WCSAP Legislative Session in Review Policy Update, June 2021

Supporting survivors of sexual assault (ESHB 1109)
Passed, effective 4/26/2021

This bill requires the Office of the Attorney General, in consultation with the WA Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), to collect status updates on previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits collected prior to July 24, 2015; requires the Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) to conduct an annual case review program to review sexual assault investigations and prosecutions for the purposes of improving training and case outcomes; and expands the statutory rights of sexual assault survivors.

What’s next?

This summer, WCSAP will be reaching out to connect with law enforcement, prosecution, and medical statewide associations to learn more about how they plan to communicate these new requirements, provide training, and/or follow up if referrals to providers are not being made. WCSAP will also provide further communication for sexual assault advocates about how you can work with your local partners to implement these changes.

How does this connect to your work?

This legislation requires that when a survivor reports to law enforcement or medical providers, a referral is made to a community-based sexual assault advocate. This bill went into effect as soon as it was signed, so it is already the law in Washington. If referrals are made as required, this could significantly increase the number of survivors who are seeking sexual assault medical and legal advocacy from local programs. 

Please reach out if you have any questions or ideas about implementation of 1109 in your communities. Particularly, we know that programs may not have the staffing capacity to meet the need if referrals are made as required, so please connect with us if this is the case for you - this information could be a part of further budget discussions in upcoming legislative sessions. 

Modernizing, harmonizing, and improving civil protection orders (E2SHB 1320)
Passed, effective 7/1/22 (*with exceptions)

This bill will harmonize protection orders in Washington by offering a single petition form that may be used to file for any type of protection order (except an Extreme Risk Protection Order). It also addresses recognition of Canadian protection orders and entering Tribal protection orders into state court databases, and revises laws regarding the surrender of weapons and firearms. 

What’s next?

This bill allows protection order hearings to be conducted in person or remotely effective 7/25/21. Two major work groups will convene to work on implementing other parts of this bill; both work groups will include sexual assault survivor advocates. 

  1. There is a state court subcommittee that is reviewing the civil protection order pattern forms. This is the subcommittee that will be combining all forms to be one single petition.
  2. The Gender and Justice Commission will be considering and making recommendations on language related to coercive control. The language on coercive control was one of the points of tension in this bill, with advocates understanding both the role and impacts of coercive control in sexual and domestic violence, and also the negative impact that increases in criminalization can have on survivors and communities.

How does this connect to your work?

Legal advocates across the state have said that remote hearings during COVID-19 have increased safety options for survivors who choose to petition for protection orders. Your advocacy matters - advocate feedback helped make this option a reality for survivors ongoing. 

  • As of 7/25/2021, survivors should be able to apply online for protection orders themselves, advocates should be able to assist survivors with applying online, and advocates should be allowed to accompany, sit with, and speak for survivors in protection order hearings. 
  • By 12/21/2021, the single protection order petition form will be completed and in use at courts across the state and the Gender and Justice Commission will have made its recommendations on the language of coercive control.

Youth who commit sexual offenses (SSB 5123)
Failed to pass

This bill would have created developmentally appropriate responses to youth who commit sexual offenses by amending the sex offender registration and notification requirements for certain individuals under age 18. 

Extensive research shows youth sex offender registries do not prevent harm or future sexual offenses. Furthermore, youth sex offender registries are associated with an increase in likelihood of suicide, physical assault, and child sexual abuse for the youth required to register. 

At the same time, survivors who are sexually abused/assaulted by young offenders experience real trauma, and need validation of the harms they have experienced as well as opportunities for healing, justice, and accountability. Many survivors say that they want the person who harmed them to admit what they did, and then to change their behavior so that the offender doesn't commit sexual assault against anyone else. To meet this need, juveniles with problematic sexual behavior (and their families/support systems) need access to effective and affordable treatment aimed at ending the sexual offending behavior.

What’s next?

