State Capitol Building in Olympia.

State Capitol Building in Olympia.

Kent City Council sets social justice reform as top state legislative request

City wants funds for mental health professional co-responder program

Kent city leaders plan to push hard in Olympia to convince the Legislature to fund a program for mental health professionals to work alongside police officers.

Briahna Murray, the city of Kent’s paid lobbyist in Olympia, told the City Council that more than 60 proposals by legislators focus on police reform, including funds for mental health professionals, establishing standardized use of force reporting requirements and to fund data collection from law enforcement agencies to identify and address racial disparity.

Councilmember Bill Boyce asked Murray if she thought there was a sense of urgency among state leaders for social justice reform and for her gut feeling of what might happen next session that begins Jan. 11.

“I think legislation is likely to pass on six to 12 bills in this arena,” Murray said. “There will be several budget allocations to move work forward.”

Murray said by mid-December it should be clear which bills will move forward for consideration starting in January. The 60 or so proposals so far are not in draft form so no specifics are available.

Boyce also asked Murray if she was confident the state would help fund the social justice reform programs.

“I think legislators know they can’t pass on to cities to find funds,” she said. “The state will be a funding partner. They acknowledge that.”

The Kent City Council last week approved changes in the proposed 2021-2022 city budget to spend $100,000 to research a mental health co-responder program and pay $50,000 for a police data analysis consultant. Council members are concerned about getting the new programs rolling and hope the Legislature will support statewide programs to set up in the cities.

“If they (legislators) say yes, good, but let the cities go fund this. …the cities already are strapped so the state will need to pay,” Boyce said.

The council approved its legislative agenda Oct. 20, with social justice reform leading the list.

Streamlined sales tax mitigation

The second highest priority approved by the council is to ask the Legislature to restore funding to the streamlined sales tax (SST) mitigation program. Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the measure in March to help save funds due to the impact of COVID-19 on tax revenue.

The Legislature had approved earlier in the year an additional six years of funding, which would have meant as much as $4 million per year to Kent, which lost revenue when legislation changed the state to a destination-based sales tax, taking away lots of tax revenue Kent had received from the many warehouses in the city.

“It will be a challenging request to move forward,” Murray said. “But our (local) legislators are encouraging us to make the case for SST mitigation.”

The city wants the Legislature to restore the funding from 2019 to 2021 and add the funds to the 2021 to 2023 budgets.

Other city projects

Besides the top two priorities, the city also will ask the Legislature for $3 million for a Panther Lake Community Park to serve a significantly under-served area of Kent; $1 million to help create a Gateway to Downtown at the new entry with the soon-to-be completed Fourth Avenue South and Willis Street roundabout; $5 million for the Meet Me on Meeker sidewalk extension from Kent Elementary School to downtown; $2 million to improve the Interurban Trail; and $20 million to complete the South 224th extension from the Valley to the East Hill with a three-lane arterial that includes curbs, gutters, sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping.

State outlook

“Police reform is a hot topic,” Murray said, along with racial equity bills.

Due to COVID-19, the Legislature next year is expected to be a virtual session, Murray said.

The Legislature will have a longer session because it’s a budget year. Legislators will approve three separate budgets for operating, capital and transportation. Murray said the estimated budget shortfall due to COVID-19 is about $4 billion, but the state has a rainy day fund of about $3 billion that could help fill that gap. State leaders also hope for more federal assistance.

Murray said there also could be new revenue and tax increases next session to bring in more money to the state.

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