The 2021 Washington state legislative session was challenging in many ways, but PROTEC17 showed up (virtually!) to make sure our voices were heard and we have some real victories for workers to celebrate!
Due to pandemic-related restrictions, the entire 105-day session was held online. The COVID-19 crisis also initially made the budget forecast look bleak, and there were some early calls for cuts and austerity measures. But even before the pandemic, transportation and infrastructure projects had been put on hold, public health was chronically underfunded, and our upside-down tax code needed serious revisions.
For the 2021 session, PROTEC17 focused on the above priorities, as well as police reform and community safety; health and safety protections for all working people; and mitigating further cuts to the jobs and benefits of PROTEC17 members.
$11.8 billion in funding for the current-revenue transportation budget passed through Senate Bill (SB) 5165. It will provide funding to Washington State Department of Transportation, State Patrol, State Ferries and other transportation agencies. This includes $5.8 billion on much needed capital projects that many PROTEC17 members help design and build across our state, including the improvements to State Routes, Interstates, bridge infrastructure to maintain safety on several highly used bridges, and replacing fish blocking road culverts for fish and stream ecology.
Unfortunately, the House and Senate remained far apart in negotiations on a transportation revenue package – although there is some discussion about a fall special session in order to pass a package.
Strengthening Public Health
Public health funding has been long neglected in Washington state, but the pandemic amplified the essential support public health provides for our communities. In the final days of session, a $147 million Public Health budget was approved by both the House and Senate, which will support Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS) for the 2021–2023 biennium, and then $148 million in ongoing annual funds beginning in 2024. This was the result of the groundswell of support and pressure applied by labor unions, regional and county health districts, and many union members and public health workers’ engagement during this session to offer support.
Investing In Our Communities
The excessive wealth tax, a.k.a. “capital gains tax” passed! Washington law makers, with decades of mounting pressure from labor unions and community groups, passed SB5096 which will enact a 7% tax on capital gains that exceed $250,000 per year. It is forecast to bring in approximately $145 million annually, with the funds going mainly towards early learning programs and education. Most importantly, this legislation will help begin the reversal of a regressive tax code which for years has had the lowest earning Washingtonians paying the highest percentage of their income to taxes.
PROTEC17 tracked legislation and was supportive of policy that will help to address the history of violence against communities of color, but the sweep of reform measures that passed is largely owed to the mobilization efforts and powerful testimony of families and communities that have endured this violence. SB5051 will create stronger state oversight of police officers for gross misconduct and unethical behavior. House Bill (HB) 1054 will help regulate police tactics, like no-knock warrants, tear gas, choke holds and neck restraints. SB 5066 will require police to intervene when they witness other officers using excessive force, and SB 5259 will allow the State to collect use-of-force data on police officers.
Mitigate Austerity Measures and Support Union Jobs
We are pleased to have pushed back against cuts which resulted in the removal of furlough days for PROTEC17 members working for the State of Washington (read more on p.4). We also mitigated the impacts of HB 1207, which ensures job security for our members at the Department of Licensing during the expansion of online license renewal. We also offered support for SB 5021 which ensures that public pensions will not be reduced as a result of the reductions during the pandemic. Additionally, the Worker Protection Act passed, HB 1076, expanding the legal tools working people have at their disposal to enforce and protect our rights.
In Oregon, several worker-related bills have already passed out of both Chambers and are headed to Governor Brown’s desk before the session officially comes to a close on June 27. SB483A protects workers’ rights by giving employees concerned with health, safety, and working conditions a voice without fear of retaliation. In response to the pandemic and public health emergencies, HB2474 expands eligibility for protected leave under the Oregon Family Leave Act. Also, two police reform bills (HB 2936 and HB 3355) affirming anti-racist values and centering public safety are also headed to the Governor’s desk for final approval.