The Sex Offender Policy Board (SOPB) is charged with considering and making recommendations to the legislature by the end of this calendar year. The SOBP will make recommendations on how to proceed with juvenile sex offender registration and notification - which could include abolishing all registration and notification; making it information that is not public but only available to law enforcement, schools, or employers; making no changes to current law; or something else.

Additionally, the SOPB will make recommendations for how to develop a treatment infrastructure to provide affordable, accessible, and effective treatment for youth with problematic sexual behaviors.

How does this connect to your work?

WCSAP is a member of the SOPB, and open to feedback from members about your perspectives and input on registration, notification, and effective and accessible treatment for juveniles with problematic sexual behaviors.

Survivors Justice Act (HB 1293)
Failed to pass

Survivors’ involvement with the criminal legal system is overwhelmingly the result of their trauma, acts of self-defense, lacking funds for legal representation, and not fitting the racist stereotype of the “perfect victim”. 

What’s next?

This bill is likely to come back again in the next legislative session. This was not a bill that WCSAP was tracking in the past session (due to capacity), but it is likely to be a priority for support if it comes back. Please let us know if you have comments or input on this bill.

How does this connect to your work?

This bill would have provided sentencing alternatives for survivors and allowed the court to reduce a survivor’s sentence under some circumstances. It would be especially important to have testimony from advocates and survivors who can speak to the impact that trauma, criminalization, and incarceration has on the lives of survivors.

Farmworker overtime (ESSB 5172)
Passed, effective 7/25/21

Washington is well known for our agricultural production and the pandemic highlighted farmworkers as essential during times of economic uncertainty. Exclusion from the opportunity to earn overtime pay, farmworkers across our state remain among the poorest workers. This bill requires employers to pay farmworkers time-and-a-half for all labor performed over 40 hours per week. This will make Washington the first state to fully end overtime exclusions for farm workers. 

What’s next?

This requirement will be phased in gradually from 2022 to 2024.

How does this connect to your work?

People who are marginalized in society experience increased targeting for sexual violence, and systems place increased barriers for them when reporting and seeking help. Economic justice means survivors have more options and support for healing, justice, and safety. 

Restoring voter eligibility (ESHB 1078)
Passed, effective 1/1/22

This bill restores the voting rights of people who have been convicted of a felony (regardless of the type of conviction) but are not serving a sentence of total confinement (for example, people who are under community supervision are not under total confinement). This legislation will restore voting rights to more than 20,000 people. 

What’s next?

As of 1/1/2022, people who are not under total confinement by the Department of Corrections will have their voter eligibility rights restored. Moving forward, voting rights will not be revoked due to court debt, and upon release from prison, voting rights will be automatically restored. People will still need to register to vote.

How does this connect to your work?

Barring people from their right to vote and participate in our democracy does not increase survivor or community safety. This bill allows all citizens in the community to vote, and gives a voice in our democracy to Washingtonians directly impacted by our criminal legal system. Especially for survivor defendants, voting rights restoration gives those who have experienced violence and abuse the ability to participate in choosing local prosecuting attorneys, sheriffs, judges, city and county council members, and school board members, in addition to participating in state and federal elections.   

VOCA Fix
Passed U.S. House of Representatives; Awaiting Action by U.S. Senate

Deposits into the federal Crime Victims Fund have dropped dramatically in the last several years, leading to a substantial cut to VOCA victim assistance grants to states (which then get distributed to local programs). Survivor advocacy organizations across the country are facing budget cuts, staff layoffs, and even program closures while demand for services is growing. Congress can fix this by ensuring federal financial penalties from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements are treated the same way as penalties resulting from criminal convictions - that they go to serve and compensate survivors of crime.

On March 17, 2021, the House overwhelmingly passed the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 to fix the problem. However, we have yet to see movement in the Senate. It is time for the Senate to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Survivors have already missed out on approximately $500 million this year, and every day the Senate delays is a day that survivors lose out on money. 

What’s next?

