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It has been a disappointing week for those hoping to see significant progress on the two most important public safety issues before us this session.
On Monday and Tuesday, during late-night or early-morning debates, depending on how you look at it, the state House of Representatives debated Senate Bill 5352, the law enforcement vehicular pursuit legislation, and Senate Bill 5536, the Blake fix, relating to drug possession and treatment.
Senate Bill 5352 would lower the “probable cause” standard, but only in specific instances. It does not move the needle or come close to addressing the problems created by the legislation passed in 2021.
We need to restore the initial pursuit threshold back to reasonable suspicion, instead of probable cause. To read the news release Rep. Jim Walsh and I issued on the passage of the vehicle pursuit legislation, click here.
To watch my floor speech on why we voted “no” click the photo below.
The bill passed by a vote of 57-40, but the debate is not over. This issue is not going away. Crime will continue to increase until we provide our law enforcement the proper tools they need. I expect when we return to Olympia next year, we will be debating this issue again.
As mentioned in our joint news release, we had a solution at the start of the session, with 20 Democratic and 20 Republican sponsors. It was a bipartisan fix that had enough votes to get out of the House, but we were never given a chance to vote on it.
The bottom line is the bill that passed the House does not allow law enforcement the proper authority to do their job effectively and protect our neighborhoods and communities.
State v. Blake fix
In 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state's felony drug possession statute was unconstitutional. By invalidating the statute, the possession of hard drugs – like fentanyl, methamphetamines, and heroin – became legal in Washington state.
In an effort to address the court's ruling and reach a legitimate solution this session, the Senate introduced Senate Bill 5536. It would have made possession of fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine a gross misdemeanor. Unfortunately, House Democrats amended the bill to make drug possession a simple misdemeanor. It would have also extended the statute of limitations from one year to two years. That is important because getting through the legal system can often take up to a year or more. During that time many offenders get out of jail before getting proper treatment and find themselves right back where they started.
The original Senate version of the bill had bipartisan support from three of the four caucuses. With the changes by the majority party in the House, the bill passed on a near party-line vote of 54-41. I am hopeful that with three of the four caucuses in agreement on the original Senate bill, we can get that version passed before we adjourn on April 23.
Update on gun legislation
There are three major pieces of legislation this session that would impact the availability of firearms in this state.
- House Bill 1240 would ban the sale of certain semi-automatic rifles in Washington state.
- House Bill 1143 would impose a new condition on gun purchases by requiring buyers to complete a state-approved gun-safety training course.
- Senate Bill 5078 would allow the attorney general to sue gun manufacturers and dealers when weapons they sold are later used in crimes.
All three bills have passed both the House and Senate. However, all were amended so they must return to their chamber of origin for further consideration. It is expected the bills will make it through the concurrence process and be sent to the governor's desk for his signature.
I have heard from many of you in the 19th District opposed to these bills. I voted “no” against all three measures as I believe they are unconstitutional – violating our Washington State Constitution as well as the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I would not be surprised if these bills are challenged in court once they are signed into law.
I have also heard from some who are supportive of these measures. Folks are concerned with the increase in gun violence and the recent shootings in Nashville and Louisville. I certainly understand the concern, but amending the constitution is a heavy lift and an effort I would not support. And, we are not getting to the root causes of violence.
Behavioral and mental health issues are at an all-time high and Washington state has not done a good job of addressing mental health and is not keeping up with the demand.
- How WA's plan to transform its mental health system has faltered | The Seattle Times (April 9, 2023)
We need to ensure that those who have committed violent crimes are doing the proper time and not returning to our streets. Those who are struggling with substance abuse and addiction may eventually turn to violence to support their habit as they become more desperate. This ties to what we would like to see as a solution to the State v. Blake. We need stronger penalties to keep them off the streets, but also provide them a way to get clean that will also help protect our neighborhoods.
Are there preventive measures we can take to protect vulnerable areas such as schools? There has been legislation introduced to allow schools who want a school resource officer to do able to do that. Many schools across the state do have school resource officers.
I am also concerned about the violence our youth are exposed to through video games, movies and television. There is so much of it, I fear our young people have become conditioned or accepting to and they consider that violence as normal.
These are just a few of the areas I will be looking into during the interim. There are multiple factors contributing to what we are seeing in society and it is critical we take a comprehensive look at them. Passing more laws about restricting guns or manufacturing them is not going to get us there. Criminals committing gun violence are already breaking gun laws. They have no intention of following any other gun laws put in place.
Update on prime-sponsored bills
I have three bills still making their way through the legislative process.
House Bill 1044 would provide assistance to small school districts in need of capital funding through a grant process based on need. The bill was amended in the Senate to expand eligibility to include school districts with an enrollment of 3,000 students or fewer if certain criteria is meet. However, the House did not agree, or concur, with the amended version of the bill. The bill will now go to what is called conference committee. Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it must return to the House for further consideration.
House Bill 1043, my legislation to streamline rules and regulations in common interest communities, passed the House and Senate unanimously, and has also been through the concurrence process. House Bill 1043 is now headed to the governor's desk for his signature.
House Bill 1782 is also headed to the governor's desk. This bill would address the operation and maintenance of the Wahkiakum County ferry. This is an important piece of legislation for many communities in southwest Washington who utilize the ferry.
House Bill 1777, I am a co-sponsor of this bipartisan piece of legislation. This bill would allow energy saving projects to be funded by private entities when the building owner does not have the capital, up front to fund the project. This is important because it ties to what we are trying to accomplish with school funding. Some schools cannot generate funds to get more energy efficient lights, HVAC, or windows and this public-private partnership legislation gives us another tool to ensure our students have a proper learning environment.
Follow the Legislature and our state government
- My legislative website | Here you can find contact information, bio, news releases, email updates, videos, radio appearances, and much more.
- The Ledger | A legislative news aggregator.
- Capitol Buzz – Daily news clips | Daily news clips.
- The Current | An online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.
Please do hesitate to reach out to me with questions, concerns or comments. I appreciate your input and feedback.
It is an honor to serve the great 19th District!
Your Humble Servant,
409 John L. O’Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7870 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000