How FDF’s Legislative Agenda Fared (Spring 2016)

By David Bangs
Fix Democracy First Legislative Chair

FDF’s Legislative Committee lobbied for:

I-735, Andy Billig’s DISCLOSE Act (SB 5153), the Washington Voting Rights Act (HB 1745) and three bills to make the voting registration process easier (HB 1294, HB 1428 and HB 2682); details follow on the current status of each.

I’ve also included a summary of what we’ve achieved, who we can thank, who we can blame, what we learned from the experience. I’ve concluded with one quick thing you can do about this with the click of a button (a petition).

I was pleased to chair Fix Democracy First’s Legislative Committee this year.  I’m new at this, but had some great help from committee members Alice Woldt, Nancy Amidei, Bruce Speight, and Jennifer Sprague.  Committee members kept in touch with weekly phone calls, and  visited Olympia multiple times to attend events and hearings and to lobby. We also kept in touch with key lawmakers and partners, and used our database to engage members in certain districts.

Our mission?  To Fix Democracy, of course, but there were dozens of bills related to voting and elections to sort through.

First, we had to express support for I-735 while also asking legislators not to pass it, so that it would go to the voters this November.  On this, we can claim success.  The House State Government committee showed support by passing I-735, but it did not go to the floor.  Instead, the House supported the concept of overturning Citizens United by passing, with bipartisan support, a related measure (HJM 4000) that also calls for this constitutional change but through a convention.  The Senate Government Operations committee heard I-735 as well, but chair Pam Roach did not call for a vote.

Our second priority was to support Senator Andy Billig (last year’s FDF legislator of the year) in getting his DISCLOSE Act (SB 5153), which would disclose political donations made through “public welfare” organizations (501(c)4 and (c)6).  We were happy last year when this passed the Republican-controlled Senate unanimously. However, when it came time for a reconciliation vote to iron out small differences with the House version, Senate leadership refused to allow a vote. There was still a chance this year, and Senator Billig worked hard to reach a compromise that would please leadership and lead to a vote. Unfortunately, to no avail. Senate Majority leader Mark Schoesler refused once again to allow the bill to be heard on the floor.

Democracy isn’t all about money in politics.  It is also about effective voter representation.  We came out swinging for the Washington Voting Rights Act (HB 1745) and three bills to make the voting registration process easier (HB 1294, HB 1428 and HB 2682).  One would have allowed for preregistration of 16 and 17 year-olds at the DMV and in schools. One would have allowed people to register to vote until 11 days before any election. A third would have provided automatic registration at qualified voter registration agencies such as when applying for a commercial license or for Health exchange benefits.  All four of these bills passed the full House, three of them with bipartisan support.  But again, they were not brought up for votes in the Senate.

So, what did we achieve?  Well, the voters do get to vote for I-735 this November!  We learned, and strengthened our relationships with great people like House State Government Chair Sam Hunt and Speaker Frank Chopp.  We watched a handful of Republicans buck their leadership and support these bills in both the House and the Senate.  We watched secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, push several of these bills. None of our bills lost any vote.  But ultimately, Senate leadership is the gatekeeper, and they did not permit any of our bills to get votes.

Who can we thank?  Representatives who stuck their neck out to support our agenda, like Democrats Speaker Frank Chopp, Reps Sam Hunt, Noel Frame and the rest of the Democratic House members and Republicans who voted for two or three of the bills in the House: Hickel, Kochmar, Stambaugh, Stokesbary, Walsh, and Zeiger.  Leaders in the Senate include: Democratic Senators Andy Billig, Marilyn Chase, Cyrus Habib and Pramila Jayapal and Republican Senator Mark Miloscia.  Who can we blame?  Senators Pam Roach and Mark Schoesler who blocked votes.

What did we learn?  One clear learning is that we would be more effective if we could organize in Republican controlled districts.  We know that there are many Republicans in Washington that share our values, and it would be wonderful to know them better.

What can you do right now?  Fill out this quick petition for action, to let your Senator know you care, and that you noticed:

https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/tell-olympia-to-value-your-vote?source=direct_link&referrer=wa-voting-justice