A look at two controversial pieces of Washington public safety legislation
Two noteworthy and controversial pieces of public safety legislation are one step closer to becoming law.
Senate Bill 5352 involves vehicular pursuits by law enforcement, and Senate Bill 5536 modifies the state's drug possession law. Both are in response to failed measures passed in the 2021 legislative session.
By way of background, legislation passed in 2021 changed the standard for vehicular pursuits from reasonable suspicion to probable cause, a much more difficult standard to meet. The probable cause standard significantly inhibits law enforcement's ability to pursue suspects for serious and violent crimes.
Under Senate Bill 5352, law enforcement would be allowed to conduct a pursuit of a person suspected of committing some added violent crimes, some domestic violence-related offenses, a vehicular assault, driving under the influence, a sex offense, or someone trying to escape arrest.
Although this bill slightly improves current law, it does not go far enough, leaving a long list of over 30 felony crimes off limits to pursuit. These include fatal hit and run, physical injury to another person due to their protected class (hate crimes), vehicle theft as part of an organized auto theft ring, torturing a child, providing firearms to those not legally eligible to possess them, criminal sabotage, violations of sexual assault protection orders, firearm theft, unlawful imprisonment, organized retail theft, and the list goes on.
This year, we heard about the two kids killed in Sunnyside by a driver speeding and traveling in the wrong direction. We listened to another instance of two girls having a sleepover who were plowed down by a stolen vehicle. One of these girls lost her life. With the slight modifications of Senate Bill 5352, these events still wouldn't be pursuable offenses.
While a yes vote on the bill is understandable because it provides minor improvements, I voted against it because I am deeply concerned majority legislators controlling the legislative agenda will consider this issue “fixed” and take no further action, leaving our communities at continued risk.
We had the opportunity all session to do what was right and what our constituents, businesses, local governments, and law enforcement asked us to do. Instead, the Legislature failed the public by doing the bare minimum for a political win.
Another bill, Senate Bill 5536, is the Legislature's attempt to address the state's failing drug possession laws following the 2021 Washington State Supreme Court's State v. Blake decision, which overturned the state's felony drug possession law.
Without legislative action, the current possession law is set to expire in July, leaving no possession law in statute. Under 5536, possession of a controlled or counterfeit substance would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. It criminalizes the public use of illegal drugs and allows immediate arrest, which is not allowable under current law. Under the current failed policy, we've seen a dramatic increase in open air drug use in public spaces in major Washington cities. This bill will give law enforcement a much-needed tool to intervene in those situations. It also makes changes related to drug paraphernalia, pretrial diversion, substance use disorder evaluations, and other issues.
I believe this bill is a step in the right direction and can be effective if coupled with treatment resources for those struggling with addiction. We have seen that recidivism is lower when cases are processed through therapeutic courts than in traditional criminal courts. Evidence has also shown that courts and jails are ineffective settings for properly addressing substance use issues.
In support of the treatment component, our area legislators are working to ensure funding is provided for a new recovery center in the Tri-Cities in this year's capital budget.
We need a legal framework that shifts the focus from punishment to providing treatment. For these reasons, I supported and voted in favor of this bill.
Editor's Note: Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, represents the 16th Legislative District.
As featured in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin