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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this update finds you well.
The 2023 legislative session is over, and I wanted to take some time to update you on where things stand on the critical issue of public safety.
Coming into this session Republicans had a handful of key priorities and at the top of that list was improving community safety. Specifically, we needed to fix our drug possession and vehicular pursuit laws.
Unfortunately, the Democrat majority has prevented meaningful change in both areas, so far.
The vehicular pursuit bill that ended up passing the Legislature was not what we needed and not what law enforcement was asking for. Though some in law enforcement did encourage their representatives to vote for Senate Bill 5352 because they considered the small changes it made to current law better than nothing, others wanted us to fight for more and vote no on this dangerous policy. In 2021, House Bill 1054 made it nearly impossible for officers to engage in most pursuits by requiring officers to have probable cause a crime is being committed rather than reasonable suspicion in most situations.
Here is why that distinction matters: That higher standard of probable cause requires concrete evidence rather than the appearance or “suspicion” a crime is being committed. That, means an officer seeing someone driving a stolen car doesn't qualify for pursuit.
Criminals were quick to figure that out which has led to soaring crime rates and a huge increase in stolen vehicles. The inability of law enforcement to engage in vehicular pursuits is tied to several tragedies, including the death of 12-year-old Immaculee Goldade, killed in a hit-and-run crash by a man who had stolen a flatbed pickup truck. Two other children were killed in a separate incident in Sunnyside in February, that was directly tied to officer's inability to engage in pursuits.
There is a simple fix — restore the law to reasonable suspicion. We had a bipartisan bill that would have done that backed by 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans but Democratic leadership refused to allow the bill to advance.
Instead we got Senate Bill 5352 which would allow officers to engage in pursuits when they have reasonable suspicion for a handful of crimes, but those are very rare. Police still cannot pursue those suspected of auto theft, reckless driving, stalking, residential burglary, and many other crimes.
That is not good enough. We must do better. This debate will continue.
The other major public safety policy that was a top priority coming into the session was passing a comprehensive solution to Washington's drug possession law – also known as the Blake fix. This was necessary due to the self-imposed deadline the Legislature put in place when it passed a temporary Blake fix in 2021 to deal with an unexpected decision from the state Supreme Court that invalidated Washington's felony drug possession law.
The outcome here is abysmal. Once again, we had a comprehensive solution that was treatment focused but also included a carrot and stick approach by making simple drug possession a gross misdemeanor that can lead to up to 364 days in jail. Late in session that bill was completely overhauled by majority Democrats in the House. Negotiations on a bill to address the drug law were ongoing up until the final hours of the session. The final bill was so bad that in a very rare occurrence it was brought to the floor and defeated with every House Republican voting no and 15 Democrats also voting against the bill, albeit for different reasons.
Here are the main reasons House Republicans were a no on the bill:
- Although the bill would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor on paper, the jail diversion process it proposed would lead to a revolving door, limits prosecutor involvement and is weak on treatment compliance.
- The bill preempts local jurisdictions' authority to have regulations regarding possessing, using, or giving out drug paraphernalia, including on establishing needle exchanges.
- The bill would establish health engagement hubs for children, as well as adults affiliated with syringe service programs and consumption sites.
- The bill would not require public notice for siting of opioid treatment facilities in local communities.
The governor has urged us to come with an agreement indicating he will call us back into session once a deal is made so we can vote on any new bill. I and my House Republican colleagues are committed to our no votes until the issues raised above are addressed. If there is no agreement or vote before July 1 the current law will expire and Washington will have no statewide law regarding simple drug possession leaving it up to cities and counties to pass their own laws. Several jurisdictions have already introduced those proposals.
The Legislature has had two years to work on a fix to the drug law, so to not have a solution when the session came to a close is shameful. But it would have been more shameful to pass the weak bill from Democrats that included no accountability and would have exacerbated our drug and overdose crisis.
I will keep you updated on the drug possession issue as the situation progresses, In the meantime, I encourage you to review the letter House Republican leaders sent to Gov. Inslee on this issue over the weekend.
You can also get caught up on everything from this session by heading to my website here.
WATCH: Rep. Chris Corry's latest legislative video update here.
WATCH: All my session videos here.
READ: Letter to Gov. Inslee from House Republican leaders on failure of drug possession bill here.
As always, I invite you to reach out to my office with any questions or concerns.
CONTACT: Rep. Chris Corry here.
The session may be over but I am here for you all year and look forward to hearing from you.
122F Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7810 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000