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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we make our way through the sixth week of the 2023 legislative session, I want to talk to you about public safety.
We began this session with several priorities. Chief among them is public safety – specifically addressing Washington state's weak drug possession law pushed through by the majority in 2021 because of the state Supreme Court's Blake decision.
We have heard over and over from our law enforcement community that the current law is unworkable and fueling open-air drug use across the state. Currently, possession of small amounts of any drug is a misdemeanor with mandatory referral to voluntary treatment for the first two offenses.
That law will expire in just a few short months, and if we can't pass a bill here in Olympia, we will be left with no drug possession law.
There are five bills to address this issue between the House and Senate:
Senate Bill 5624 – This Democrat-sponsored bill decriminalizes personal amounts of all drugs, including counterfeit fentanyl, and creates a work group to develop recommendations on a system to supply drugs for those at risk for overdose.
Senate Bill 5467 – This proposed policy would make possession of personal use drugs a gross misdemeanor, requires a court to vacate convictions for personal possession if mandatory treatment is completed, mandates treatment or 45 days in jail.
Senate Bill 5536 – Makes knowing possession a gross misdemeanor, creates a pre-trial diversion program for those charged with possession and allows convictions to be vacated on completed treatment.
Senate Bill 5035 – Makes possession of counterfeit substances such as fentanyl a Class C felony, repeals treatment referral requirement, and encourages deferral on the first offense.
House Bill 1415 – Makes knowing possession of drugs a gross misdemeanor.
As of this writing, only SB 5536 has moved out of committee. HB 1415 is the fix that our law enforcement is asking for. It provides a clear path to get rampant drug use off our streets. However, it is the only one of all five bills not to receive a public hearing.
You can hear more about the drug possession bills here.
Another urgent priority is fixing the vehicular pursuit law so our law enforcement agencies can do their jobs. We have a bipartisan bill, House Bill 1363, which would allow police to engage in pursuits if they have reasonable suspicion a crime has been or is being committed. Current law only allows officers to pursue if they have probable cause. The bill received a hearing and was scheduled to be voted out of committee last week; however, the bill was pulled, and we aren't sure if it will move out of committee. As of this update the bill has been placed back on the schedule and will hopefully move out of Committee tomorrow morning in the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee. I will keep you posted.
The chair of the Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee proposed House Bill 1586, which would push pause in favor of studying the impact of vehicular pursuits. This bill is also scheduled for a committee vote tomorrow morning.
The impact of the current vehicular pursuit law was shared in the recent hearing on these bills. You can watch that here.
If restoring law enforcement's ability to engage in vehicular pursuits is important to you, I encourage you to reach out directly to the members of the Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee. You can find their contact info here.
Beyond the urgent need to fix our drug possession and vehicular pursuit laws, there are other important public safety issues we are working on.
Here are the things we need to get done:
- Washington state currently ranks last in the nation for law enforcement officers per capita. Expanding basic law enforcement training in eastern Washington will have more officers on the streets. We can do this through House Bill 1380.
- We must address the rise in auto thefts. Our solution is House Bill 1682.
- We can make communities safer by removing homeless encampments near critical areas like schools and parks. Our solution is House Bill 1373.
For a list of House Republican priorities, click here.
Learn more about how to get involved in the legislative process here.
Watch my earlier video updates here and here.
Learn more about what else I have been working on this session here.
As always, I encourage all of you to reach out to my office or come to Olympia to share any other priorities you have.
You are the most important part of the work I do.
122F Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7810 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000