Building a Washington for all: 2024 Legislative Session Report

Wednesday, April 3, 2024
A photo of people in front of the capitol building with a yellow border and blue star
The ACLU of Washington is committed to building a state where everyone, especially those who have historically and systemically been marginalized, lives with dignity and equity. This vision requires us to navigate complex times with hope and determination. The 2024 legislative session was exceptionally complex: we came into this year knowing we were working against the lingering impacts of the pandemic, multiple global and local crisis events, and an impending election cycle.

We extend our deepest gratitude to those state leaders who worked to advance an inclusive democracy. Their courage and commitment to civil rights and civil liberties have been instrumental to our work this session. They showed real leadership, demonstrating that it is especially critical in times of crisis to move towards a state that advances the health, safety, and wellbeing of us all.

Our community partners also showed great courage this session. Together, we repeatedly mobilized thousands of people to use their voice and build momentum – shining light on our political process. We launched a new, collaborative approach to organizing Advocacy Day, working with dozens of other organizations to bring stakeholders to Olympia to meet with lawmakers and make our voices heard. In doing so, we built community political power together. It was an honor to follow the lead of formerly and currently incarcerated people, families impacted by police violence, tribes and Indigenous organizations, LGBTQIA2S+ leaders, youth and immigrants.  

This report provides an overview of our initiatives, achievements, and challenges during the 2024 legislative session. We hope it offers valuable insights into our work and the ongoing fight for justice and equality in Washington state.

As we reflect on the past session and look ahead to the future, we remain committed to our mission and are inspired by the progress we have made. Two of our major bills – applying juvenile criminal history reforms retroactively and the Keep Our Care Act – moved farther this year than ever before, advancing nearly all of the way through the legislative process. We secured more legislator, coalition, and public support on these bills than ever before, and our teams modeled the best of collaboration and strategic thinking. These are victories. This is progress. This is why we carry on. We invite you to join us as we continue this important work.


Protecting Access to Affordable, Quality Health Care

Keep Our Care Act (KOCA) (SB 5241/HB 1263)

The ACLU of Washington envisions a state where people have the ability, resources, and right to exercise self-determination and bodily autonomy. That is why, during this session, we continued to advocate for the Legislature to pass the Keep Our Care Act (KOCA). This was the fourth session that we worked in coalition to bring transparency and oversight to health care entity consolidations to ensure access to quality care for everyone across Washington state. These consolidations are prolific in Washington — with minimal oversight — and can negatively impact cost, quality and access to necessary health care services, including end-of-life, reproductive and gender affirming care. KOCA is commonsense legislation that regulates consolidations and safeguards community access to health care. Regrettably, for the fourth year in a row, the Legislature failed to pass this legislation, resulting in an ongoing environment where health care entities can prioritize profits over patients. 
Nonetheless, as a direct result of our strong and diverse community coalition, KOCA advanced further than it ever has, making it all the way through the Senate and to the House floor in just seven weeks. With our allies, we credibly and powerfully challenged the status quo of the health care systems that are most resistant to offering affordable, quality care to all. While we are profoundly disappointed that the House calendared KOCA for a vote, then adjourned without passing the bill, we are proud that our collective advocacy contributed to a robust conversation around health entity consolidations.
Ensuring access to care is important to the ACLU-WA and our allies, and we remain steadfast in guaranteeing the right of every Washingtonian to access affordable, quality health care regardless of their identity, ZIP code, or medical needs.

Health Equity for Immigrants (Budget Advocacy)

In 2024, the ACLU-WA continued to build on last session’s initial $104 million investment towards a Medicaid-like program for immigrant communities, advocating alongside our allies in the Health Equity for Immigrants Campaign for a supplemental budget proviso to expand access and community navigation and increase funding. For years, undocumented immigrants in Washington have not had access to health coverage. Lack of health insurance leads to worse health outcomes, preventable hospitalizations, mounting medical debt, and premature death. Left with no option, many people are forced to choose between needed care and other basic necessities. This session, the Legislature’s 2024 budget included an additional $28.4 million to fund basic health care for low-income undocumented immigrants. We hope that this supplemental funding will offer over 10,000 more people access to health care insurance coverage.
While this additional funding is critical, we recognize that more must be done to ensure the program is fully funded and accountable to the communities it serves. Already, over 16,000 people have accessed Healthplanfinder seeking coverage, and this does not represent the entirety of the eligible population. Long term, additional funding will be necessary, and community-based outreach and an accountability committee are critical to ensure the program is successful.

