Around fifty people gathered at Asian Counseling Referral Service (ACRS) on January 10 to discuss bills in the Legislature that could affect the state’s Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
The meeting was led by Diane Narasaki, executive director of ACRS, who outlined the 2018 legislative agenda of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) of Washington state. The agenda includes such issues as climate change, civil rights, healthcare and immigration.
Narasaki opened the meeting with an overview of how welfare cuts have affected minorities, particularly with the passage of President Bill Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.
Turning the country’s welfare system into a federal entitlement, the measure lent states more flexibility in how they spent their welfare funds and establishing tougher work requirements on poor single mothers and increasing discrimination against minorities.
During the meeting, Narasaki discussed how climate change disproportionately impacts marginalized communities in low-income neighborhoods which are exposed to excess carbon emissions from nearby freeways.
Places like Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, she said, are inundated with air and noise pollution from the planes flying overhead from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
While Washington has yet to pass a carbon tax, Narasaki spoke on behalf of APIC endorsing Governor Inslee’s plan to impose a statewide carbon pollution fee. The revenue generated from such fees should be committed to renewable energy projects as well as helping vulnerable communities who are most hurt by the effects of climate change.
Other topics included creating a premium assistance program providing healthcare for Pacific Islanders under House Bill 1291 and Senate Bill 5683, which failed to pass the state senate last year.
The measure would apply to low-income immigrants from the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau who live in Washington.
Narasaki on behalf of APIC also called for the Legislature to allocate an additional $250,000 for Washington’s Aged Blind and Disabled Program to provide dental coverage for vulnerable immigrants.
Poor oral health has been linked to increased risk for heart disease according to the Mayo Clinic.
As a preventative medicine, Narasaki said, dental care should be a moral and fiscal consideration for the Legislature to reduce the state’s overall healthcare costs.
“If you look at it from an economic perspective, it’s a good investment,” Narasaki said. “But we care about human beings and we know that this is the right thing to do.”
Joseph Lachman, ACRS civic engagement program manager, talked on behalf of APIC about the role America’s Cold War-era nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific played in increasing risks of cancer for its residents. Providing healthcare for vulnerable Pacific Islander immigrants, he said, is long overdue.
APIC has also asked the Legislature to support I-940, De-escalate Washington, a measure that would require law enforcement to receive violence de-escalation, mental-health, and first-aid training, and provide first-aid; and change standards for use of deadly force, adding a “good faith” standard and independent investigation.
Sponsored by state Sen. David Frockt (D-46), the bill would change the existing statute that makes it almost impossible for prosecutors to criminally charge law-enforcement officers who wrongfully use deadly force. The bill received no legislative action last year.
Current law states that an officer cannot be charged if he or she acted in good faith and without malice when using deadly force.
The measure would remove the word “malice” and establish a clearer definition of “good faith” as it relates to police conduct. The bill would also include a dedicated state account to fund officer training, community outreach and a system to collect data on deadly use-of-force incidents.
Lachman related the bill to the fatal shooting of Tommy Le by a King County Sheriff’s deputy in Burien on June 14 as just one case that the bill would help.
Le, who was shot twice in the back and a third time in the back of his hand, allegedly approached deputies with an ink pen in his hand, refusing to stop and drop it, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
The initial press release sent out by the Sheriff’s Office did not specify what Le was holding when he was shot, leading to media reports that Le was approaching deputies with a knife.
By law, Lachman said, it is always difficult to prove malice because, “You have to prove what an officer was thinking.” The bill, however, would be a step in the right direction, Lachman said.
The 2020 census
The meeting also discussed issues at the federal level such as the 2020 census’s impact on all in the country without citizenship.
Late last year, Census Bureau reportedly received a letter from a Justice Department official, who made the case for asking about citizenship.
The Census Bureau will collect responses in a routine field test of its 2020 questions starting in March – the final draft of those questions is due to Congress by the end of that month.
The data collected by the next headcount is used to determine how legislative districts are drawn, how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives each state gets, and the distribution of more than $600 billion in federal funds a year.
Lachman said that the question is not only unnecessary, but could discourage turnout for fear of deportation. “People who are most marginalized could be pushed further to the margins.”
The meeting also outlined several community projects, including the creation of a $600,000 Innovation Learning Center and Community Gathering Space Capital Project requested by the Filipino Community of Seattle.
The 4,800-square foot project center would be located in Filipino Community Village and include 70 new housing units for low-income seniors, and space for a computer lab, cultural classes, and a robotics training center.
Former Washington state Rep. Velma Veloria also discussed the 107-year-old Tacoma Community House’s plan to raise $11 million to replace the existing building with a new two-story, 27,000 square foot facility on the same block.
Lachman also outlined the Friends of Mukai group’s request to the Legislature to allocate $250,000 for the restoration of the Mukai Farmstead and Garden. The property was built and owned by the Mukai family, who went into exile during World War II to avoid incarceration under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
“[We are] in a time when it’s more important than ever that we preserve stories of immigrants and help people understand why their stories matter,” Lachman said.