OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday unveiled a slate of proposals intended to boost diversity and equity, which includes a proposed independent office for investigating deadly force by law enforcement, funding the state’s new equity office and establishing Juneteenth as a legal holiday.
The plan, among other things, would also spend $10 million to maintain the state’s COVID-19 relief fund for undocumented immigrants who have suffered due to the pandemic.
Inslee announced he was also joining state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to request a bill banning insurance companies from using credit scores for homeowner, renter, auto and boat insurance.
Inslee’s equity proposals arrive as the governor is expected to unveil his new proposed two-year budget plan later this week.
With the Legislature convening in January, he and lawmakers are tasked with writing new state spending blueprints as Washington continues to be battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed to prevent spread of the virus.
In recent years, diversity and equity have taken center stage in Washington’s politics.
In 2018, Democratic majorities in the Legislature — and then voters at the ballot box — approved a change to the state law that had made it nearly impossible to bring criminal charges against law-enforcement officers believed to have used deadly force wrongfully. Under the new law, prosecutors would no longer have to prove officers acted with malice, or “evil intent,” when considering whether to file criminal charges such as manslaughter.
In 2019, Democratic lawmakers approved a measure brought by community advocates to overturn Washington’s two-decade ban on affirmative action and allow race, gender and other factors to select qualified candidates in public education and employment.
But state voters narrowly rejected the measure at the ballot box that November. It was a win for conservatives and an opposition campaign led by Chinese immigrants, who argued a return to affirmative action would have amounted to discrimination.
This year, the killings of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and closer to home, of Manuel Ellis by Tacoma police, again thrust equity in policing into the spotlight.
Democratic lawmakers are preparing legislation on policing and law enforcement accountability, which will include Inslee’s proposal to create an Office of Independent Investigations.
That office would be established in the executive branch, and an advisory board would give input into how the office is staffed and run. Inslee’s proposal announced Monday would dedicate $26 million to set up the office, and pay for any resulting prosecutions.