GUEST COLUMN | Addressing needs for safe, secure lives

When opening a newspaper, flipping through a magazine or browsing a blog, it is difficult to miss the news surrounding the Legislature’s attempt to reform Washington’s medical marijuana market. I am hopeful that my efforts to align the currently unregulated marijuana market with that of the regulated Initiative 502-driven recreational market will pay off.

My Senate Bill 5519, the Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Act, has been scheduled for a public hearing on Friday, Feb. 13, in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee. I am hopeful that the hearing will fuel a robust discussion and debate.

Also being heard that day are SB 5493 (Cannabis Health & Beauty Aids) and SB 5858 (Cannabis & Economic Development Committee).

But for now, I would like to focus on some other bills that I have introduced that haven’t garnered as much attention from the press.


Soaring rents

The price tag to live in Seattle is daunting, and the primary factor is soaring rents. It’s not just people on fixed incomes who are affected by major rent increases. Middle-class and working-class families are steadily finding that rents are beyond their budgets.

With too few housing options available, renters need more time to cope with the rising market costs. That’s why I introduced SB 5377, to require notice of rent increases of more than 10 percent be provided 90 days in advance, up from 30 days currently. Local jurisdictions would have the option to extend tenant relocation assistance to a broader base of renters. It is absolutely necessary that we enact common-sense changes that give tenants fair warning of changes to their rents and more comprehensive assistance if they must relocate.

This has been a critical issue for many who have lived in their apartments for years, sometimes for decades, such as with tenants of Lockhaven in Ballard. This is especially the case when new owners plan on major rehabs of the buildings and need to have tenants move out during the rehab and then follow with huge rent increases.


Sexual assault

Last to mention, but far from least, is the horror of hearing about young college students and children who have been sexually assaulted. Just as disturbing is hearing how many of them feel voiceless, fear retaliation and don’t know where to turn for help after the assault.

The problem is so widespread that the Center for Disease Control has determined that sexual violence poses a public health crisis. This crisis seems to be magnified on college campuses. An estimated one in every five women attending college suffer rape or some form of sexual assault. In addition, 6 percent of men are sexually assaulted during their college careers. With that said, the issue of campus sexual assault remains a deeply gender-specific issue, with women representing the majority of victims.

To address this devastating epidemic, I have introduced SB 5518, which would establish a uniform process for investigations and disciplinary proceedings related to sexual violence at institutions of higher education. It also would mandate four-year institutions of higher education to create sexual violence-awareness campaigns and conduct campus violence assessment surveys to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses.

Since students are especially at risk during their first three months on campus, it is important that new students are quickly made aware of the prevalence of campus sexual violence. By raising awareness, we can better prepare our students to watch for warning signs and influence bystanders to interfere when they detect someone could become a victim.

It’s not just students at the collegiate level facing the threat of sexual abuse; unfortunately, students at the K-12 level are at risk, too. In some cases, students are at risk of sexual harassment and misconduct from school personnel. Under legislation that I am introducing this session, SB 5517, school districts would be required to provide ongoing training to staff and teachers about the prevalence of sexual harassment, indicators of sexual harassment, offender patterns and the impact of sexual harassment on childhood development. And students and parents, as well, would be notified of their rights and responsibilities and to whom to take concerns and complaints.

Having served as an expert in several lawsuits against school districts for failing to provide the appropriate standard of care for students, I know how essential this legislation is.

These bills — though they address different needs — aim to enhance the quality of life for people throughout our communities.  It is my hope that we continue to find ways to improve our community wherever and whenever possible.

SEN. JEANNE KOHL-WELLES represents the 36th Legislative District in the Washington state Senate. To comment on this column, write to