It’s been about six weeks since the 2022 legislative session came to a close and we now have a clear picture of what passed, what didn’t, and what work there is left to do in our work to change the rules of our state to advance a Just Transition to Climate and Environmental Justice. More than anything, we want to thank our community membership and our supporters who helped us get frontline voices to the decision-making tables in Olympia and get our priorities over the finish line!
Front and Centered Core Priorities
In the 2022 session, Front and Centered, along with our partners Disability Rights Mobility Initiative, 350 Washington, Transit Riders Union, and The Washington Bus, advocated for a transformational shift in our transportation priorities, from highways and pollution to mobility justice and healthy communities. We laid out clear investment priorities for transit, active transportation and ADA compliance projects in local or tribal areas, and we stood firmly against projects that would further pollution, greenhouse gasses, and barriers to opportunity. We called for the legislature to conduct environmental justice assessments to reveal the true impacts of transportation investments.
We made a significant impact. Following the lead of Congress, Democrats in Olympia passed a huge transportation and infrastructure bill — Move Ahead WA (SB 5974 and SB 5975) — that includes over $5 billion in dedicated funding for public transportation and active transportation (walking, biking, and rolling). Front and Centered celebrates these investments!
Previous transportation packages dedicated over 80% of the budget to new highways and roads with very little going to public transportation and maintenance of existing roads. We were one of the few to stand up and fight for what we really need rather than what we were told to accept as good enough. Our message and advocacy helped transform the conversation and the investments, and we should be proud of what we were able to accomplish together over the last two years, even if there’s still work to do to change business as usual.
This funding and approach is historic and begins to recognize transportation needs for everyone while creating options to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel pollution. At the same time, the legislature took a familiar step backwards by including billions of dollars for new, and continuing highway expansion projects that will only add to already existing health disparities in our frontline communities. Highway expansion projects lock in new vehicle miles traveled and new greenhouse gasses for decades to come. Worse yet the use unrestricted funds a $3 billion dollar transfer from the general operating budget to the transportation package. These two budgets have historically been kept separate and general fund dollars could have been used for other vital programs such as housing, education, homelessness services, energy assistance, and more that are not eligible for capital investment.
In other transportation news, Front and Centered secured a budget proviso that will aid us documenting what we really need from our transportation investments. The legislature allocated $250K to define what a frequent and accessible system of public transportation standard should be in Washington State, identifying gaps by race, age, and ability. The study will be conducted by the WA Department of Transportation and in consultation with the Joint Transportation Committee. The report will be due to the legislature in December of this year. We thank Rep. Emily Wicks for sponsoring this proviso on our behalf!
Following over a year of advocacy to prevent energy utility disconnections during COVID and advance an equitable transition to 100% renewable energy through previous successful legislation, Front and Centered brought Energy for All (HB 1490) back to the legislature, a policy to ensure a universal right to energy access and affordability, no matter your utility.
Our priority energy assistance law was unfortunately not scheduled for a vote in the House Environment and Energy Committee and this bill died early in session. Our policy lead, Mariel, and members from our E4A working group met with Chair Joe Fitzgibbon and utility stakeholders during session and during the interim, but with the policy cutoff deadline approaching, we ran out of time. Utilities were and still are reluctant to get behind a program that would ensure reduced energy burden without receiving state support and were unwilling to use ratepayer dollars progressively to ensure energy equity. The Chair did not want to schedule a vote without industry neutrality or support. The E4A workgroup along with Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley will regroup in the interim and see how we can move forward next session.
CLIMATE RESILIENCY AND GREENHOUSE GAS GOALS UNDER THE GROWTH MANAGEMENT ACT (GMA)
Closely linked to our transportation priorities to reduce transportation pollution and advance mobility justice, Front and Centered advocated to require local comprehensive plans to address climate change, with a lens of climate and environmental justice.
HB 1099 would have added climate change, climate resilience, and new greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets to comprehensive land-use planning. The bill was first introduced in the 2021 legislative session and came very close to passage this year, but conservative Democrats absurdly forced a key committee to strip the word climate from the bill! And due to eleventh-hour changes and a looming deadline, the legislature did not act fast enough or take the necessary steps to secure a successful vote.
There is still work to be done to ensure cities and counties include climate and environmental justice planning. Some cities, like Bothell, are committed to including climate, VMT reduction, and more in their upcoming comprehensive plan and Front and Centered will be working with the Department of Commerce to ensure strong model policies.
HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTAL FOR ALL (HEAL) ACT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
In 2021, the legislature defined environmental justice in state law to include the “meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, rules, and policies” and allocated $14.8 million to state agencies to advance environmental justice. This was the result of the education, policy development, and advocacy of Front and Centered and supporters.
But while the legislature funded state agency work, they did not directly resource community capacity to participate in public engagement opportunities. That was our priority this session. We successfully secured $500K to establish an Environmental Justice Community Participation Fund by and for community based organizations.
The participation fund will allocate grants to community based organizations serving vulnerable populations in highly impacted communities in rural and urban areas for the purpose of supporting their communities’ access, understanding, and participation in EJ Council deliberations and the implementation of the HEAL Act.
Join us in thanking Sen. Rebecca Saldaña for sponsoring this proviso. Also, community organizations, be on the lookout for opportunities to access these grant funds in the coming months and over the next year!
Compensation for Community Members Serving on Statewide Commissions, Boards, and Councils
Front and Centered has been expanding on our work in the HEAL Act to ensure the state is moving toward equitable co-governance with communities most impacted. We are excited to report that SB 5793 passed the legislature and is awaiting signature from Gov. Jay Inslee. This legislation provides up to $200 per day to individuals who are low income or have lived experience and serve on a statewide board or commission.
While this bill does not provide funding for all community members to be paid for their service on statewide groups, it helps us start to compensate communities for their expertise and increase access to decision-making spaces in WA. The bill also allows for child and adult care reimbursement, lodging, and travel expenses to be provided to eligible individuals in addition to stipend amounts. Implementation will start this summer, we can expect to see some edits to the law next year.
Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC)
The WFTC coalition, led by the team at WA Budget and Policy Center, was able to secure $10 million in community grants to boost outreach for the new tax credit that begins in 2023. These funds will be distributed by the Department of Commerce, in partnership with community based organizations, and used to conduct outreach to communities who might not know they are eligible to receive the credit starting next year.
That’s a lot of information to digest, so if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We will continue to keep our members and supporters up to date on the implementation of priority laws and budget provisos.
The work toward a Just Transition never stops—our community work groups continue to meet and a new round of community listening sessions will launch in the coming weeks to build our legislative and budget priorities for the 2023 session. We are in a climate crisis now and the state government needs to commit to policies that move us to what we really need: real reductions in greenhouse gases and harmful pollutants, ban on highway expansions in highly impacted communities, and an energy system that is renewable and equitable—and we’ll need your support to get there.
Thank you for your advocacy and dedication to environmental justice, including everyone who took action during the session helping us send over 41,000 emails to legislators! We also centered our priorities and our community through media coverage in The Seattle Times, The Urbanist, KUOW, and Publicola, and more.
Guillermo Rogel, Jr.
Legislative and Government Affairs Advocate