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To Make Our State Better for All Washingtonians, Lawmakers Should Pass Racial Equity Bills

Posted by Elena Hernandez at Jan 21, 2016 03:40 PM |
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In order to live up to the promise of a brighter future for our state, we need public policies that create opportunities for all communities to succeed. However, the policies and programs that lawmakers enact often run the risk of creating barriers to success – particularly for people of color and people with low incomes. Racial equity assessment tools, like the ones proposed in House Bill 2076 and Substitute Senate Bill 5752, should be incorporated into the legislative process. These assessment tools help lawmakers better understand the real impacts of their proposed policies by highlighting how they either promote opportunity by advancing racial equity or reinforce barriers by perpetuating institutional racism.

Below is a summary of HB 2076 and SB 5752:

  • Both bills would require key government agencies to develop a procedure for implementing racial impact statements for resolutions and legislative bills. These statements would be intended to demonstrate how a given policy would impact a range of potential outcomes -- from economic security to community safety to environmental health -- in communities of color. 
  • HB 2076 is stronger than SB 5752 by requiring that agencies actually complete a racial impact statement for a bill or resolution at the request of any legislator. Producing such statements would be an important, measurable step toward fixing a system that, in too many cases, has contributed to keeping Washington state’s people and communities from reaching their full potential.
Equity definition box final

Both bills could be strengthened even more by requiring racial impact statements be completed for all bills affecting health and human service caseloads. Because to make meaningful change, policymakers must institutionalize practices that seek to undo racism. 

As legislators consider the implementation of racial equity assessments in our state, they don’t have to look far for inspiration. Several states across the nation, including Oregon, have successfully instituted racial equity impact statements for various forms of legislation. In addition, King County has an Equity Impact Review Tool and the City of Seattle has a Racial Equity Toolkit, both of which have led to important changes in how policies are drafted.  HB 2076 and SB 5752 are a great start toward ensuring these types of efforts are happening statewide in Washington.

We all want to build a better future for our families and our state, but to fulfill that promise we must change the way we do our work. Racial equity impact statements are an important tool in the larger efforts to ensure that all members of our communities have access to the building blocks of a strong economy. And they also will help to undo the systemic inequities that have all too often played a role in keeping communities of color and people with low incomes on unstable and unequal footing. 

Learn more about various racial equity impact assessment tools and see local examples, including the tool we developed with our Washington KIDS COUNT  partners at Children’s Alliance, here. Racial equity impact assessments were also a key topic at our Budget Matter Summit this year. If you missed it, check out this video of the summit panel.

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