June 22, 2021
Dear neighbors, It seems like just yesterday that the legislative session ended! In honor of Juneteenth, I’d like to start off my session recap series talking about the legislation we passed this session to center Black lives and leadership, improve equity and advance racial justice in our state. I’m excited to continue bringing about change and healing for our community. Below I’ll share just a handful of the many great bills that were signed into law this year.
This year we made June 19 an official state holiday, Juneteenth, which recognizes the date in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. This community was among the last to be informed of their liberation from slavery. By making Juneteenth a state holiday, we acknowledge the atrocity of the institution of slavery and celebrate Black Americans’ persistence to thrive. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a way to acknowledge how our government, systems, institutions and people continue to oppress Black and African Americans, and solutions will come when we center Black lives.
Law Enforcement Reform
For the first time since I have been in Olympia, I saw committee policy chairs and legislators center the families impacted by police use of force in how they shaped their legislative priorities, and then engage with other stakeholders. I think this was key to the incredible progress we made in enacting policies to improve oversight, accountability, and practices for law enforcement in our state, including legislation that mandates the independent investigation of serious officer-involved incidents, especially when deadly force is involved (HB 1267). We also passed legislation that establishes comprehensive statewide reporting and publication for use-of-force incidents (SB 5259) to increase transparency about what is happening and to whom. Other successful police reform legislation this session dealt with harmful police practices, banning the use of chokeholds, neck restraints, no-knock warrants, and shooting at moving vehicles, as well as placing restrictions on the acquisition of military equipment, the use of canines, and the use of tear gas (HB 1054). We also established clear standards about when to intervene and report when fellow officers use force unjustly (SB 5066).
Justice System Reform
HB 1088 builds transparency and accountability in the criminal legal system by toughening the rules about when information about an officer’s misconduct that affects their credibility must be disclosed, improving the truth-finding function of our legal system. In response to law enforcement’s longtime practice of disproportionately questioning youth of color unnecessarily, HB 1140 requires any person under 18 be given access to consult with an attorney when stopped by law enforcement before they waive any constitutional rights. There is more work to be done to stop criminalizing our youth and build true pathways of opportunity and care. This includes my bill that I have worked on with our local P.E.A.C.E. Coalition, SB 5129, which was not passed this session. It would decrease unnecessary law enforcement contacts of young people – especially youth of color – by removing civil infractions for those under 18 who purchase or possess tobacco or vapor products.
Equity and Inclusion in Education
SB 5044 will require that K-12 school board directors, teachers, and other school staff receive regular training on cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion. We brought that same idea into public institutions of higher learning, requiring them to provide professional development programs for faculty and staff with the purpose of eliminating structural racism against all races and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (SB 5227). This significant progress must not end with this legislative session. There is still work to be done, and I’m committed to continuing this fight for the long haul. I want to hear what you think about these and other issues affecting our community. My office will continue to welcome your thoughts and concerns, so please let us know what issues are important to you and your loved ones. Keep an eye out for the next issue of my legislative session recap series, where I’ll share even more about the Legislature’s accomplishments this year! Sincerely, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña