Recap of Legislative Session- Civil Rights Legislation
The 2009 Legislative Session came to an end on April 26th. Governor Gregoire signed into law a number of new bills relating to civil rights, thanks to the hard work of legislators, community organizers and civil rights advocates. Bills that passed include:
Expanding the rights of state-registered domestic partners (SB5688)
Same-sex domestic partners registered in Washington State will now receive equal treatment under the law as married couples. In 2008, the Governor signed legislation providing domestic partners with 160 of the more than 400 rights and responsibilities afforded to married couples. This year's Domestic Partnership Expansion bill grants approximately 250 additional rights and responsibilities to registered domestic partners.
Voting rights restoration (HB1517)
People who finish serving their sentences within the criminal justice system will automatically have their right to vote restored. Under the old system, individuals were required to petition to restore their right to vote after they'd paid all legal financial obligations. It was an arduous and costly process that resulted in disproportionately denying the vote to communities of color.
Equal treatment for women and girls in recreational programs (SB 5967)
Community athletic programs for children and adults statewide will be required to provide equal athletic opportunities without regard for gender. Cities, towns, and counties must adopt and publicize policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in community recreation programs. Title IX and Washington State law already provided protection against discrimination based on a person's sex in educational programs such as high school and college sports - this new law will extend equity to community athletic activities.
Seattle Parks and Recreation has a policy of nondiscrimination for use of parks that includes race, color, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, political ideology, age, creed, religion, ancestry, national origin and disability (see SMC 18.12).
Tenant protections for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking (HB1856)
This new law adds significant protection for tenants who are victims of unlawful harassment. A tenant may terminate a rental or lease agreement without further obligation under the agreement if:
(1) The tenant provides the landlord with written notice that s/he was the victim of unlawful harassment within 90 days of the reported act or incident; and
(2) The tenant provides the landlord with either a valid protection order or a record of report signed by a qualified third party.
Enforcement Update: Housing Discrimination in Craigslist Ads
The Seattle Office for Civil Rights periodically monitors Craigslist and other online housing listings to ensure landlords are not discriminating against people in rental housing. Since January 2009, SOCR has settled three cases involving landlords who posted ads on Craigslist that stated they would not rent to people with Section 8 vouchers.
Section 8 is a federally funded housing program that provides rental assistance money to people who fall under a certain income bracket. In 1989 Seattle passed an ordinance making it illegal to discriminate against a person who is using a Section 8 voucher to obtain housing.
Because of the similar nature of these cases, SOCR developed common settlement terms. (In a separate reasonable-cause Section 8 case, the charging party also received $3,500.) Landlords will attend fair housing training provided by Washington State Fair Housing Partners, and Section 8 voucher program training provided by the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA). The landlords also must post the City of Seattle's Fair Housing poster in their buildings and/or provide it to prospective renters. In addition, the landlords are required to submit information about their vacancies to SHA's Porchlight program vacancy list, which SHA provides to people who receive Section 8 vouchers. SOCR will monitor the landlords for the next two years by requiring the landlord to notify us when they have a vacancy and reviewing the advertisements used to rent the unit.
Sometimes landlords can engage in discriminatory conduct without realizing that their actions violate fair housing law. SOCR provides training to landlords and tenants on fair housing laws. Our services are free and confidential. If you would like more information about trainings, have questions about fair housing laws or feel you have been discriminated against, please call us at 206-684-4500 or visit us on the web at www.seattle.gov/civilrights.
RSJI Updates: Race and Social Justice Initiative Convenes Community Roundtable
This July the Seattle Office for Civil Rights will convene a Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable to support community change that reaches beyond City government. The Roundtable will have approximately twenty members, representing community-based organizations, philanthropic institutions, other public entities and business. It will focus on developing partnerships and resources that build on the City's efforts to address race-based disparities and increase community support for racial justice.
The Roundtable will focus on eliminating racial inequity in five focus areas: economic equity, environmental justice, criminal justice, health and education. Work groups will leverage resources and provide policy recommendations that address institutional racism within relevant agencies and organizations. Roundtable work groups will include key members of the Roundtable itself, as well as other strategic representatives who have content expertise and the ability to find additional resources.
The City of Seattle launched a Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) in 2005 to eliminate institutional racism and promote multiculturalism within City government. The Initiative's long-term goal is to change the underlying system that creates race-based disparities in our community and to achieve racial equity.