Jay Inslee’s executive order could restore some affirmative action guidelines in the Washington state government

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OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order Monday to potentially restore some affirmative action policies for Washington state‘s government procurement, education and hiring.

Monday’s order begins a process to evaluate how Washington state agencies and schools can diversify and achieve equity while complying with a two-decade-old, voter-approved law that bans affirmative action based on gender or race .

It was unclear on Monday what the order – which includes requirements for future reports – will achieve in the short term.

The governor first announced his intention to repeal and replace the guidelines after meeting with black community leaders earlier this month. The decision was met with quick criticism from opponents of affirmative action, who ran successful campaigns against affirmative action at the ballot box in 1998 and 2019.

Monday’s order reversed the then-governor’s executive directive. Gary Locke bans government agencies from taking affirmative action after Washington voters banned it in 1998.

In a statement, Inslee noted it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and said his order was aimed at “achieving justice within the law in our state.”

“Achieving equal opportunity has always been fundamental to our country’s history, and each of us has a responsibility to stand up and uphold this inalienable right for all Washingtonians,” the governor said in prepared remarks. “Everyone deserves a fair chance to live to their fullest – everyone.”

In order of Monday, Inslee directed state personnel officials to develop a strategy to further diversify public hiring by October.

These officials “will proactively address and dismantle repressive systems and practices in the workplace and build new, equitable systems to reach a workforce that is representative of Washington’s diversity and practices cultural humility,” the order said.

In addition, government personnel officials are required to require all government employees in Inslee’s jurisdiction to complete diversity, equity and inclusion training.

Similarly, on education, Inslee directs the Washington Student Achievement Council to produce a report analyzing “access and achievement patterns across student subpopulations” and faculty, and demographics of state equity in public educational institutions.

According to the regulation, this report must also examine and describe gaps in existing measures to eliminate discrimination in higher education.

In contracting, the governor’s executive order directs all state agencies to use a set of guidelines known as “Instruments for equity in public spending.” This document outlines how Washington agencies should create “meaningful ways” for small and diverse businesses to win business.

These tools have been available since last year, but have not been necessary until now, according to Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk. Agencies have six months to implement these and other measures in order, he added.

The new executive order does not change other state and federal legal requirements — including the voter-approved ban on affirmative action, the governor’s office said. Government agencies must consult with prosecutors on how to comply with the regulations.

Inslee’s announcement is the latest in a 20-year debate by Washingtonians and officials about the role of affirmative action. In 1998, voters strongly supported an initiative at the ballot box, led by Tim Eyman, known as Initiative 200, to eliminate affirmative action based on gender or race. Washington voters reaffirmed the ban in a second statewide vote in 2019.

But in 2017, the Washington Attorney General Office issued a statement stating that the positive action ban “does not ban all race- and gender-responsive action.” With this opinion, proponents of Affirmative Action considered Locke’s policy, which banned the policy in the state government 20 years earlier, as too broad.

Opponents of Affirmative Action in Washington have called the policy divisive, claiming that such policies end up rewarding people based on gender, race or ethnicity rather than merit.

Linda Yang, a spokeswoman for the 2019 Affirmative Action Campaign, said earlier this month that voters have clearly rejected affirmative action guidelines in the two nationwide ballots.

“I think he (Inslee) should respect the will of the voters. If you want to change the law, maybe take another initiative. I’m pretty sure we could beat them again,” Yang said then.

Locke, a strong Affirmative Action supporter — who worked on a 2019 campaign to lift the ban, an effort that narrowly failed — praised the move.

“I applaud Governor Inslee’s actions today,” Locke said in prepared remarks. “Our state is deeply committed to providing equal opportunity for all, and now that the Attorney General’s office has changed its mind, it is entirely appropriate to repeal 98-01 and replace it with something that better reflects our values.” “

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