We started the 2021 legislative session last week, and it was unlike any other opening day in Olympia. COVID-19 is still a very real threat to the health of our communities, so we cannot hold an entirely in-person session this year. The Legislature worked hard over the interim to develop effective methods to hold a remote legislative session, and that work has paid off.
While this session will be both unique and strange, the legislative process is more accessible than ever. Of course, I will miss the visits from constituents, advocates, and lobbyists, but there are several ways you can engage with legislators this session!
Ways to participate in the Legislature this session
Testify remotely in hearings on bills you care about.
To testify remotely in the Senate: https://app.leg.wa.gov/CSIRemote/Senate.
To testify remotely in the House: https://app.leg.wa.gov/CSIRemote/House.
Submit written testimony on bills you care about. You can submit written testimony on any bill scheduled for a public hearing. This system was improved this year, and written testimony is now directed to committee members and staff, rather than just to your district’s legislators, which was how it was directed in the past.
To submit written testimony in the Senate, visit https://app.leg.wa.gov/CSIRemote/Senate.
To submit written testimony in the House: https://app.leg.wa.gov/CSIRemote/House.
Set up a Zoom meeting with your legislator: Due to Covid-19 protocols, legislators won’t be meeting in person with constituents. You’re encouraged to schedule Zoom meetings with your legislators or a member of their staff. You can reach my office at Jeannie.Darneille@leg.wa.gov.
If you don’t live in the 27th district, or you’re not sure, visit the link below to find out who your legislators are, and click on their names to find their contact information. https://app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/
Setting Youth Up for Success After Justice System Involvement
Here’s a look at some of the legislation I’ve introduced to remove barriers to success that youth reentering their communities often face. Because youth of color are disproportionately referred to the criminal justice system due to systemic and institutional racism (such as the pre-school to prison pipeline), these are urgent matters facing our state in our efforts to improve racial equity.
Raising the ages for juvenile court jurisdiction
SB 5122 responds to research that shows teenagers benefit more from the rehabilitative programs in the juvenile court system as compared to the adult criminal legal system. It would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to ages 13-19, up from 8-17. There is very strong research-based evidence showing this legislation would decrease involvement in the criminal legal system for tens of thousands of young people. This evidence also shows this would reduce recidivism and improve health outcomes by maintaining their access to employment opportunities, housing, and economic stability. To read an in-depth report conducted by the State Board of Health regarding this legislation, click here.
Expanding programs to help youth during reentry to the community
SB 5118 would improve and expand programs focused on helping youth return to their communities as they are released from detention. It would expand community- based “step down” facilities, address outstanding warrants before youth leave the system, establish relationships with community health care providers, and address other health care issues.
Addressing long sentences for juveniles
SB 5120 builds on legislation that passed the legislature last year. This bill codifies two recent Washington State Supreme Court decisions that require judges to consider mitigating factors related to a person’s youth at the time they committed an offense, if they were under the age of 18, when imposing criminal sentences.
My office will continue to welcome your thoughts and concerns, so please let us know what issues are important to you and your community at this time. Take care. Wear a mask. Keep your social distance.
P.S. Pardon the fact that I have included pictures taken before COVID changed the contacts we could have with advocates on different topics. I am looking forward to the day we can celebrate the passage of good juvenile justice reform bills, like we did at this bill signing in 2019.