By TED O’NEIL
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced he will rescind a 24-year-old directive that prevents state agencies from considering sex or race when making hiring decisions.
Directive 98-01 was issued by former Gov. Gary Locke in December of 1998 after voters approved a ballot initiative prohibiting state government from “discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to individuals or groups based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
Initiative 200 was passed in 1998 by 58% of Washington voters and amended state law but not the state constitution. It applied to state government, as well as cities, counties, public universities, community colleges and public school districts.
Washington legislators passed Initiative 1000 in April of 2019 to end the ban on affirmative action. Referendum 88, approved 50.4% to 49.6% by voters in November of 2020, blocked the initiative from going into effect.
“Gov. Inslee said he believes that Washington is an anti-racist state and will take action to hold our state government to that commitment,” Karen Johnson, the state’s first director of the Office of Equity, said in a press release from Inslee’s office. “We are grateful for this bold action and look forward to working in solidarity with others to embed equity and justice into every state contracting decision.”
Aside from the ban on affirmative action, Directive 98-01 also ended a number of practices the state had been using as part of its hiring process. Those included “exception testing,” which allowed people under certain circumstances to apply for jobs after the application period had closed if the original pool of applicants was under-represented by certain groups.
Gov. Inslee also recently signed the new executive order on equity in public contracting, aimed at increasing the number of certified minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses that are awarded state contracts.
“Washington’s diversity is our greatest strength, and it is only by leveling the playing field that it becomes possible for all Washingtonians to thrive and live healthy and successful lives,” Gov. Inslee said in a press release. “Today’s announcements are systemic changes that are designed to break down barriers that have kept too many Washingtonians on the sidelines for too long.”
A task force called the Governor’s Subcabinet on Business Diversity reported in 2019 that some 85% of state contracts went to businesses not owned by minorities, women or veterans.
“This executive order is one of many important steps toward equity that will be instrumental in facilitating the cultural changes statewide necessary to address the lack of opportunities for these businesses,” Gov. Inslee said. “This leads to a more resilient economy, more opportunities, innovation and more money going back into our communities.”