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2021 Legislative Session Summary

The Washington State Legislature’s 2021 session ran from January 11 to April 25. Our 2021 policy priorities sought to expand options for survivors and their families through community economic resilience and housing security. This was a truly historic session, and we are delighted to share that all of our priority bills passed! We are also encouraged by the final biennial budget, which includes significant investments that get us closer to a more equitable economy.

The following is a summary of legislation we tracked during this session, sorted by the position WSCADV took on these bills (support, oppose, monitor).

Legislation WSCADV supported

Working Families Tax Credit (ESHB 1297/SB 5387) * WSCADV Priority

Passed, effective 7/25/2021.

One of the main reasons people stay with an abusive partner is that they don’t have the money to support themselves or their children. The fully-funded Working Families Tax Credit provides direct cash assistance to the households that need it most. This Recovery Rebate will reach 420,000 households in Washington with an annual base cash rebate ranging from $300-$1,200. This will include eligibility for Individual Tax Identification (ITIN) filers, a group that can include undocumented immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, certain student visa holders, and more. Together, the WFTC and capital gains tax are an important step in balancing our state’s unfair tax code, the worst in the nation. This bill was our top legislative priority because of the profound impact this direct cash would have on survivors’ ability to seek safety and stability.  

Increasing document recording fees (E2SHB 1277) * WSCADV Priority

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children. This bill establishes a $100 surcharge on certain recorded documents to fund affordable housing and homeless services. It also creates the Eviction Prevention Rental Assistance Program in the Department of Commerce, which seeks to prevent evictions by providing resources to households most likely to become homeless or to suffer severe health consequences, or both, after an eviction. Commerce is also required to develop performance metrics for each county receiving funding from the surcharge. Document recording fee dollars have been critical to our work assisting survivors, from providing emergency shelter to more stable housing options. With this additional money, at least 30 domestic violence agencies will be able to work within their county homelessness planning system, not only to support survivors with access to housing but also help them retain that housing through challenging economic times.

Landlord-tenant relations (E2SSB 5160) * WSCADV Priority

Passed, effective 4/22/21.

This bill provides additional protections to keep tenants in their homes during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Survivors and their families should not be evicted due to inability to pay rent during the eviction moratorium, nor should they be denied housing in the future due to inability to pay rent during the pandemic. This bill provides legal representation for tenants facing eviction through a two-year, statewide court-based eviction resolution pilot program. It also requires repayment plans for unpaid rent during the pandemic and ensures that landlords and tenants can access state rental assistance programs. These measures can help survivors and their families stay in their homes.

Just cause tenant protections (ESHB 1236) * WSCADV Priority

Passed, effective 5/10/21.

In the past, landlords have used no cause evictions to discriminate against survivors and their families because of the domestic violence they were experiencing. No cause evictions are also used to discriminate against undocumented and non-English speaking tenants. This bill will close a significant loophole in Washington’s tenant protections and fair housing laws by requiring landlords to have a legitimate reason to make someone move. Its emergency clause ensures tenants will have this protection before the Governor’s eviction moratorium ends on June 30, 2021.

Statewide COVID-19 relief (ESHB 1368/SB 5344)

Passed, effective 2/19/21.

This bill was an early effort toward statewide COVID-19 relief. Most of this money comes from federal stimulus funds that the state has received. Under the bill, $365 million will go toward rental assistance to help renters and landlords affected by the pandemic. This funding would also go toward schools ($668m), vaccine administration and testing ($618m), small businesses ($240m), child care facilities ($50m), food assistance ($26m), and undocumented workers who don’t qualify for state assistance ($70m).

Bolstering economic recovery (SHB 1151)

Passedeffective 7/25/21.

This bill helps families regain stability during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and future emergencies by supporting the state’s economic relief response during natural disasters and pandemics. It seeks to prevent food insecurity by mitigating the “cliff effect” that occurs when a family no longer qualifies for assistance, and modernizes the standards last updated in 1991 for cash assistance programs in order to better reflect what people actually require to meet their basic needs.

