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Morning Wire: Budget negotiations, Sen. Murray, Audit of jails

I interviewed US Rep. Kim Schrier this week, who framed something for me that I thought was interesting and a shift. She said that the politics of Washington DC were broken. And that bi-partisanship doesn’t mean working across the aisle. She said that when you have 75% of the American people supporting policy solutions, then that is clearly bi-partisan support, regardless of what one caucus or the other does in Congress. 

That Wall Street is no longer connected to the experience of Main Street is a threat to our economics, in my view. If, as Schrier implies, our law making is no longer connected to our public opinion, that is likely a threat to our politics in the same way. 

With help from Michael Goldberg

1. Where the budgets stand heading into negotiations 

The operating budget passed by House would appropriate $1.189 billion less over three years than the Senate alternative, leaving an unrestricted NGFO ending balance in 2023–25 of $63 million. The Washington Research Council found that floor amendments added $26.0 million in NGFO appropriations to the version that was passed by the House Appropriations Committee last week.

On top of the NGFO spending, the House version would appropriate $8.6 billion in federal dollars over three years. The House would appropriate less than the Senate from the NGFO, but more federal dollars than the Senate. Senate Ways & Means Chair, Sen. Christine Rolfes, said this week that budget writers from both chambers will start negotiating in earnest today. They are giving themselves about 12 days to nail down the final budget, leaving a few extra days for working out kinks. 

2. A conversation on the future of US health care with Sen. Patty Murray

This week, I had the chance to speak with US Sen. Patty Murray on her vision for health policy in the 117th Congress. If any federal health care legislation is to make it to President Biden’s desk, it will pass through the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor (HELP). Murray chairs the important HELP committee, which has jurisdiction on matters ranging from biomedical innovation to public health. 

I asked her about what it was like to represent the first state to have an active COVID case, and how that experience was treated in the nation’s capital. “I felt like I lived in two Washingtons – one at home where people got it, they were serious, they were trying to get their arms around it; and here in Washington DC where it [was different]. And we saw the results of that.”

3. ACLU: arguments made in support of amended bill are misleading

On Tuesday, the Wire reported that House Democrats appear unlikely to make changes requested by the ACLU of Washington and a coalition of 61 organizations to a bill that aims to end debt-based license suspensions. In response, the ACLU told reporter Michael Goldberg that the number of people supporters say would be helped by the bill in its current form is misleading,

Rep. David Hackney said the bill will result in 64,000 people being able to immediately have their suspended licenses reinstated. Another 46,000 people annually, Hackney said, would not become suspended in future years as compared to current law. But the amendment creates a “failure to appear” in court category, which will continue to penalize people with limited resources who would remain vulnerable to license suspensions, the ALCU argues. 

Sen. Jamie Pedersen told Goldberg that the bill still succeeds in decriminalizing “driving while poor,” an effort that has been ongoing as long as he’s been in the Legislature.

4.  End of an era for Olympia press corps

Veteran journalist Paul Queary highlights a proviso in this year’s Capital budget which clears the way for the state to sell the Ayers and Carlyon houses. The “White” and “Blue” houses house select reporters who cover Olympia. By the end of the year, reporters who still occupy them will be relocated to smaller offices in the Legislative Building. As Queary notes, it’s hard to fault the state for unloading a space that has been so underutilized out for years.

On the other hand, you’ll note no digital news outlets are renting space in the buildings. We’ve asked, and been told no. PublicolaGeekwireThe LensThe ObserverCrosscut, and our sister-site State of Reform all cover Olympia without the benefit of below-market rented space on campus. In fact, for the first time I believe, there appear to be more reporters and more organizations covering Olympia in the digital-first media than there are in traditional news outlets.

Today’s capitol press coverage is healthy and vibrant, in my view. It’s just not traditional.

5.  Audit finds issues of racial bias in housing and discipline in King County Jails

A year-long audit of King County adult jails found that Black people in the custody of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) were more likely to face negative consequences in jail, such as higher security housing, more rule infractions and more severe punishments. The audit, releases Tuesday, also found that the Seattle jail is almost three times more violent than Kent jail and that covid-induced social distancing reduced rates of fights and assaults.

Black people make up only 7% of the population of King County, but average over 36% of the adults incarcerated in county adult facilities. The average length of time that Black people stay in King County jails is 40% longer that other people in custody. These inequities were due in part to systemic racism in the criminal legal system outside of DAJD’s control, the audit reads. Among the 25 recommendations for improvement is risk-based scoring to provide more equitable discipline and housing assignments.

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