Parental notification and rights initiative (I-2081)

In January, the Secretary of State certified six initiatives to the legislature advanced by the political committee Let’s Go Washington. The Legislature passed three of them. One was I-2081, an overly broad, confusing and unnecessary initiative that creates additional burdens and bureaucracy in school systems and erodes the trusted relationships that exist between students, their teachers, and their health care providers. The ACLU-WA followed the lead of a coalition including LGBTQIA2S+ led-organizations to develop legislative strategy around this initiative and work to protect student access to health care in schools. The Legislature’s decision to pass I-2081 rather than send it to the voters enables it to be amended with a simple majority after it takes effect.


Reducing Police Violence and Strengthening Accountability

Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights Investigations and Reform (HB 1445)

This session, the ACLU-WA, in collaboration with the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA), which is led by families of those killed by police, continued to push for law enforcement agency accountability across the state. In cases where officers have harmed people, we want to strengthen accountability and bring systemic change to departments. Right now, there are very few ways to investigate or change these ingrained problems. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Investigations and Reform bill strengthens the AG’s authority to address systemic violations of the Washington Constitution or laws in police departments and jails by elevating resources, solutions, and accountability.

This session, the bill started in the House Rules Committee, which is the last stage before a vote can occur on the House floor. After several years of advocacy, the bill was positioned well for progress in a short session, avoiding repeating committee hearings conducted in 2023. Unfortunately, in the face of continued inflammatory rhetoric around crime and disorder, the Legislature failed to pass this important civil rights bill. The furious opposition from the top of law enforcement power structures is evidence that this bill is a force for systemic change in the toxic culture of policing that continues to harm communities. Our broad coalition of passionate supporters sent countless messages asking lawmakers to support it.

Traffic Safety for All (HB 1513/SB 5572)

Traffic deaths have steadily increased in Washington State in recent years, yet too often, police resources are used to stop, ticket, and fine drivers for minor infractions that do not pose a threat to road or public safety. This makes no one safer and fuels racial disproportionality. Washington does not need to choose between safety and equity — the data shows we can have both.

The Traffic Safety for All bill prioritizes fairness in safety stops focusing on drunk, distracted, and reckless driving, which data show increases safety on our roads while reducing racial disproportionality in traffic stops. The bill also provides community funding to shift focus away from fees, fines and punitive enforcement and towards helping people fix their vehicles to increase compliance and road safety.

Regrettably, the House of Representatives failed to pass this bill out and send it to the Senate by the cutoff date for moving bills out of their chambers of origin. Despite its early demise, allies built collective power during the session. Bolstered by community support, the Traffic Safety for All Coalition expanded and laid groundwork for future policy changes to reduce unnecessary interactions with police and racial disparities in traffic stops. We will continue to support policies and investments that will allow everyone to get home safely.

Vehicular pursuit initiative (I-2113)

Part of Let’s Go Washington’s slate of initiatives, I-2113 rolled back reasonable limitations on police vehicular pursuits, the second leading cause of police-involved deaths in Washington before reforms passed in 2021. The ACLU-WA followed the lead of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA) regarding strategy on this bill in our continued efforts to reduce police violence and increase accountability. The Legislature’s passage of I-2113 during session enables it to be amended with a simple majority after taking effect.

