Growing Our Collective Hope: 2023 Legislative Session Report

Friday, June 9, 2023
A photo of ACLU supporters in front of the Washington state Capitol Building
As we collectively emerge from the fog of pandemic lockdowns, many of us are processing the return to in-person connection and work. After two years of working remotely and behind computer screens in isolation from each other, the Washington Legislature returned to Olympia to do business in person. The energy of returning to the Washington state Capitol was palpable, and the ACLU-WA was ready to reconnect and build on our previous legislative impact to bring life and voice to the needs of the oppressed, the underserved, and those closest to the harms of injustice.

Like prior years, the ACLU-WA continues the work of listening to and being led by community voices and their priorities. Our legislative agenda reflects those community priorities; a community that reminds us to be radical in our hope, fervent in our advocacy and kind to each other along the way. 

It would be a mistake to measure our collective success in advocating for freedom, justice, and accountability by the number of bills that pass or fail through the Washington Legislature. Instead, we must remain focused on the relationships we develop and the relationships we nourish with impacted community members, allies, lawmakers, and each other. To build a world of liberation – one where your safety, health and humanity are not determined by the wealth of your neighbor or the country where you were born – we are best served by learning when to fight and when to listen. This session we did much of both. 

With your support and activism, we advanced our most significant reproductive health agenda ever by passing four of our five priority bills, including a first-in-the nation consumer health data privacy law.  We eliminated the practice of automatically enhancing an adult sentence based on past juvenile adjudications. We established affordable health care access programs for thousands of undocumented immigrants. We secured over half-a-million dollars to finally secure the data we need to reform juvenile jurisdiction and, eventually, we will eliminate the harmful practice of prosecuting children as young as eight-years old. 

We also experienced some setbacks. The War on Drugs is ever present with the Washington Legislature passing a bill to criminalize drug possession and the public use of drugs with only modest investments in behavioral health care systems outside of the criminal legal system. The powerful police lobbying contingent’s fear mongering successfully stalled our efforts to advance police accountability and reform.  The harmful and inhumane practice of solitary confinement continues in our prisons, subjecting many people to what the United Nations calls torture. The government’s and corporations’ ability to collect, use and manipulate our data continues with no transparency or accountability into those practices and systems. 

It would be easy to feel despair or frustration. It is harder to hold onto hope and to grow hope. At the ACLU-WA, we will always choose hope because we know power concedes nothing on its own. Together with action, conviction, and sound policy solutions we will continue to grow our hope and produce transformational change. The community we are accountable to deserves no less. 

Thank you for joining us in this important struggle.

Legislative Impacts

Abortion Access

The fall of Roe v. Wade continues to have devastating and far-reaching impacts that land disproportionately on the people who have always faced systemic barriers to care – communities of color, the LGBTQIA2S+ community, undocumented immigrants, young people, those living in rural communities, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes. Washington state was well poised to protect abortion access in the wake of Dobbs while also playing a critical role in providing care to people from states that criminalize abortion and jeopardize access to needed health care services. Together with a broad coalition of reproductive health advocates, providers, impacted people and the Tech Equity Coalition, the ACLU-WA successfully advocated for the passage of four of our five priority bills, including:
  • protecting the Washington licenses of those providing reproductive or gender affirming care;
  • protecting people seeking, providing, or helping others obtain reproductive or gender affirming care that is lawful in Washington state, including by preventing nonfugitive extradition, and limiting Washington courts’ and law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with out-of-state investigations or legal proceedings;
  • protecting people’s private health data that is sensitive health care information but not protected by the Health Information Protection & Portability Act (HIPPA), including a per se private right of action for a consumer and the Attorney General’s Office, and an opt-in consent requirement before collecting, using, and sharing people’s data; and,
  • protecting people from cost sharing requirements for abortion care.
For years, mergers and acquisitions between health care entities in Washington state have decreased access to reproductive, end-of-life and gender affirming care. This session, the ACLU-WA, in coalition with allies, introduced the Keep Our Care Act which will ensure health system consolidations improve rather than harm access to affordable, quality care. While KOCA was not passed this session, the bill made it further in the legislative process than ever before. 

Police Pushback Bills
In 2023, intense and unified police lobbying efforts returned to the Washington Legislature to continue their efforts to roll back the police reforms of 2021 and to stonewall legislation that would reduce police violence, increase accountability, and reform bad policing culture. The ACLU-WA supported the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability’s (WCPA) advocacy to push back on a horrific rollback of restrictions on the dangerous and deadly tactic of police pursuits. We saw the Senate contort procedural rules, midway through session, to resurrect a police pursuit bill that had stalled in the House of Representatives. Although the Washington Legislature ultimately passed a police pursuits roll-back bill, the bill was significantly narrowed because of WCPA’s strong advocacy and your engagement. Make no mistake that the resulting change to our state’s police pursuit standards will result in the death or serious injury of innocent bystanders, officers and others. We remain committed to monitoring the impacts of this new law and we will urge the Legislature to resist any further weakening of police pursuit standards in the future.

Police Accountability through Civil Liability and Systemic Cultural Reform
The risk, harm and trauma of police violence continues to threaten our community safety. This session, the ACLU-WA, in collaboration with WCPA, continued to push for law enforcement accountability across the state. We advocated for two important bills that, if passed, would engage the culture of policing head-on, and hold law enforcement agencies when they violated people’s constitutional rights. The first bill would create a private right of action for violations of the state’s constitution and laws, without the shield of qualified immunity. The second bill would have strengthened the Attorney General’s authority to investigate and sue departments where there is evidence of systemic misconduct.

