Another great session putting people first

Sen. Mark Liias (D-21-Lynnwood)

We wrapped up the 2020 session a few months ago. And once again with Democrats in control of the Senate for the third session in a row, we were able to enact so many great progressive policies that were held up over the previous five years.

Some accomplishments that I’m particularly proud of that I’ve been able to get over the finish line over the last three years include:

Student Loan Bill of Rights: This bill created new protections for Washingtonians from deceptive and predatory practices, and requires student loan servicers to obtain licenses to operate in the state.

As one of the nearly 800,000 Washingtonians still paying off their college education, I know firsthand the balancing act of trying to afford housing, purchase daily necessities, and save money for the future while dealing with student debt.

This legislation will ensure that we are putting people first and giving borrowers the information and tools they need.

Student Loan Relief and Reform Act: This bill gave the green light to the Washington Student Achievement Council to work with financial institutions and negotiate more favorable interest rates on student loan debt. Washingtonians collectively owe more than $25 billion in student loan debt, with an average debt of more than $33,000.

The student loan debt crisis is having a negative effect on our economy, through slower growth of new businesses, lower rates of homeownership, suppressed consumer spending, and less retirement savings.

This legislation takes a multifaceted approach in addressing existing debt and the need for innovative financing options that might help avoid excessive debt to begin with.

Undocumented Student Support Loan Program: Undocumented students want to pursue the same opportunities and we want to help the state meet the degree attainment goals we’ve set for ourselves. But there are critical barriers to them in the way. We’ve done work as a state to clear our state-based barriers, but one big barrier that still exists is a lack of access to student loans.

To make college more accessible and affordable for more students, the Legislature passed a law that creates a new state financial aid program for undocumented students. SB 6561 created a state-funded, state-administered student loan program to help undocumented students who are ineligible for federal financial aid programs that cover the full cost of a degree.

The new law bridges the gap between undocumented residents who are eligible for in-state tuition rates but are currently not eligible for financial aid resources that are available to other students.

For more details on the bills I sponsored that were signed into law by Governor Inslee this year, click on the links below:

Other progressive victories we’ve achieved over the last three years include:

Protecting LGBTQ youth by banning the physically and psychologically painful practice of gay conversion therapy, and requiring school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies that include transgender students.

The Equal Pay Act – Helping to close the wage gender gap that pays women 79 cents for every dollar earned by her male peers.

The Workforce Education Investment Act – Increasing investments in higher education focusing on high-demand fields, fully funding the Washington College Grant Program (formerly the State Need Grant), and creating a guaranteed free college program serving up to 110,000 lower-income students.

Moving Washington toward a clean energy future with bills to transition to a 100% clean energy state, electrify our transportation infrastructure, create incentives to build ultra-new efficient buildings, adopt new minimum appliance efficiency standards, ban products containing super-pollutants, ban plastic bags, and strengthen the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction limits.

Expanding Access to Democracy through the Washington Voting Rights Act, the DISCLOSE Act, voter pre-registration, same-day registration, automatic registration, statewide prepaid postage, and the VOTE Act.

Improving women’s access to healthcare by requiring 3-D mammograms and breast density information for earlier detection of cancer and by ensuring coverage of full reproductive services.

Passing first net neutrality law in the country to protect consumers from reduced service and slower download times.

Ensuring hungry students have access to nutritious meals by expanding the Breakfast After the Bell program.

Reducing gun violence by banning bump stocks, reducing the backlog of firearm background checks through additional funding, preventing those with domestic violence harassment convictions from purchasing firearms, and updating the state’s law on the use of deadly force in policing.

Investing in the fight against opioid abuse and treatment.

Prohibiting the disclosure of Washingtonians’ private information for federal registries.

As always, I welcome your input, feedback, and suggestions on the policies we debate in Olympia. If you have a suggestion for a bill we should consider in the Legislature, please send me your ideas here.