Farmworker overtime (ESSB 5172)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

Washington is well known for our agricultural production and the pandemic highlighted farmworkers as essential during times of economic uncertainty. Exclusion from the opportunity to earn overtime pay, farmworkers across our state remain among the poorest workers. This bill requires employers to pay farmworkers time-and-a-half for all labor performed over 40 hours per week, which will be phased in gradually from 2022 to 2024. This will make Washington the first state to fully end overtime exclusions for farm workers. We joined WSCADV member program, Community to Community, in supporting this bill which advocates for economic justice for farmworkers.

Critical adjustments to paid family and medical leave (E2SHB 1073)

Passed, effective 4/21/21.

This bill makes critical adjustments to Washington’s Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML) program. It would help workers impacted by COVID shutdowns receive PFML benefits if they need them in 2021 and early 2022 by providing temporary, alternate eligibility.

Expanding coverage of paid family and medical leave (ESSB 5097)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

This bill recognizes that not all families look the same by expanding the definition of family in Washington’s Paid Family & Medical Leave program. The definition of family member is expanded to include any individual who regularly resides in the employee’s home or where the relationship creates an expectation that the employee care for the person.

Continuity of paid family and medical leave rights (HB 1087)

Passed, effective 4/16/21.

This bill makes a technical correction to the 2017 Paid Family & Medical Leave law to ensure that people whose rights to unpaid leave were violated prior to 2020 can continue any claims. Paid leave can offer financial stability and security to survivors, allowing them time to take care of themselves and their kids without worrying about how they will continue to afford the things that are keeping them safe, like a stable home and food for their families.

Role of the workplace in curbing domestic violence (HB 1315)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

The Department of Commerce will convene a taskforce on domestic violence and workplace resources to identify the role of the workplace in helping to curb domestic violence. The workplace may be the only location where an individual experiencing domestic violence feels safe. Preliminary findings are due to the legislature on 12/1/21. The final report is to be completed by 12/1/22.

Fair Start for Kids Act (E2SSB 5237/HB 1213)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

This bill creates the Fair Start for Kids Act to provide an affordable and accessible system of high quality child care and early childhood education for the overall well-being of children and families in response to the COVID-19 crisis. It seeks to stabilize the child care industry and then expands access to a comprehensive continuum of early childhood development programs that ensure all children in Washington are supported in their social, emotional, and physical growth.

Keeping Families Together Act (E2SHB 1227)

Passed, effective 7/1/23.

This bill protects the rights of families responding to allegations of abuse or neglect of a child. It requires hospitals, law enforcement, and courts to find removal necessary through investigation instead of authorizing it immediately. This effort seeks to begin addressing the racial disparities in the child welfare system, which impacts families of color and survivors who disproportionately receive allegations and have the hardest time getting their children back from the system.

Extending postpartum coverage (SSB 5068)

Passedeffective 7/25/21.

Postpartum Medicaid coverage currently ends after sixty days, creating an unsafe gap in coverage. This bill extends coverage to twelve months. Continuity of care is critical during this vulnerable time, and uninterrupted health care coverage provides birthing parents with access to stable and consistent care. Individuals receive this postpartum coverage regardless of how the pregnancy ends. This is an important step for addressing maternal mortality rates, which disproportionately affect Black and American Indian and Alaska Native families in Washington.  

Pregnancy and miscarriage related care (SSB 5140)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

This bill addresses the issue of religiously affiliated hospitals denying care to people experiencing miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. It ensures patients get the care they need while allowing providers to provide proper care without fear of retaliation from their employer. All pregnant people deserve access to safe care that respects their dignity and well-being.