Traffic Safety for All

Low-risk traffic stops are ineffective at keeping people safe. They waste resources, and harm members of the community. Years of data have shown that low-risk traffic stops and searches disproportionately target Black drivers and other people of color. They can carry an emotional and economic impact for the driver, and at their worst, have escalated into violent and deadly encounters. This session, the ACLU-WA, along with a broad coalition of advocates in transportation, racial justice, and public safety, advocated for the Traffic Safety for All bill. It would have created a system to help low-income community members comply with low-risk traffic laws, like expired tabs or broken taillights, while also allowing police agencies to focus resources on violations that help prevent accidents and keep our roads safe.

Data Privacy and Automated Decision Systems

There is rarely an occasion on which we do not rely on technology to achieve our day-to-day activities.  Yet, the U.S. does not have a comprehensive data privacy law that requires transparency and accountability for how companies or government can use an individual’s data. As a result, people have little insight into and even less control over how their information is collected, used, shared, and sold. Similarly, people have no recourse, legal or otherwise, to hold corporations or government accountable when they violate our data privacy rights or when their secret algorithmic formulas violate due process. This session, the ACLU-WA, together with the Tech Equity Coalition, worked to advance critical and comprehensive data privacy protections and algorithmic accountability. While neither of these bills advanced out of the Washington Legislature, for the first time in four years, we did not see a push for the passage of a weak, industry-backed Washington Privacy Act. Instead, industry unsuccessfully focused on killing our consumer health data privacy bill, which provides key protections to ensure abortion and gender-affirming access in Washington state.   

Youth Policy: Raise the Age

Washington is one of only a handful of states where youth as young as 8 years old can be incarcerated. For three sessions, ACLU-WA and allies have worked to educate legislators on both sides of the aisle to pass a bill that would change the age at which a child can enter the juvenile legal system from 8 to 13 and authorize a study of the expansion of the top range of juvenile court jurisdiction. While our efforts were unsuccessful in 2023, our team was successful in securing a $600,000 appropriation to study the need for and impacts of modifying juvenile court jurisdiction as proposed. We are committed to continuing this important work in 2024.

Ending Solitary Confinement

The use of solitary confinement in our state prisons is torture and has devastating impacts on those incarcerated. For the third year in a row, the ACLU-WA partnered with Disability Rights Washington to advocate for legislation that bans the use of solitary confinement beyond 15 days. Despite several powerful committee hearings, in both the House and Senate, with testimony by a panel of currently and formerly incarcerated advocates, medical experts, and many supporters, the bill did not pass. This work remains pressing for the ACLU-WA and our community partners. While we appreciate the Department of Corrections making verbal commitments to reduce its use of solitary confinement, the data shows us that those commitments are not being put into practice with urgency or transparency. We are working during the interim to pass this bill in 2024.

Sentencing Reform

The ACLU-WA, in coalition and partnership with many allies and incarcerated individuals, advocated this session to combat the systemic inequities and institutional racism of the criminal legal system through holistic sentencing reform and decarceration efforts. We supported several legislative proposals this session to reduce sentences and provide an avenue for release for many serving excessively long sentences. Together, these bills advance racial equity by eliminating this source of racial disproportionality from adult sentencing calculations. Only one of our priority bills passed this session. The Juvenile Points Bill eliminates the practice of automatically sentencing people to longer prison terms because of offenses they committed as youth. The bill was passed with an amendment that stripped the retroactive application of these new sentencing rules, leaving behind hundreds of currently incarcerated people. We strongly opposed that amendment and will return in 2024 to restore retroactivity.
Health Equity for Immigrants

An estimated 105,000 undocumented immigrants in Washington state are ineligible for Medicaid or Qualified Health Plans as a direct result of their immigration status. Without health insurance, people are more likely to have poor health outcomes, be hospitalized for preventable conditions and acute illnesses, and die prematurely. As a core member of the Health Equity for Immigrants Campaign, the ACLU-WA successfully helped establish a Medicaid-like program, the community’s preferred structure, as well as continued funding of the Health Benefit Exchange program, so that undocumented immigrants can finally access affordable health care across Washington. Our campaign’s advocacy resulted in an initial $104 million investment for undocumented immigrants to access a state-based Medicaid-equivalent program, the Health Benefit Exchange, and community-led engagement activities necessary to implement this new health care program. While this will not meet the total insurance needs of undocumented immigrants, this initial investment allows the ACLU-WA and our partners the opportunity to build on this foundation to continue expanding access and funding for the program in future sessions.

Ending the War on Drugs and Behavioral Health

The ACLU-WA supported legislation that would transform our state’s response to behavioral health issues and end the racist war on drugs. Continuing to treat drug possession as a crime damages our communities. We need a better approach that addresses the root causes of substance use. The Washington Legislature rejected sound evidence-based policy in favor of fear-based options that lean into criminalizing addiction and punishing the process of recovery. Read about our efforts in our feature story about the Blake decision and the Legislature’s responses to it.

<-Back to Washington in Action Spring 2023 Newsletter - Table of Contents