By Nancy B. Greer
President & CEO
On several occasions this spring, the Federation and our partner organizations were honored to participate in bill-signing ceremonies in Governor Jay Inslee’s office. It was exciting to be invited to join a civic ritual where we witnessed, by the stroke of a pen, the Jewish values that underpin our work take tangible form as law in the state of Washington.
The bill-signing ceremonies that we attended were the culmination of a great deal of hard work that our Federation advocacy team puts into advancing our Puget Sound Jewish community’s priorities during Washington State Legislature sessions. That hard work paid off in the 2019 session in significant and impressive victories for those priorities, which included combating antisemitism and hate, strengthening the social safety net for vulnerable families, supporting immigrants and refugees, preventing gun violence, and supporting the vital work of our local Jewish agencies.
The wins were the result of working in strong coalitions with allies, inside and outside the Jewish community. Thanks to the unflagging support of our generous donors, the Federation secured enactment of legislation that will make a lasting impact on our community. With the 2019 session behind us, it’s a good time to highlight what was accomplished.
The Federation’s critical work of fighting antisemitism and hate took on imperative urgency following the horrific shooting in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Advocating for legislation that counters hate and protects our systems of democracy is one of the ways we’re carrying on this fight. To that end, we secured passage of three high-priority bills in the Legislature — strengthening the state’s law against hate crimes, developing best practices for Holocaust and genocide education in our public schools, and mandating religious accommodation for students of all faiths in our institutions of higher education.
Our state has the dubious distinction of leading the U.S. in increasing hate crimes. The Federation partnered with ADL and groups representing the Muslim, Latinx, LGBTQ, and other targeted communities to secure passage of House Bill 1732 with strong bipartisan support. The legislation increased civil penalties for hate crimes and clarified the list of incidents motivated by prejudice, such as attacks on individuals wearing religious garb. HB 1732 also established a broad-based advisory group to, among other assignments, recommend best practices and policy changes for fighting hate crimes in schools and workplaces.
Working with the Holocaust Center for Humanity, the Federation secured unanimous passage of Senate Bill 5612 to develop best practices for Holocaust and genocide education, which has been shown to deepen empathy and reduce bias. The legislation also authorized state funds for the Holocaust center to train middle and high school teachers in these best practices.
Partnering with other faith communities, the Federation won passage of Senate Bill 5166, which ensures that students in Washington colleges and universities need not choose between their studies and their faith. Under the legislation, students can request reasonable accommodation from professors if they are unable to fulfill an academic requirement due to a religious observance.
Budgets are a clear statement of values. To strengthen the safety net and advance social justice, the Federation worked closely with Jewish Family Service to secure a $2 million increase for naturalization services that serve immigrants, higher funding for the state’s Housing and Essential Needs grant program serving low-income adults, and a boost in the Housing Trust Fund, which supports development of affordable housing projects. A reform that eased onerous restrictions in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program also passed thanks to our community’s advocacy.
All of these accomplishments were the fruit of collective caring. The issues that matter most to you, and the values that ground and guide our people, are common threads that run through all of our legislative advocacy. Thanks to collaboration, coalition building, and the generous support of our donors, we are putting policies in place that will positively impact the Jewish community and beyond. With your partnership, we can continue advocating effectively to build safer, stronger communities for all.