Dear friends and neighbors,
Happy Pride 2021! There is much to celebrate this Pride Month as we emerge from the pandemic and collectively reflect on progress the LGBTQ community has made in the fight for equality.
Next week we will also celebrate Juneteenth (June 19), the day in 1865 on which the last slaves in the U.S. learned that they had been freed – months after the conclusion of the Civil War. In 2007, I sponsored HB 1870, which made Juneteenth a state day of remembrance. Thanks to the passage of HB 1016 this session, the day will become a legal holiday in our state.
In this newsletter, I’ll highlight some of the progress we made during the 2021 legislative session on advancing civil rights for all Washingtonians.
Advancing civil rights
The Gender Affirming Treatment Act (SB 5313) will prohibit health insurers from denying or limiting coverage for gender-affirming treatment that is consistent with a protected gender expression or identity, is medically necessary, and is prescribed in accordance with accepted standards of care. Some health plans in Washington state still classify gender confirmation treatment as cosmetic and refuse to pay for the treatment. I am proud to help lead the Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus and to support legislation to address the profound discrimination in our health care system against transgender people.
House Bill 1078 will automatically restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals. This proven tool to reduce recidivism will simplify a process that is discriminatory, complicated, and penalizes low-income citizens who are threatened with losing their voting rights if they miss a payment on the expenses tied to a court case.
Over the last two years the Legislature has made substantial progress in improving our state’s guardianship laws. I sponsored SB 5185 to ensure health care providers know who the decision-maker is when a patient is unable to make health care decisions and the bill includes more respectful language about incapacitated persons.
Addressing systemic inequity
The legislature passed four bills (SB 5044, SB 5227, SB 5228, SB 5229) to address systemic inequity by providing anti-racism training in K-12 schools, in higher education, in medical schools, and in continuing education for health professionals.
SB 5194 will help more first-generation and underrepresented students of color earn degrees and certificates, and further diversify our state’s workforce in community and technical colleges.
Equitable access to the outdoors
A tripling of the investment in the “No Child Left inside” program, to $4.5 million, will fund grants connecting underserved youth to nature. Another $375,000 for the Recreation and Conservation Office will fund an equity review for all grants programs and $4 million in the Capital Budget will provide outdoor recreation equity grants.
Recognizing the power of symbols
A bipartisan majority of the Legislature passed HB 1372 to begin the process of putting a statue of Washington’s late tribal treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. to represent our state in the U.S. Capitol. The Frank statue will replace one of Marcus Whitman.
HB 1356 will forbid public schools from using Native American names, images, or symbols as mascots or team names unless they work with local tribes to gain permission for the use.
Thanks for taking the time to read this update. If you missed my previous updates on this year’s legislative session, click here to get caught up on what the Legislature accomplished in childcare, climate action, tax reform, worker protections, police accountability and housing.
Senator Jamie Pedersen