Countering Policing Bills that Put Civil Rights at Risk
The Legislature also considered several bills this session that, if passed as introduced, would have significantly rolled back existing civil rights protections for those subjected to unconstitutional policing practices. The ACLU-WA worked with allies, including the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA), to push back on these harmful bills, and we won. 
Of these three harmful bills, two died and one passed with our suggested amendments. The first bill would have expanded an officer’s discretion to seize a person’s vehicle for forfeiture after a second conviction for attempt to elude, regardless of whether the person was convicted of the offense underlying the officer’s initiation of a traffic stop. We opposed this bill because it proposed a punitive expansion of criminal penalties and established new impoundment and forfeiture consequences, which significantly impact income-restricted people.
The second bill would have mandated that law enforcement officers report every instance in which they were “harmed” by civilians. This bill was highly problematic because people are often charged with assault of an officer when they are the victims of police brutality. Collecting this data would have exposed victims of police brutality to potential retaliation. We are grateful that neither of these bills advanced and will remain vigilant in future years.  
The third harmful bill we countered would have offered blanket immunity for harm caused by police dogs. The ACLU-WA, with WCPA, opposed this bill and advocated for the removal of a provision that would have granted blanket immunity for both the lawful and unlawful use of police dogs. Our collective advocacy was successful and the bill that the Legislature passed did not expand immunities for use of police canines.


Transforming Sentencing and Reentry

If Washington state were a country, it would have the sixth highest incarceration rate in the world. For decades, our state has been overly reliant on life and long sentences which fail to keep people safe and have devastated marginalized communities. In collaboration with formerly and currently incarcerated allies, the ACLU-WA seeks to advance developmentally appropriate, evidence-based sentencing laws that promote public safety and lead with racial justice.

Retroactive Sentencing Reforms for Juvenile Adjudications (HB 2065/SB5971)

In the 2023 session, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law EHB 1324, which stopped the practice of automatically giving people longer sentences because of prior juvenile adjudications, while still maintaining the ability for judges to consider a person’s juvenile record in sentencing. However, as enacted, EHB 1324 left the harms of the past unresolved by denying relief to those currently incarcerated. This session, a coalition that included formerly and currently incarcerated allies returned to Olympia to make this law retroactive.
We knew that in a short 60-day session, it would be challenging to pave a path all the way to the Governor’s desk but, together with our allies, we generated historic momentum for this bill. Collectively, our advocacy kept the core policy goals of the bill intact throughout the legislative process in the House, which passed the bill. In the Senate, in just under two weeks, we advanced the bill out of the policy committee and to the fiscal committee, where regrettably it stalled. While we are disappointed that the bill did not pass this session, together with our legislative champions, we progressively built momentum, working closely with our allies, including formerly and currently incarcerated individuals and tribes and Indigenous organizations, every step of the way. Together, we advocated for a system that acknowledges people’s humanity.

Emerging Adults (HB 1325/SB 5451)
The ACLU-WA worked in coalition to advance a bill that would make people who are incarcerated for crimes committed before age 25 eligible for sentencing review to determine whether youth impacted their case. This would align state code with modern brain science, decrease incarceration costs, and meaningfully advance efforts to address racial disparities in sentencing. This bill did not guarantee release, but offered the opportunity for incarcerated individuals who qualify to go before the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for consideration.
While the bill received a moving hearing in the House policy committee and a tremendous amount of public support, the House failed to advance it out of committee early in the session. We appreciated the support of our legislative allies, who prioritized limited committee hearing time to center the voices of impacted community in these conversations. Our work will continue to evaluate how to best reform sentence review considerations to bring existing practices in line with constitutional law and modern brain science.     


Reducing Isolation & Restraint in Schools (HB 1479/SB 5559)

School districts throughout Washington frequently use traumatic and physically dangerous restraint and isolation tactics to immobilize and remove students from the classroom even when the student is not a threat to themselves or others. These practices violate state law by subjecting students whose behavior does not pose an “imminent likelihood of serious harm” to extreme punishment, such as being locked alone in a cold, dark, closet-like room for hours at a time.

