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March 9, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 10
 
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Legislative Update from Equal Rights Washington
Legislative Update from Equal Rights Washington
Legislative Update from Equal Rights Washington By Lisa Walls The 2007 legislative session may be a banner year for the passage of legislation important to the LGBT community. All the bills on Equal Rights Washington's legislative agenda (except the Marriage Equality bill) made it past the first cut off--the date by which a bill must pass out of committee if it is to be eligible for passage during the current legislative session. That date fell on February 28 this year.

Among the bills ERW is lobbying for and eager to see passed are the Domestic Partnership (DP) bill, the Cyber Bullying bill, the Healthy Youth Act, and the bill establishing state family and medical leave insurance, with language that includes coverage for domestic partners. (ERW's full legislative agenda can be viewed at www.EqualRightsWashington.org.)

The Domestic Partnership bill passed the Senate floor 28 to 19; the Cyber Bullying bill passed through the Senate 42 to 6; the Senate approved the Healthy Youth Act 30 to 19; the bill on family and medical leave insurance hasn't been voted on yet in either chamber.

As the DP bill moves to a vote on the House floor, its prospects for passage are excellent. A majority of Representatives are co-sponsors of the bill. The governor has said she'll sign it when it lands on her desk. Same-sex couples in Washington (and heterosexual couples where one partner is over 62) can look forward to being able to register as domestic partners. Registered domestic partners will gain a limited--though essential--package of vital protections. "It's not just a matter of gaining a few basic rights without having to hire an attorney," said Joshua Friedes, Advocacy Director of Equal Rights Washington. "Some of the protections in the DP bill are rights that people don't think about, even if they have a will or healthcare proxy."

Seniors will also benefit from the DP bill. Many older couples choose not to marry because they know they'll lose much-needed Social Security benefits, and other income built over a lifetime with a former spouse. With the passage of this bill, older Washingtonians, one of the states most vulnerable populations, will be protected. "The irony is that same-sex couples are fighting for marriage equality to protect our families, while in many instances marriage can create great economic instability for older, previously married adults," said Friedes. "The result is that the Domestic Partnership bill represents important emergency protections for same-sex couples while we seek full marriage equality, and allows some senior couples the ability to have basic protections without losing economic stability."

The Healthy Youth Act will also help protect a vulnerable population. Research has shown that a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV. Adolescents need medically accurate, age-appropriate information about HIV infection and AIDS and family planning. It is vital that young people receive real-time information on how they can protect themselves. The Healthy Youth Act is particularly important to youth living in more conservative areas of Washington State.

The Cyber Bullying bill reflects the need to protect students from classmates' harassment over the Internet. The internet has been a way for gay and lesbian youth to end their isolation and access services; it has also been a vehicle for bullying and sexual predators. "The Cyber Bullying bill represents a common sense add on to the state's existing anti-bullying law. Our laws need to keep pace with technology," said Friedes.

The real heroes this year are the following leaders: Senator Ed Murray, and Representatives David Upthegrove, Jim Moeller, Joe McDermott, Jamie Pederson, and the many non-gay legislators who are also leading the struggle to end legal and social discrimination against gay and lesbian Washingtonians. It took 29 years to pass the Anderson-Murray anti-discrimination bill. In only one session, equality-minded legislators, ERW, and allied organizations and faith communities across Washington State have worked hard to pass the Domestic Partnership bill, the Cyber Bullying bill, the Healthy Youth Act, and a bill that would establish state family medical leave insurance that covers domestic partners. The LGBT community and our allies will likely have much to be proud of when the session ends on April 22.

One reason for the success this session is the election victories in 2006. ERW and the ERW PAC spent over $125,000 electing equality-minded candidates. Fighting for the Majority raised over $40,000 for the equality-minded electoral movement, and private donors concerned about equality donated tens of thousands of dollars more. The Victory Fund backed Jamie Pedersen in his bid to win a hotly contested open seat and provided technical assistance to ERW. The Washington Stonewall Democrats phonebanked equality-minded voters. HRC contributed $74,000 to ERW's PAC. Equality-minded legislators won open seats in 2006, and equality-minded challengers unseated anti-equality incumbents.

"But we can't rest. We have a lot of educating to do before we have a marriage-equality majority in the legislature," said Friedes. "We have an equal or even greater amount of work to do if we're going to build a marriage majority in the electorate. And we have a great deal of work to do to make sure that the full needs of the LGBT community are met. The transgender community, members of the LGBT community who are not U.S. citizens, low-income folks, persons with HIV and AIDS, LGBT youth and seniors, and other subsets of our community have needs and rights that have not yet been addressed by state, municipal, and local governments. And we have to confront racism, in all its forms, within and beyond our community. We know we can't do everything at once and we know we can't accomplish our job without building strong coalitions. If we continue our work unabated and intensified, never again will it take 29 years to pass a single piece of LGBT-equality legislation."

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