The following is a column from the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs regarding their key priorities in 2016.
By Ty Tufono & Lisa Dickinson
What issues matter to you?
Whether it’s college tuition, health care access, or immigrant and refugee services, these issues will be among many discussed when your state representatives and senators convene in Olympia for the 60-day legislative session on January 11.
The Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs serves as a bridge between our diverse communities and state policymakers. Throughout the year, members of the Commission examine a broad range of issues in the areas of education, health, human services, economic development, immigration, and civil rights.
At our November board meeting, commissioners approved a legislative agenda based on information and input from the public, community-based organizations, and state agencies.
Here are some of the key priorities we will be working on in 2016.
Supporting Educational Success
From teachers to text books to after-school programs, students of color want to see themselves reflected in the education system.
At the recent Pacific Islander UPRISE Education Summit, students spoke about the importance of schools recognizing and valuing the assets they bring to the classroom.
These concerns are embodied in the work of the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC), which releases an annual report to the legislature and governor. The report includes recommendations to recruit more teachers of color, raise the cultural competency of educators, and increase fairness in how school discipline policies are applied.
The Commission supports the EOGOAC’s comprehensive approach to address the opportunity gaps.
The recommendations will be considered during the legislative session through a bill sponsored by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, chair of the House Education Committee.
Improving Health Equity
In 1946, the first nuclear test in the Marshall Islands occurred, followed by 66 more over the next decade. Seventy years later, the Marshallese continue to feel the economic and health effects of those tests.
In November, commissioners heard about the health disparities impacting the Marshallese community in Washington. Although migrants from the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau pay state and federal taxes, Congress excluded them from receiving Medicaid benefits.
The Commission is concerned about this injustice and will partner with these communities on ways the state can improve their health outcomes.
Climbing the Economic Ladder
Recent immigrants and refugees bring innovation and determination to our state in their quest to build a better life for themselves and the next generation. However, many face a lack of economic opportunity due to barriers such as discrimination and language proficiency.
The Commission believes maintaining a pathway to help Washingtonians climb the economic ladder is vital. These include programs and services to support English language learners, skills training, housing, naturalization, and financial assistance for basic needs.
Accessing the Legislature
Engaging in the political process can seem daunting.
Fortunately, whether or not you are able to visit the state capital, there are many ways to get involved. Public hearings and floor votes are televised on TVW, Washington’s Public Affairs Network, and messages can be relayed to your representatives through the legislative hotline at 1 (800) 562-6000 (interpreter services available upon request).
The Commission will convene twice during the legislative session to hear from community members and then elevate your concerns to state leaders. Our 12 governor-appointed commissioners are eager to meet with residents throughout the state.
Our state’s policymakers welcome your participation to ensure their decisions reflect the communities they represent.
Ty Tufono and Lisa Dickinson serve as the Chair and Vice Chair of the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. Sign up for the Commission’s e-mail newsletter at capaa.wa.gov. Send your feedback at [email protected] or call (360) 725-5667.