Nonfatal strangulation forensic exams (2SSB 5183)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

Domestic violence survivors who have been strangled by their partner are at an increased risk of being killed by that person. Despite the life-threatening nature of this type of assault, victims of strangulation may not show any physical signs of abuse. The bill requires the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy (OCVA) to develop best practices that local communities may use to create more access to forensic nurse examiners in cases of nonfatal strangulation assault. OCVA will also develop strategies to make forensic nurse examiner training available to nurses in all regions of the state. Covering the cost of these examinations through the Crime Victims Compensation Program will reduce fears of economic hardship for survivors.

Peace officers’ duty to intervene (SSB 5066)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

This bill requires an identifiable on-duty police officer to intervene when they witness a fellow police officer engaging in, or attempting to engage in, excessive use of force. This police officer must render aid to any person injured as a result of the use of force at the earliest safest opportunity. To create communities where all people can live and love without fear, we must end all forms of violence and abuses of power.

Law enforcement tactics and equipment (ESHB 1054)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

This bill establishes some restrictions on the tactics and equipment that officers can use, including prohibiting the use of chokeholds, neck restraints, and certain types of military equipment. As a coalition dedicated to ending domestic violence, we seek to end all violence in our homes and communities, including institutional abuses of power that systematically take away people’s freedom and safety.

Ending private, for-profit detention (EHB 1090)

Passed, effective 4/14/21.

This bill prohibits private, for-profit detention in Washington. These centers often cut corners to save money and lack transparency and oversight, which can lead to inadequate medical care, poor nutrition, and mistreatment. All private detention facilities operating before January 2021 in the state will remain in operation for the duration of their contract. This means that the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma will not be able to renew its contract after it expires in 2025. This also prevents other private (criminal or civil) facilities from opening in Washington.  

Restoring voter eligibility (ESHB 1078)

Passedeffective 1/1/22.

This bill restores the voting rights of people – including survivors who have been incarcerated – who have been convicted of a felony but are not serving a sentence of total confinement. Barring people from their right to vote and participate in our democracy does not increase public safety or victim safety. We believe that when people are civically engaged and feel like they are a part of a community, they become more invested in keeping that community safe.

Increasing access to civil legal aid funds (HB 1072)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

This bill ensures that undocumented people would also benefit from the civil legal aid services that are available to eligible low-income people in Washington. This means undocumented survivors and their family members can access state-funded representation for domestic relations and family law matters, government assistance, healthcare, housing and utilities, employment, disability rights, education, and more.

Revising the international application of uniform child custody (HB 1042)

Passed, effective 4/14/21.

This bill allows Washington courts to refrain from applying the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act standards in order to protect families from facing the death penalty in certain foreign jurisdictions on the basis of religious or political beliefs or sexual orientation.

Modernizing, harmonizing, and improving civil protection orders (E2SHB 1320)

Passed, effective 7/1/22 (*with exceptions).

This bill will harmonize protection orders in Washington by offering a single petition form that may be used to file for any type of protection order, except an Extreme Risk Protection Order. It also addresses recognition of Canadian domestic violence protection orders and revises laws regarding the surrender of weapons and firearms. This bill allows hearings to be conducted in person or remotely (*this section is effective 7/25/21). Legal advocates across the state have told us that remote hearings during COVID-19 have increased safety options for survivors who choose to petition for protection orders. Relevant definition changes include removing the requirement that infliction of fear or harm be imminent for domestic violence and adding unlawful harassment, expanding the definition of “family or household member”, and lowering the age of “intimate partner” from 16 to 13. WSCADV did not support adding “coercive control” to the definition of domestic violence in this bill due to concerns about how this could be used against survivors by an abusive partner and a request for more statewide stakeholder engagement from our member programs. An amendment addressing these concerns passed the Senate Law & Justice Committee, resulting in our full support of this bill. *By 12/1/21, stakeholders will discuss how to address coercive control in protection order law.

Crime victim notification (ESSB 5245)

Failed to pass.

