Jeanne Kohl-Welles

Health Care, Human Services and Equity and Social Justice

As Chair of the Board of Health and of the Council’s Health, Housing and Human Services Committee, my guiding belief is that investing in access to health care and preventative services will pay major dividends down the road.

It has been shown that inequities can lead to vastly disparate outcomes in terms of health and longevity.  Factors such as income, education, neighborhood, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and others can make a difference of a decade or more in lifespan.  A healthier King County means providing equitable access to health care, supportive services, and a fair criminal and juvenile justice system for all residents.

Structural and systemic discrimination, racism and explicit and implicit biases especially harm people of color, women, low-income people, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, immigrants and other marginalized groups.  I’ll continue to work on changes to both the justice system and the health care and human services delivery system – including mental and behavioral health care and substance abuse treatment – to maximize access for these historically underserved groups.

The Best Starts for Kids (BSK) Initiative was approved by voters in 2015 and funds programs to improve the health and well being of all King County’s children, youth and young adults.  The BSK programs invest in prevention and early intervention for children, youth, families, and communities, including ending the school-to-prison pipeline and racial disproportionality in our juvenile justice system, as well as the BSK’s YFHPI (Youth, Families, Homeless Prevention Initiative). Working on implementing those programs will continue to be a major priority in my second term.

During my time on the Council, I successfully sponsored legislation requiring the destruction of forfeited firearms by the King County Sheriff’s Office. I also secured funding in the 2019-2020 Biennial Budget to expedite the King County Sheriff’s Office’s processing of U-visa (for victims of crime) and T-visa (for trafficking victims) requests for residents on the path to citizenship. I will continue my efforts on gun safety, on violence prevention and on ensuring equal legal protection for all our residents.

I also consider climate change an urgent issue of public health and equity, which is why I have included it in the Board of Health’s 2019 Work Plan.  Click here to learn more about my work on the environment.

Human Trafficking and Sexual Assault

I have been a leader since 2002 in the State Senate and now on the County Council in fighting to end human trafficking in our communities. 

Because of our region’s ports, proximity to Canada, Sea-Tac International Airport and access to I-5, King County has long been a hotspot in the international trafficking of persons.  Earlier this year, I sponsored and secured funding for programs to train certain King County employees, e.g., first responders, to recognize and report signs of labor trafficking, and to prohibit the County from entering into procurement agreements with businesses that have engaged in labor trafficking.  It’s an important step toward ensuring no one in our county is coerced or forced to perform labor or services against their will. I also co-sponsored legislation to launch a regional trafficking awareness campaign and this year I am introducing legislation to train rideshare drivers to be able to identify signs of human trafficking when transporting passengers.

This year, the Board of Health, under my leadership, has identified domestic violence, gender violence, sexual assault, and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls as public health issues.  I have established subcommittees to focus on these highly concerning issues.

Last year I introduced legislation that led to the overhaul and update of the County’s discrimination, harassment—including sexual harassment—and workplace misconduct policies, procedures, and trainings.  I’ll continue to work on extending the statute of limitations for reporting sexual harassment.  And, in my first year on the Council, along with Councilmember Claudia Balducci, I led in getting our King County Charter amended (and approved by voters in November 2016) to convert the gender-specific language (all male) in the Charter to gender-neutral language.

Arts and Culture

Exposure to the arts has been shown to improve cognitive skills, and to help everyone, especially children and at-risk young people.  A 2012 study found that at-risk youth who have access to arts education have better academic outcomes and higher career goals.  Investing in the arts pays dividends in the long run. 

I was pleased to serve for the past three years as a King County Council representative on the Board of 4Culture and support the work that it does to preserve the heritage of the region and showcase the innovative art that our community members create.  This is a continuation of the dedication I showed to arts and culture during my tenure serving on the Washington State Arts Commission. In addition, I was the lead sponsor on the Cultural Access ordinance that was placed on the August 2017 ballot.

I was also pleased to showcase  Sharon Nyree Williams, a spoken-word storyteller, at my most recent Womxn’s History Month panel, which was co-sponsored by the King County Equity and Social Justice Team and the King County Women’s Advisory Board, along with my colleagues Claudia Balducci and Kathy Lambert. I was especially pleased to sponsor the Parks Levy reauthorization ordinance that includes funding for arts and cultural organizations, which will be on the upcoming August Primary ballot.

Criminal and Juvenile Justice Reform

A fundamental purpose of state and local government is to provide access to justice for citizens that is fair and equitable.  Unfortunately, the justice system as it is often experienced, especially by immigrant communities and communities of color, does not reflect those values.

Status offenses— things such as being truant from school or running away from home—can lead to incarceration for youth, which can especially impact low-income youth and youth of color. Jailing children doesn’t address the root causes for these young people, which is why I opposed the Becca Bill when I was in the state Senate and why I continue to fight for equity in the justice system.

I was appalled to find out that over a year after we as the King County Council banned the use of solitary confinement on juveniles, the jail administration was still putting some young people in solitary. I will continue to closely monitor the implementation of Council policies on the King County juvenile and adult detention system, with a special eye on how it treats our young people.

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