The ACLU of Washington supports restrictions on isolation and restraint to safeguard students’ well-being, uphold their rights, and create inclusive and respectful educational environments. Isolating students in locked rooms and physically restraining them can be harmful physically and emotionally, and research shows that students subjected to these practices experience trauma, anxiety and loss of dignity. Moreover, these practices disproportionately affect students with disabilities, students of color and LGBTQIA2S+ students. This session, together with allies, the ACLU of Washington returned to Olympia to advocate for a solution to limit the use of these harmful tools, which would also address disparities and promote equity. With the leadership of our legislative allies, this bill made it further than we could have imagined. In just a few short weeks, it advanced through the House policy and fiscal committees, and the bill passed out of the House with 79 votes across both parties. While the bill stalled, once again, in the Senate, we are immensely grateful for the House’s strong bipartisan leadership that centered the needs of students and educators.

The ACLU-WA continues to support preventive strategies and positive behavior interventions. Schools can implement alternative approaches that prioritize de-escalation, communication and support rather than punitive measures.

Protecting People’s Privacy & Regulating Artificial Intelligence

Establishing an Artificial Intelligence Task Force (SB 5838/HB 1934)

This session, the ACLU of Washington focused its technology and liberty efforts on supporting a bill that would establish an artificial intelligence (AI) task force. The rapid development of AI technology, including generative AI, necessitates thoughtful consideration. Through multiple engagements with Sen. Nguyen, the bill’s sponsor, and the Attorney General’s office, we emphasized the need for the taskforce to reflect diverse perspectives, particularly by including representatives of groups that are disproportionately harmed by AI. While the initial bill focused on generative AI, we also stressed the need for the taskforce to explore the many risks posed by other forms of AI as well. Our feedback and testimony on both of these issues was heard and integrated into the final bill. The task force will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders, including technology experts, industry representatives, labor organizations, and civil liberty groups. It will focus on identifying high-risk uses of AI, racial equity implications, and civil liberty concerns and its recommendations will focus on guiding principles, regulatory structures, and opportunities to support innovation. It is our hope that this collective expertise will inform recommendations to guide future public policy. The final report and recommendations from the task force are due to the Governor and Legislature by July 1, 2026, and we hope to be actively involved in the process to ensure that race equity concerns and civil liberties are taken into consideration at each step.

We began our advocacy during the interim, when the Senate invited the ACLU-WA to participate in a work session to educate lawmakers about both the benefits and risks of this technology, and to provide recommendations for AI policy. One of our main recommendations during the work session was to set up an AI taskforce as a step toward developing meaningful AI regulation that would prevent harm and protect Washingtonians’ privacy and civil liberties.  

Countering Harmful Artificial Intelligence Bills

The ACLU-WA has a long history of working on civil rights and liberties issues related to technology, including privacy protection and algorithmic accountability. This session, together with allies, we opposed a bill that was inaccurately characterized as an algorithmic discrimination bill. The bill, as introduced, included a feeble regulatory and enforcement framework that would not have protected those most vulnerable to algorithmic discrimination from significant harm. The ACLU-WA will continue to advocate for policy solutions that prevent unlawful discrimination and include meaningful safeguards against the harms of AI bias and discrimination.

Economic Justice

Washington Future Fund (National ACLU Systemic Equality Campaign, with Washington State Treasurer’s Office)

This session, the ACLU of Washington supported legislative efforts to establish the Washington Future Fund, which aims to address the generational wealth gap. By authorizing and funding an investment, known colloquially as a “baby bond,” for every child born into poverty, the policy would promote economic equity and opportunity. The investment grows over time and can be used for education, homeownership, or starting a business after that child turns 18.

The ACLU-WA recognizes that building a future that honors the humanity of all Washingtonians requires collective action and commitment to equity and justice. While it was challenging to advance this significant policy and fiscal bill in the short session, we deepened our relationships with local and national allies through the effort. Moreover, we are deeply appreciative of lawmakers' continued commitment to holding space for important economic and racial justice conversations.

The Road Ahead

In the 2024 state legislative session, the ACLU of Washington deepened our relationships with lawmakers and reinforced our shared commitment to build a thriving democracy that invests in the health and wellbeing of its communities and extends the protections of liberty and freedom to all Washingtonians. We were able to do this by focusing on expanding our partnerships and collaborations with impacted communities, activists, and allies. As we look ahead to the 2025-2026 biennium, we will continue to build on these relationships and grow collective political power with community at its center.

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