This bill would have expanded the crimes eligible for the Department of Corrections (DOC) notification to victims and witnesses, adding domestic violence, among others. This notification would provide survivors with some additional time to plan for their safety prior to the release of the person who caused them harm.

Survivors Justice Act (HB 1293)

Failed to pass.

Survivors’ involvement with the criminal legal system is overwhelmingly the result of their trauma, acts of self-defense, lacking funds for legal representation, and not fitting the racist stereotype of the “perfect victim”. This bill would have provided sentencing alternatives for survivors of domestic violence and allowed the court to reduce a survivor’s sentence under some circumstances.

Youth who commit sexual offenses (SSB 5123)

Failed to pass.

This bill would have created developmentally appropriate responses to youth who commit sexual offenses by amending the sex offender registration requirement for certain individuals under age 18. We joined our sexual assault provider partners in supporting this effort because research shows youth sex offender registries do not prevent harm or keep communities safe. Youth sex offender registries are associated with an increase in likelihood of suicide, physical assault, and child sex abuse for the youth required to register.

Unemployment insurance qualification (SSB 5064)

Failed to pass.

This bill would have adjusted the list of “good cause quits” (reasons you can quit a job and still be eligible) in our unemployment insurance system for certain workers. This would have made unemployment insurance somewhat more accessible for survivors who are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic. Being able to access unemployment could mean being able to continue to support themselves and their children without having to consider going back to an abusive partner to make ends meet.

Courthouse Dogs (SSB 5127)

Failed to pass.

This bill sought to increase access to therapy dogs that help children and vulnerable adults tell their stories of survival. Since courthouses have been closed because of the pandemic, this will would have allowed those dogs access to public spaces so they can go to survivors to provide much-needed comfort when recounting their trauma.

Legislation WSCADV opposed

Making coercive control a crime (HB 1449)

Failed to pass.

This bill sought to establish the crime of coercive control as a gross misdemeanor. No one should have to endure coercive control in their relationship, but we are concerned that making coercive control a crime will have negative consequences for many survivors. Many laws designed with the best of intentions to support survivors can be the very same laws that an abusive and controlling person can use against them.

Cancelling eviction moratorium (HB 1228)

Failed to pass.

This bill sought to cancel the Governor’s eviction moratorium immediately, allowing landlords to immediately evict tenants with no safety net in place. We joined the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance in opposing this bill and continuing to prioritize long-term solutions to our state’s housing crisis so survivors can keep safe and stable housing, now and after this pandemic.

Legislation WSCADV monitored

Economic assistance programs (2SSB 5214)

Passed. Effective 7/1/23 (contingent).

A person may qualify for a hardship extension to the 60-month lifetime limit on TANF benefits if they received a TANF cash grant during a month on or after March 1, 2020, when Washington’s unemployment rate is at or above 7 percent.

Ending debt-based driver’s license suspensions (ESSB 5226)

Passed, effective 1/1/23.

People should not be punished for “driving while poor”. This bill originally intended to stop the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees for traffic infractions and allow people to request a payment plan for costs associated with traffic infractions. This legislation as passed will continue to permit debt-based license suspensions.

Vacating certain convictions (ESSB 5180)

Passed, effective 7/25/21.

A victim of sex trafficking, prostitution, or commercial sexual abuse of a minor, sexual assault, or domestic violence may apply to vacate a record of conviction for a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or a class B or C felony offense. The prosecutor of the county in which the victim was sentenced may exercise discretion to apply on the victim’s behalf to vacate the victim’s record of conviction.

Allowed earn time (SHB 1282)

Failed to pass.

This Department of Corrections-request legislation would have modified earned release time provisions to allow earned release time of up to one-third of a sentence and removed current law prohibition on earned release time for firearm, deadly weapon, sexual motivation, and impaired driving enhancements. Changes would have been applied prospectively and retroactively, and required the DOC to recalculate earned release time dates for those currently incarcerated.