by  Keena Bean, Legislative Coordinator

short link: http://wp.me/pjR3X-gG

Hey, Seattle NOW Activists and Supporters, my name is Keena Bean and I am your new Legislative Coordinator for Seattle NOW. I am currently a junior at the University of Washington, and I recently took on this position as part of my internship requirement for the Law, Societies, and Justice major. It is my pleasure to bring you a summary of what went on in Olympia this session.

One of the most pronounced achievements of the legislature this session was passing Senate Bill 6239, which legalized same-sex marriages. Unfortunately, as soon as it was passed the opponents of marriage equality began gathering signatures on a referendum to make Equal Marriage illegal in Washington State. If you are asked to sign this petition – DECLINE TO SIGN REFERENDUM 74 – and inform the signature gatherer why you won’t sign. If this referendum gets enough signatures (and there is every reason to suspect that it will), it will be on the ballot in November 2012, along with the presidential election. Keep yourselves and your community informed about this issue because if it does end up on the November ballot, the wording of the initiative is complicated and requires that one vote to APPROVE the initiative in order to preserve legal equal marriage in our state.

Another very important bill that went to the legislature was House Bill 2330, otherwise known as the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA). This bill would make sure that current access to abortion services would continue once federal health reform (ObamaCare) is instituted. The RPA would require insurance carriers that provide maternity coverage to also cover abortion. As it stands now, all insurance carriers in Washington do so, and we want to protect that. This bill would also ensure that low income women still have access to abortion funds provided by the State, as directed by Initiative 120, which was voter approved in 1991. NOW fully supports the passage of this bill, but it was unfortunately never brought to a vote in the Senate. What you can do to show your support is contact your legislators and make sure they know that passing the Reproductive Parity Act in 2013 is a top priority to protect women’s current access to abortion services in Washington State. Without the passage of the Reproductive Parity Act, the women and girls of WA will not be assured the same availability of reproductive health care coverage that we have had since 1991.

The past session was a triumph for the family, with the passage and signatures of four beneficial bills.

House Bill 2262, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), was passed and signed by Governor Gregoire this year with the endorsement of NOW. This bill puts control of the TANF and Working Connections Childcare budget (WCCC) back into the general fund. Our state was the only one in the nation to allow the Governor to control spending within these programs without legislative approval. The bill protected these programs from the budget cuts that have devastated so many of the health and human service programs funded by the state.

Senate Bill 6226, Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), was also passed and signed by Governor Gregoire. This bill allows parents who are enrolled in WCCC to be authorized for 12 months as opposed to the 6 months that are currently allowed. WCCC is a program that helps low income families pay for child care so that parents are able to find and maintain employment, and it has been shown to provide stable care for children.

Twin bills, SB 6386 and HB 2828, revoke the requirement put into place in 2011 that parents enrolling in WCCC must cooperate with child support enforcement. This past requirement has led to a sharp drop in WCCC enrollment. WCCC has been shown to be effective in helping parents keep their jobs and in providing stable care for children, so we want to ensure that all needy families are able to take part. Both of these bills were passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Gregoire.

In anticipation of the coming federal health reform, the legislature passed House Bill 2319, which establishes our state’s health insurance exchange program. This is the mechanism that most consumers and businesses will use to purchase health insurance once the federal plan is fully implemented. HB 2319 lays out specific requirements for plans operating in the exchange and establishes certain consumer protections.

In an attempt to reduce gang violence in Washington State, legislators tried to pass House Bill 2432, which would set up a statewide system of pro-active gang intervention and prevention programs. While the bill did not pass, there is a certain provision in the Supplemental Budget that lays the foundation for the creation of such a system in the future. NOW supports this endeavor.

House Bill 2612 and Senate Bill 6381 (Voting Rights Act) would ensure that all voters and protected classes in Washington State have an equal opportunity to elect officials of their choice. This bill would make sure that members of a protected class are not diluted in number when it comes to the drawing and maintenance of district lines. NOW supports the bill, as it would protect the free speech of all Washingtonians in the ballot box, and especially those in protected classes. The Voting Rights Act was not passed in the legislature in the previous session.

Over the last decade cases of skin cancer in young women have risen dramatically, due in large part to unsafe tanning practices. House Bill 2550 and Senate Bill 6249 would prohibit the use of tanning facilities by individuals under the age of 18 and set up health and safety regulations for the tanning industry in Washington. NOW supports this bill, but it unfortunately did not pass. NOW encourages our legislators to approve legislation that protects young women in Washington State.

NOW supports Senate Bill 6570, which would establish a system of Paid Family Leave for various circumstances including childbirth, the adoption of a child, a serious health condition of a family member, or a serious health condition of the worker him/herself. The bill saw no action in the Senate, so our current unfunded state program for minimal paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child stands.

Similarly, House Bill 2508 and Senate Bill 6229 did not pass this session, but are supported by NOW. These bills would provide minimum requirements for sick leave from employment. Currently, Washington State NOW is working with local groups to pass sick leave requirements at the city level. The city of Seattle passed their ordinance in 2011.

That wraps up some of the important issues discussed in the most recent Washington State legislative sessions. Remember to contact your legislators and make your voice heard – Washington is not a state where women are forgotten about.