Legislative advocacy continues to be needed to urge Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell to bring the VOCA Fix bring it up for a vote. WCSAP and our federal legislative partner, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), continue this advocacy. You can call and/or email Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senate Minority Leader McConnell and tell them to prioritize victims and bring the House-passed VOCA Fix Act with no amendments to the floor for a vote immediately. 

How does this connect to your work?

Reductions in VOCA funds can lead directly to reductions in funding for sexual assault advocacy and other services for survivors. VOCA dollars account for nearly 95% of federal funds distributed by the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy (OCVA) for sexual assault services in Washington State.

State Budget Amendments to Address Reductions in Federal VOCA Funding
Passed, effective 7/1/22

The state budget will include one-time additional funds of $15 million spread over the next two state fiscal years ($6.8 million the first year and $8.2 million the second year). The Office of Crime Victims Advocacy (OCVA) will administer the funds as guided by the existing VOCA State Plan. 

What’s next?

It is likely that we will experience further significant VOCA reductions from the federal government again for the following fiscal year (starting July 1, 2022), and further budget advocacy at the state level will again be a priority in the next legislative session.

How does this connect to your work?

These funds are meant to cover a shortfall in federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds, which had resulted in the suspension of two victim services funding opportunities: Service Enhancement and Expansion and Unmet Needs for Victims and Survivors; plus potential cuts to civil legal advocacy and victim-witness programs. 

The American Rescue Plan (COVID-19 Relief Funds)

The American Rescue Plan includes $198 million dollars for rape crisis centers. The American Rescue Plan passed through the budget reconciliation process, and only certain committees were included in the process. The Judiciary Committee was not included and so for that reason, programs in the Department of Justice (like the Sexual Assault Services Program - SASP) could not be funded. Committee staff and advocates worked very hard to find a way forward for sexual assault relief funds. The relief funds flow through the Family Violence Prevention & Services (FVPSA) Program Office at the Department of Health and Human Services.

What’s next?

The FVPSA office is now trying to implement these funds intended specifically for rape crisis centers. As you can imagine, it is challenging to implement a new, crisis-oriented program with limited administration funds and a short timeline. We likely will have more information about how this funding will be distributed by the end of June.

How does this impact my work?

This funding is both vital and historic - these are the first relief funds specifically for sexual assault advocacy and services. Though we don’t have all the details, programs may be able to use these funds to provide flexible funding for survivors, purchase equipment for staff to work remotely, purchase personal protective equipment, make up for losses in fundraising and individual donations, and meet the increased requests for services that we have seen arise during the past months.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization of 2021
Passed U.S. House of Representatives; Awaiting Action by U.S. Senate

On March 17, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1620, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021. This VAWA Reauthorization bill reflects the input and many of the priorities of the domestic and sexual assault movement. The bill takes a holistic approach, addressing the complex realities of survivors’ lives. It maintains established protections, while also addressing persistent gaps. Specifically and importantly, H.R. 1620:

  • provides targeted resources to communities of color; 
  • creates additional pathways to justice beyond criminal legal responses; 
  • improves economic protections; 
  • provides safe, affordable housing options; 
  • restores tribal jurisdiction so tribes can hold non-native perpetrators accountable;
  • increases resources for prevention; 
  • closes dangerous legal loopholes in existing federal domestic violence-related firearms laws; 
  • maintains vital non-discrimination protections; and
  • continues to invest in lifesaving programs.

What’s next?

The VAWA Reauthorization Act has not yet been brought to the floor in the Senate. We hope to see a bipartisan Senate bill that includes all of the above bullet points move forward later this summer.

How does this impact my work?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) determines federal protections for survivors and the focus of federal funding. A better VAWA could mean increased investment in advocacy and healing for survivors and sexual violence prevention. Furthermore, a better VAWA would shift resources from an over-investment in criminal legal responses, to funding for community-driven solutions and responses. VAWA also provides vital funding in our state for sexual assault survivor advocacy, including through the STOP and Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP); last year, Washington received more than $1.1 million in federal VAWA funds through the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Additionally, many local programs receive competitive grants that are funded through VAWA.