As we begin the last month of the legislative session, we have made great progress, but there is still much work to be done.
The Legislature acted quickly to bring $2.2 billion in pandemic relief to Washingtonians for vaccination, schools, rental assistance, child care grants, food assistance and more. We added $1.7 billion in tax relief for businesses hurting from the pandemic, and we took significant steps on our agenda of police accountability.
One of those is a bill I sponsored in the Senate. HB 1088 (SB 5067) addresses the credibility of testimony by law enforcement officers. It requires prosecutors to develop and adopt written protocols to shed light on officers on prosecutor-held “Brady” lists because of any history that could call their credibility into question. The bill also requires departments to inquire whether new hires are on Brady lists kept by their prior jurisdictions. This bill passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support.
Those are just the bills that have passed the full Legislature already. Many more have passed the Senate or the House and await action in the opposite chamber.
Eleven bills I sponsored in the Senate have passed one chamber and are still under consideration by the Legislature:
- SB 5066 would empower the vast majority of our police officers who hold themselves to high ethical standards by providing them with protocols, training and support. The bill would require officers to intervene if they observe a fellow officer using excessive force and give them training on how and when to intervene. It would also create a duty for officers to report any wrongdoing by a fellow officer so we can build trust between our communities and law enforcement officers.
- SB 5036 would provide hope to incarcerated people who have transformed themselves. It would expand and professionalize the state’s Clemency and Pardons Board, allow incarcerated individuals to petition for their sentences to be commuted after having served 15 to 25 years in prison, and establish criteria by which the clemency board could recommend commutation.
- SB 5241 would provide a pathway to self-sufficiency for Washingtonians caught in the cycle of intergenerational poverty. The bill would help people leverage existing benefits and services to rise out of poverty. It would fund economic inclusion grants that communities can apply for to promote equity, economic inclusion, and a stable financial foundation for people experiencing poverty.
- Two bills would bring crucial protections and supports to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. SB 5180 would make it easier for survivors to vacate sentences they received for offenses that were the result of being a survivor of sex trafficking, domestic violence or sexual assault. SB 5127 would increase access to therapy dogs that help children and sexual assault survivors testify in court so that perpetrators can be held accountable.
- Three bills would help refocus our forensic behavioral health system on treatment. SB 5071 would better coordinate care for people who have been civilly committed as they transition to less restrictive alternatives. SB 5073 would empower a person’s treatment team and integrate mental health and substance use disorder treatment. SB 5210 would allow outpatient competency restoration in community settings.
- HB 1477 (SB 5209) would improve the state’s suicide and behavioral health crisis response system by implementing the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which designated 988 as the new crisis hotline number. Having a behavioral health crisis is not illegal. It is a cry for help and it deserves an immediate and robust response from appropriate medical services, with coordination from law enforcement only when safety is an issue.
- HB 1089 (SB 5069) would increase transparency in investigations of police use of deadly force. It would give the state auditor’s office authority to review cases to assure that investigations were conducted according to the highest standards.
- HB 1320 (SB 5297) would modernize, harmonize and improve the efficacy and accessibility of laws governing civil protection orders. This bill creates more access to justice for victims and provides needed reform for those who are vulnerable.
Finally, I have sponsored a bill in response to the recent decision in which the Supreme Court of Washington struck down the state statute addressing possession of controlled substances. SB 5476 would establish a new legal framework for the possession of controlled substances that would build on our state’s public-health approach to substance use disorder. It would prohibit all public use of controlled substances, as well as any possession by minors. For adults, the possession of small amounts of controlled substances consistent with personal use could be referred to a forensic navigator for treatment. Possession of large amounts would be a class C felony.
The war on drugs has failed. The punishment-first approach has not helped reduce the prevalence of drugs in our community; instead, we need a treatment-first approach, which has shown to have much better outcomes for people. A public health approach will enable our loved ones to get the help they need to lead productive lives.
Thank you to everyone who tuned in and asked questions at the virtual town hall that I hosted recently with my seatmates Rep. Larry Springer and Rep. Roger Goodman. We had a great discussion! If you were not able to make it, you can watch the video on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter.
As always, please feel free to reach out to my office directly with any questions or concerns. Stay safe and take care.
Sen. Manka Dhingra
45th Legislative District
Deputy Majority Leader