Dear friends and neighbors,
The 2021 legislative session started this week under circumstances unlike any in our state’s history. Our legislative buildings in Olympia were surrounded by security fencing. Hundreds of personnel from the Washington National Guard and State Patrol stood guard. Like most Americans, I’m deeply disturbed by the hateful violence and intimidation we saw in our nation’s capital and threats to our democracy here at home. Despite these challenges, our institutions have been resilient and at the end of a long week, I’m hopeful that our country can heal and find unity in the weeks, months, and years to come.
New year, new session
The 2021 session officially started on Monday and is scheduled to last 105 days. Democrats hold a 28-21 majority in the Senate and a 57-41 majority in the state House. Our top priorities include is getting the pandemic under control; laying the groundwork for a strong economic recovery; making our state more equitable; and reducing carbon emissions and preparing for climate change.
We are also working with our partners at the state Department of Health to expedite the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. We are currently in Phase 1A, prioritizing frontline health care workers, first responders, and residents and staff of nursing homes. After Phase 1A, vaccines will be made available to Washingtonians by age and level of vulnerability. Their online tool to check your vaccine eligibility by answering a few questions here: findyourphasewa.com.
As chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, I have been working closely for the last seven months with community members and leaders in the House on policies to bring accountability and transparency to our state’s law enforcement agencies. Thanks to the strength of the voices lifted in protest this summer, this time of incredible pain and renewed trauma has created an opportunity to make historic policy changes and craft equitable and compassionate laws. This work will be my primary focus for the 2021 session.
Here are some of the policies the legislature will be considering this year:
- State oversight and accountability (SB 5051, HB 1082): Aims to provide timely and effective enforcement of state standards for peace officers and corrections officers, allowing the Criminal Justice Training Commission to discipline officers who abuse the privilege of carrying a badge and gun. I am the prime sponsor of this bill, which will be heard Monday in the Senate Law & Justice Committee.
- Duty to intervene (SB 5066): Establishes clear standards for police officers to intervene in and report the use of excessive force by fellow officers.
- Data collection (SB 5259/HB 1092): Establishes comprehensive statewide reporting and publication for use of force incidents involving law enforcement.
- Police certification and training (SB 5089): Increases minimum age and education requirements for new police officers.
- Felony bar (SB 5263): Modifies a 1986 law that has prevented people who have been killed or injured by police from recovering damages from police departments.
- Police tactics (HB 1054): Bans the use of chokeholds, neck restraints, unleashed police dogs, no-knock warrants, military equipment, and the practice of officers intentionally concealing their badges.
How to participate
At the recommendation of public health experts, we will be holding all hearings and meetings remotely this year. Legislators and staff have been working for months to ensure that the session is still as transparent and accessible as possible. While I am saddened that the circumstances of this pandemic do not allow for the in-person constituent engagement we typically enjoy and take for granted during session, I nonetheless look forward to the unique opportunities for increased accessibility and engagement that the remote session can offer. Here are some ways you can get involved:
- Learn—How a bill becomes a law, from start to finish, is explained here.
- Find—You can look up legislation on the issues important to you here.
- Watch—Visit TVW.org for broadcasts and archived videos of your democracy in action.
- Testify—Register to testify remotely before legislative committees here.
- Reach out—You can find and contact your legislators here.
I will continue to update you on issues before the legislature as the session advances. Please stay safe and feel free to contact me at Jamie.Pedersen@leg.wa.gov. I look forward to hearing from you or seeing you on a Zoom call soon.
Senator Jamie Pedersen