In order to practice law, every attorney must take an oath. In order to wear a uniform, every soldier, sailor, marine, and airman must also take an oath. The oaths themselves are strikingly similar – both include statements of support for the constitution and a promise to serve interests outside of one’s self. Veterans serve and defend our country and our rule of law. The constitution and legal system our veterans took an oath to protect should serve them in return.
The legal community has a duty to ensure our veterans and military families know their legal rights and can access the resources they need. There are a number of laws granting unique protections and benefits to our veterans and military families, enacted in acknowledgment and appreciation of their service and sacrifice. Some of these laws alleviate certain civil obligations in order to help military personnel called to active duty focus on their mission. Other laws are intended to give a helping hand to veterans to advance their education or improve their vocational opportunities. These laws all recognize the sacrifices our brave men and women in uniform make in service to us. As lawyers, we must ensure that veterans and military personnel understand the rights they have. (more…)
A Pioneer Square business owner angrily compares homeless people in a nearby park to pigeons and demands in a public meeting that they be cleared away immediately. Yakima considers new anti-panhandling legislation, and sheriffs in Snohomish County are ticketing freeway on-ramp beggars for pedestrian interference.
While all of this is recent, none of it is new. Over the past two decades, as the numbers of homeless people have steadily risen, visible poverty has been criminalized across the United States, with a battery of legislation to prohibit sitting or lying on public sidewalks, camping on public property, overnight parking, panhandling, feeding people in public, and even the possession of a shopping cart or a blanket.
While these laws have added to the troubles that poor people face with fines, jail time, and criminal records that makes it harder to find housing and work, homelessness itself has continued to rise.
Recent budget cuts at both the state and federal levels have not helped. Over the past four years, more than $20 million has been slashed from Washington state programs offering mental health and addiction treatment services to the very poor.
Once proposed, these laws, driven by fear and prejudice, almost always pass. Seattle has provided a few recent exceptions, but these stand as a fragile hedge against the greater trend. (more…)