Feb. 15–OLYMPIA, Wash. — Two hot-button legislative proposals — a state voting rights act and an anti-gang bill — died Tuesday in Olympia.
Each held vastly different, but no less controversial, implications for Yakima.
One, a proposal, which would have legalized civil injunctions against gang members, had earlier gained bipartisan approval from the House Public Safety Emergency Preparedness Committee. But that momentum failed to carry it to a vote on the House floor, which was required for survival Tuesday.
The proposal had 19 Democratic co-sponsors, including the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, chairman of the public safety committee. But it was heavily opposed by civil rights advocates.
Those opponents, however, didn't have much time to cheer before another bill they favored, the state Voting Rights Act, also headed to defeat in this session.
Tuesday was the last day for bills to be voted out of their house of origin, which technically means they are no longer alive for consideration. But majority leaders have parliamentary means to revive legislation if they choose to do so.
HB 2612, which mirrors California's Voting Rights Act, would have prohibited at-large and district-based elections that denied a "protected class" — in Yakima's case, Latinos — from electing candidates of its choice or somehow diluted its voice as a voting bloc.
Advocates highlighted Yakima City Council elections — in which no Latino has ever won despite making up 41 percent of the city's population — as proof of the need for election reform.
While the two proposals were unrelated, each held implications for Yakima.
Civil injunctions are court orders that can ban gang members from certain neighborhoods or from associating with certain people, and have been used in California.
Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, one of the legislators leading efforts for civil injunctions in recent sessions, said he and others will consider revisiting the proposal next year. Ross said he's not sure what could make the proposal more palatable to Democrats after this year's legislation included such concessions as providing for public defense for alleged gang members.
"That bill is about as good as it gets from a Democratic perspective," Ross said. "We'll just have to change the reality in the elections and have a few less Democrats (in the Legislature.)"
The bill came under fire from critics who said using injunctions against alleged gang members would potentially rob innocent people of due process and lead to racial discrimination.
More than 40 statewide advocacy groups announced their opposition to the bill on Tuesday, including the Latino Civic Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Washington Christian Leaders Coalition.
Supporters, such as Ross, have long argued that civil injunctions would disrupt gang activity.
The other bill being watched closely in Yakima would have established a Voting Rights Act.
One of that bill's leading opponents, Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, said it would have overstepped protections already provided by the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Taylor said the bill also ignores that a candidate's politics — not their ethnicity — plays the biggest role in whether they can win elected office.
"If a Hispanic candidate is not the favorable candidate, so be it, but we do have a good history of Latino representation in Yakima County," he said.
Opponents of the bill note that Hispanics sit on several Lower Valley city councils, and that Jesse Palacios was twice elected to the Yakima County board of commissioners.
Multiple phone calls to the Voting Rights Act's sponsor, Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, were not returned Tuesday. Kenney, a Seattle Democrat, grew up in Toppenish and Wapato.
The House also failed to pass a gang intervention and prevention grant program, HB2432, which unlike last year was introduced separate from the civil injunctions proposal to help its chances of being signed into law. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Montlake Terrace, called for $5 million from the state general fund in addition to about $1 million from the state Attorney General's Office.
Legislators are still faced with making about $1.5 billion in budget cuts to balance the 2011-13 biennium general fund, which would have made funding for the grant program unlikely.
–Mike Faulk can be reached at 509-577-7675 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mike_Faulk.