• COVID pandemic exposed weaknesses
  • Some want to rein in governor’s powers

By Sydney Brown
Washington State Journal

OLYMPIA – This year’s legislature won’t just be about numbers and budgets: it will explore social inequities, the proper role of policing and just how much authority the governor is due.

Gov. Jay Inslee said his budget proposal specifies funds for marginalized communities, who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. His plans to address these issues include forming independent agencies to investigate police violence, expanding early childhood education and increasing access to healthcare.

“You can’t just address economic disparities without recognizing racial disparities,” he said Jan. 7.

Democratic Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) said legislators went to work on prefiled bills that address concerns around use-of-force techniques by law enforcement. Dhingra said that some of these bills, which includes legislation to ban the use of neck restraints and tear gas on civilians, could keep police accountable.

Dhingra said coming legislation should also address inequality of healthcare and COVID-19 cases within underserved communities.

“I have seen the difference in the haves and the have-nots, and it is so stark in our state,” Dhingra said.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander people (NHOPI) and Hispanic people are nine times as likely to contract the coronavirus when compared to white people, according to a July report from the Washington State Department of Health. Hospitalization and death rates are also higher for these groups than for White people, according to the report.

A 2018 report conducted by the Women’s Commission and the Housing Justice Project found Black and Latinx residents were more likely to be evicted than white residents. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found in a June 2020 study that nationally, Black and Latinx residents are most likely to experience rent burden and eviction notices.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said lawmakers will examine issues with racial equality in mind, with hopes to increase legislative representation. Jinkins said this perspective has support from both political parties.

“For too long the things we’ve passed in legislation have not had that equity lens,” Jinkins said.

Inslee said the COVID-19 outbreak revealed “fissures” in the distribution of resources for communities of color that he addresses in his budget proposal.

“You can’t just have rhetorical equality, we have to have it in all our systems,” he said.

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm) said he also wants to address inequality through a geographical lens. For residents who live in less-populated rural areas, lawmakers look to send more financial and health resources, Wilcox said.

Some legislators will re-examine the emergency powers held by the governor this session in the wake of the restrictions put in place to blunt the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the governor may prohibit certain in-person activities if done to preserve public health.

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