Lawmakers seek to reduce racial disparities in Washington state

  • Sunday, February 10, 2019 5:00pm
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WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA—A group of 46 Democratic representatives aims to create an Office of Equity in Washington state to promote access to equitable opportunities and reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

House Bill 1783 was introduced by Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac. She explained her extensive work over the past decade to create this bill in order to reduce health disparity and increase opportunities for citizens of the state.

“It’s our responsibility to really codify this one office,” said Gregerson at a public hearing. “It’s a way to engage and use community outreach in a more authentic and equal way.” According to the legislation, the population of Washington state has become increasingly more diverse over the last few decades. The percentage of people of color in the state has more than doubled since 2010, and it is projected to comprise half of Washington’s population by 2050, as referenced in the bill.

As the demographics of the state continue to change, more people face inequalities in areas of education, poverty, employment and health, the bill states. “Those that are more black and brown are likely to have the most amount of despair,” said Gregerson. The office can help to provide coordination or collaboration to understand best practices to eliminate systemic inequities, she explained.

HB 1783 seeks to foster a culture of accountability within the state government in an effort to promote opportunity for vulnerable people. As mentioned in the legislation, inequities of race, ethnicity and gender come at a great economic and social cost, which the Office of Equity would help alleviate. The Office of Equity would be created within the Office of the Governor for the purpose of promoting access to equitable opportunities and resources to reduce disparities, according to the bill.

RaShelle Davis, senior policy advisor for Gov. Jay Inslee, spoke on behalf of the governor. She highlighted the importance of decreasing disparities within health, employment and the criminal justice system. “The overall health and wellbeing of residents in the state of Washington is one of the highest culminations with low unemployment rates, increases in the standard of living and high educational attainment,” Davis said.

The governor strongly supports the creation of the Equity Office, which was reflected in his budget, and “creates a unique opportunity for Washington to be the leader of the nation,” she said.

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