This collaboration must continue to ensure election systems are fair.

Voting is a fundamental right in America. All voices deserve to be heard. Yet too many areas in our state have flaws in their election process that silences some voices.

Republicans and Democrats recognize the problem. The conversation now is about finding the best ways to solve the problem.

While we believe HB 1800 is the best option on the table, we will continue to work across the aisle to find a solution that provides for fair elections, empowers communities and ensures we maintain a strong democracy for all.

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    ‘Levy cliff’ bill is a great victory for Washington’s students

‘Levy cliff’ bill is a great victory for Washington’s students

March 8th, 2017|

OLYMPIA – Addressing the passage of Senate Bill 5023, averting Washington state’s impending ‘levy cliff,’ Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, released the following statement:

“Gratification sums up my feelings about tonight’s passage of the levy cliff bill.  It is gratifying that both parties finally agreed to avoid the levy cliff and pass ESB 5023.

“This is a great victory for Washington’s students who will not face big cuts in school funding.  Administrators, teachers, students, and parents in North Thurston, Olympia, Tumwater and the rest of the state are big winners in this first major step to address school funding.

“Senate Democrats fought day after day to bring this bill to the Senate floor. A lot is left to be done as we face the climb up McCleary mountain, but I am confident that we will reach the goal of addressing the major funding needs of Washington’s schools.”

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    ’Rory’s law’ takes effect, gives Washington families new tool against identity theft

’Rory’s law’ takes effect, gives Washington families new tool against identity theft

February 6th, 2017|

’Rory’s law’ takes effect, gives Washington families new tool against identity theft

Parents and legal guardians have the ability to place security freezes on credit reporting for their children, thanks to a new law that went into effect Jan. 1.

Known as “Rory’s law,” the original bill was sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, after his then 6-month-old grandson’s personal information was stolen.

“I was stunned to learn that a child could have their future jeopardized by this type of identity theft,” said Hunt. “I am proud that the Legislature was able to act and strongly encourage parents and guardians to utilize this new tool to protect children from the type of data breach that my family experienced.”

In addition to allowing security freezes on credit reporting for minors, “Rory’s law” extends these protections to incapacitated individuals.

For more information about security freezes and how to put them in place, you can visit the Washington State Attorney General’s website at http://www.atg.wa.gov/credit-freeze-fraud-alerts#security.

Updates from the Legislature – Jan. 31

January 31st, 2017|

Dear Neighbors,

As we near the end of the first month of the 2017 legislative session, I am settling in as the new Senator from the 22nd District.  The pace so far has been very slow as the Republican majority struggles to hang on to its one vote advantage, oddly given by a “Democrat” who votes with them.  With one Republican senator suddenly resigning to accept a job in Washington, DC, another taking a job in the new administration and trying to commute to and from Olympia and do two jobs at once, there has not been a day when they had all 25 of their members present.  Add to that a wave of flu and viruses, coughs have been more prevalent than votes! In fact, the Republican majority has yet to bring a bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

Swearing In

Sen. Hunt during the swearing-in ceremony before the full Senate

Being in a body with 49 senators after serving with 98 representatives is a bit different. For one thing, it should be easier to get to know and work with more of the members. And, as a member of the minority Democrats (by one vote), I am not a committee chair and serve on two rather than three committees. I am the Ranking Member on the Senate State Government Committee which is responsible for legislation relating to elections, public disclosure, ethics, state agency operations, and tribal issues. My other committee, Human Services, Mental Health and Housing, is totally new to me and will require study of the many issues.  One major bill to be considered is the proposal to move children-related functions from the Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Early Learning into a new Department of Children, Youth and Families.

When I am not in committee hearings, days still fill up with constituent, lobbyist, and state agency representatives meetings. A business day usually starts about 8:00 AM and often goes into the evening.

Currently, the legislature is focusing on committee action and bills assigned to them.  For instance, 62 bills have been referred to State Government, and we have until February 17th to consider them and decide whether or not they should move forward to the next step (usually a fiscal committee or to the Rules Committee). Probably fewer than half of the bills assigned to the committee will actually move beyond this first step in the legislative process.

State Gov

Hearing testimony before the State Government Committee 

With education issues, and the need for major funding increases required to make Washington’s schools achieve their constitutional mandate, it promises to be a long session.  Contrary to what Senate Republicans say, there is no reasonable or rational way we can address education funding without additional state revenue.  Yes, we have a 105 day (including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) statutory limit on the regular session, but the Governor has the authority to call special sessions, and I fully expect he will have to do so this year.

So stay tuned!  Representatives Dolan and Doglio and I will help keep you appraised of what is happening—or not happening—in the Legislature.

If you have a question or comment, please feel free (as many of you already do) to send me an email at sam.hunt@leg.wa.gov.

Telephone Town Hall

This Thursday, February 2nd, from 6:00-7:00PM the 22nd Legislative District delegation will be hosting a telephone town hall. If you wish to participate, you can join on to the call to listen in and ask your questions by dialing 877-229-8493 and then using the ID Code 116276. In addition to sharing further updates about our efforts this year, we look forward to hearing your thoughts and concerns ahead of the remainder of session.

 

Sincerely, 

Sen. Sam Hunt