Legislative leaders talk pursuit laws, Blake Decision ahead of session

Legislative leaders talk pursuit laws, Blake Decision ahead of session

Isabel Vander Stoep / For The Reflector

While neither side fully agrees, Washington’s House and Senate leaders are eager to find middle ground with their counterparts on the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision.

But a number of police reform bills passed in 2021, which saw tweaks next year, may be here to stay, despite a backlash from Republicans.

The Blake decision struck down Washington state’s drug possession law, as it punished offenders whether or not they knew they were in possession of drugs. The ruling was retroactive, meaning drug charges dating back to the 1970s can now be re-evaluated, according to earlier reporting by The Reflector’s sister paper, The Chronicle in Centralia.

Reform laws from 2021 include restrictions on when law enforcement can pursue fleeing vehicles and use excessive force.

At all levels of government, criticism of these moves abounds in Southwest Washington, including from rural sheriffs and GOP leaders like Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia. Former Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beulter, R-Battle Ground, also slammed Blake’s decision and the stalking laws in a recent interview with The Reflector.

On Jan. 5 in Olympia, Senate Minority Leader Braun was joined by House Minority Leader JT Wilcox, R-Yelm, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D -Tacoma for a press conference. before the legislative session, which began on Monday, January 9.

In both of their opening remarks, Billig and Braun addressed public safety and specifically mentioned the hope that a bipartisan resolution to the Blake Decision would be reached at the hearing. Braun also mentioned stalking law and a goal to reform it.

“There is a consensus in the middle with lawmakers from both parties,” Billig told The Reflector. “A productive and effective drug possession law will involve the criminal justice system, but it will really focus on a public health solution because drug possession is largely fueled by drug addiction, which is a health problem.”

As for the package of reform bills, however, while Billig said he thought the legislature gave law enforcement too much to change immediately, the rules have been implemented and most of them passed “without controversy,” he said.

As an example of a rural sheriff who had spoken out against them, a reporter prompted him with the statement that Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza had taken positions against the laws. In return, Billig asked, “Does he want to restore the chokes and have military equipment?”

He added that in most of his conversations with law enforcement, officers felt that most of the reform laws passed were well received.

“If I had to do it, I’d block the implementation,” Billig said, later adding, “There were a few things we got wrong that we went back and fixed. And really, the only one that’s still there is bill of lading. … There is a change of mind (about it).

The majority leader, who hails from Spokane, said for urban police departments, stalking laws didn’t change much about procedure. What’s different, Billig said, is that the public now knows the procedure and may be more willing to take advantage of it.

On Blake’s decision, Wilcox agreed with the Majority Leader that steps forward should include health-focused treatment and the criminal justice system.

“We agree that the criminal justice system should not be the primary way to address addiction,” Wilcox said. “But it has to be part of the solution.”

He added that he is among the many Washingtonians with life stories of a family member or loved one who escaped substance abuse issues because they were incarcerated and went through a “good” drug program.

Wilcox added that he thinks most of his Democratic counterparts seem to agree, but at times “their ideology is a trap. And they, I think, have to make some tough choices between ideology and effectiveness.”

As for the police reform bills, Wilcox said there are pre-filed Republican-sponsored bills that address what the party sees as issues with the passed package, but it’s ultimately up to the Democratic majority whether they will be heard.

Jinkins defended the stalking laws in an interview with The Reflector, saying some data shows that “deaths from stalking are down 80% in Washington state.” Research from the University of Washington also reflects this statistic.

“I met with my police chiefs. That’s the biggest challenge in law enforcement right now: It’s manpower,” said the Speaker of the House.

In her opening remarks at the conference, Jinkins said workforce issues across the state will be a priority for the Legislature this session. The point, she said, is that the state was not prepared for mass retirement from the baby boomers.

She said she would like to pursue “aggressive” work toward expanding law enforcement training opportunities.

In Blake’s decision, Jinkins echoed other leaders. While she said the Legislature may not yet be in a decision-making place, the speaker said she thinks neither total decriminalization nor serious felony charges are the answer.

“But, somewhere in between,” Jinkins said, adding, “We definitely have to keep working on it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *