A Banner Year for Civil Liberties in Olympia

News Release: 
Friday, January 29, 2010

"It was a banner session for civil liberties," said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, in assessing the 2009 state legislative session. Citing voting rights reform, extension of domestic partnerships, privacy for car travelers, and fair play in community sports, she said, "The Legislature took significant strides in protecting privacy and extending fairness in several important areas."


"One disappointing area of inaction was drug policy reform. In a year of severe budget cuts, the legislature missed an opportunity to save significant money by reclassifying possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a fineable civil infraction," said Taylor.

The Washington State Office of Financial Management estimated that the ACLU-backed marijuana reclassification bill (HB 1177, SB 5615) would save the state more than $16 million a year by no longer forcing the state to arrest, prosecute, and jail people for possessing marijuana for personal use. "In the next session, the ACLU will continue working for saner approaches to drug use that reverse the destructive effects of the misguided War on Drugs," added Taylor.

ACLU-WA priority bills that passed include the following.

Voting Rights Restoration – HB 1517: The Legislature reformed Washington’s unfair and unworkable voting law by passing a measure to automatically restore voting rights to citizens when they exit from the criminal justice system – no longer conditioning the right to vote on complete repayment of monetary debts to the legal system.

Fairness for Domestic Partners – SB 5688: Recognizing that all committed couples deserve the same legal protections for their relationships, legislators extended the rights and responsibilities of registered domestic partners to include all those granted to married couples.

Fair Play in Community Sports – SB 5967: Sending a message that second-class treatment of girls and women is unacceptable, the legislature prohibited gender discrimination in community athletics programs.

Proven Programs – SB 5629: Building on the Healthy Youth Act passed in 2007, the legislature acted to permit state officials to apply for federal funding that promotes truly comprehensive education about reproductive choices.

My Car, My Privacy – SB 5574: Moving Washington to the forefront in protecting privacy of drivers, the legislature limited access to and distribution of information gathered by GPS and other technological devices in cars.

Here is more information about key victories for civil liberties in the 2009 session. The ACLU-WA’s full legislative agenda is available at www.aclu-wa.org.

  • Voting Rights Restoration – HB 1517
    The measure reforms the state’s unfair, convoluted system for restoring voting rights. Under the bill, citizens with prior convictions who have completed parole and probation will automatically regain their right to vote. No longer will this essential freedom depend on one’s financial means, as the new law will end the disenfranchising of citizens until they have paid off all their legal system debts. Key support came from Secretary of State Sam Reed, who stressed that the measure will better enable elections officials to determine who is and is not eligible to vote. The bill also will promote public safety by helping individuals reconnect with their communities, reducing the likelihood of their reoffending. Sponsors: Rep. Jeannie Darneille, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles
  • Domestic Partnerships – SB 5688
    Building on gains for committed couples in the past two sessions, the measures extends the rights and responsibilities of registered domestic partners to include all those granted to married couples. Protections for financial aspects of relationships are especially important in the current economic climate. As we celebrate this victory, the ACLU remains committed to working toward the ultimate goal of full marriage equality for same-sex couples as a matter of fundamental fairness.
    Sponsors: Sen. Ed Murray, Rep. Jamie Pederson
  • Fair Play in Community Sports – SB 5967
    The bill aims to ensure that all athletes – males and females alike – are accorded equal opportunities to participate in community athletics programs. Too often, girls and women have been relegated to poorer facilities, less qualified officials, and less suitable scheduling. The "Fair Play" bill takes the non-discrimination principles of the landmark federal Title IX law – which covers public school athletics – and applies them to government-funded local and statewide sports programs.
    Sponsors: Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rep. Christine Rolfes
  • Proven Programs – SB 5629
    The bill buttresses the Healthy Youth Act, passed with ACLU support in 2007. That measure requires state school districts that provide sex education to teach medically accurate information, including facts about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. This year’s "Proven Programs" bill allows the state Department of Health to apply for federal funding that promotes truly comprehensive education about reproductive choices. State law previously required the department to apply for federal Title V money, which can only be used to fund the teaching of "abstinence-only" programs. ,
    Sponsors: Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rep. Eileen Cody
  • My Car, My Privacy – SB 5574
    The measure will protect vehicle owners from challenges to privacy posed by new technologies, while still allowing drivers to enjoy the convenience of new innovations. Passed near the very end of the session, the "My Car, My Privacy" bill upholds the key principle that individuals should know about and control distribution of their personal information collected and stored by others. The measure will regulate access to and dissemination of information gathered by electronic vehicle recording technologies such as GPS, OnStar, and event data recorders.
    Sponsors: Sen. Claudia Kauffman, Rep. Deb Eddy