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'Nothing about us without us' act would require more representation on legislative task forces, workgroups

A workgroup or task force examining an issue that tangibly affects an underrepresented community would be required to have them represented in the group.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A new bill being championed by self-advocates with disabilities and other marginalized groups would require more representation in legislative workgroups and task forces. 

House Bill 1541 would create the "Nothing About Us Without Us" Act. When a legislative workgroup or task force is working on an issue that "directly and tangibly" affects an underrepresented population, the legislature would be required to appoint a representative from that population to the workgroup.

Ivanova Smith is an advocate who says she has a mild intellectual and developmental disability. She recently headed up a rally at the Capitol calling for lawmakers to pass the legislation. 

"We really need to be able to have a say in these policies and let you guys hear it from the horse's mouth. That's how these policies are impacting us. Because we're the ones living with it every day! We should get to have a say too," Smith said.

Whether it's people experiencing homelessness, or how to care for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, legislators form work groups, a panel of experts, to come up with potential solutions. However, those panels don't always include members of the communities they're trying to help.

"I helped form this bill with a bunch of other self-advocates, saying hey we can't be having this happen all the time," Smith said. 

Smith worked with legislators and other advocates and came up with the bill requiring state workgroups to include traditionally underrepresented communities. 

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Darya Farivar, D- Seattle, is optimistic it will pass.

"If you're living it and are experiencing it every single day you have valid lived experiences and I would argue the expertise that needs to be included," she said.

Smith says those who have been left out deserve a seat at the table.

"We're not saying, 'Hey, you experts leave,' no, no, no, no, no. We're saying let's extend the table, let's put in more chairs and I need to hear from the experts but the experts need to hear from me," she said.

The "Nothing About Us Without Us" law would bring all sorts of communities into the lawmaking process, including farmers, teachers, even former inmates, as long as a legislative workgroup is dealing with something that would impact those groups. 

Smith says she's anxiously awaiting the committee voting on her bill, which happens Friday.


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