Hello Friends and Neighbors,
This second half of July has been more than unusually hot and dry. It’s also been unusually violent, with a string of shootings – many of them fatal – in our state’s largest city, while here in Clark County, a Clark County deputy sheriff was killed as he was tracking people suspected in a major theft of firearms. Deputy Jeremy Brown’s death was beyond sad, and beyond unacceptable.
Stolen firearms led to Deputy Brown making the ultimate sacrifice; I wonder how many stolen firearms have ended lives or wounded people in Seattle and around our state this past month. In Seattle’s case, the mayor did what we see so often: blame the firearms first, rather than the people using them.
If politicians like her really want to “take guns off the street,” as she said the other day, the bill I’ve proposed to significantly increase the penalty for stealing firearms would be a good start. Unfortunately, the majority leadership in the Senate declined to bring SB 6406 to a vote in 2020; when I reintroduced it this year, as SB 5407, they wouldn’t even give it a public hearing!
Report on 2020 crime puts 2021 law-enforcement policy changes in perspective
The extra workload that goes with becoming our caucus budget leader led me to step away from my seat on the Senate Law and Justice Committee – but I’m still keeping track of criminal-justice issues. When the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs recently issued its crime report for 2020, a few things jumped out, especially now that we can view them through the lens of legislation passed in 2021.
To start with, the 302 murders reported by WASPC for 2020 is a record. The number of homicides in our state has increased by nearly 82 percent over the past five years. The 2020 figure for aggravated assault was the highest in 25 years. These are not the kind of records Washington should be breaking!
While drug- and narcotic-abuse incidents were 22.7% lower in 2020, there’s been a substantial jump in drug-overdose deaths, far exceeding COVID deaths for the under-60 age group during the same period.
Nearly 1/4 of the drug-abuse incidents involved heroin. That’s relevant because the majority’s passage of SB 5476 basically decriminalized heroin and other hard drugs in quantities considered as being for personal use. Going forward, will WASPC have to create a new category of “referral in lieu of arrest”? How will the public know if drug use is increasing or declining?
WASPC also reports Washington had 11,231 commissioned law-enforcement officers in 2020, down from 11,403 the year before. Although there were FEWER officers, there were MORE assaults on law-enforcement officers: 2,047 this past year, compared to 1,927 in 2019.
That’s discouraging enough, but now factor in the law created by this year’s SB 5051, which brought new background-check requirements for peace officers, and more opportunities to decertify an officer, and expanded the authority of the state Criminal Justice Training Commission far beyond the training and policy group it was originally intended to be.
I realize law enforcement in our state has been under a microscope for several years now, but this new law means local control – something we highly value for our public schools – is at risk of being lost for our public-safety agencies.
Then there are the new laws created by HB 1054 and HB 1310, which limit police tactics and equipment, and restrict use of force by law enforcement and corrections officers. The state representative from King County who introduced both bills says they are meant, in part, to “transform how police show up in our communities.” However, just before these laws took effect July 25, law-enforcement leaders in our state pointed out some consequences Republicans had warned about during the 2021 session – like how the safety of first responders could and would be jeopardized. Our leaders in the Senate and House have called on the governor and the Legislature’s majority Democrats to fix the problems tied to these major policy changes. This should be done as quickly as possible!
In short, our state is seeing a jump in violent crime at the same time that drug laws have been relaxed, and policing tools have been taken away from law-enforcement officers. Washington already ranks dead last for the number of law enforcement officers per 1,000 people – that would be 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. I’m so grateful for those who get up every morning, put on that uniform and head out the door to protect us all… even knowing what the extraordinary risks are. Unfortunately, it won’t surprise me if there’s another drop in the number of commissioned law-enforcement officers when WASPC puts out its report for 2021. Lamentably, Clark County law enforcement is at the lowest end of these figures.
One more thing: The unemployment-benefits fraud fiasco enabled by lax cybersecurity at the state Employment Security Department even made it into the WASPC report. It was mentioned as a reason for the whopping 131.3% jump in fraud offenses in 2020, compared to 2019.
Will governor double down by declaring a ‘climate emergency’?
While the COVID state of emergency continues, Governor Inslee has declared a separate drought emergency for most of our state. Farmers and growers in our state had been after that proclamation more than a month ago, because of the assistance it makes available to them.
A drought emergency was also declared in 2015 and 2019, so it’s nothing new. What’s different is that the COVID situation has given the governor a real taste of the near-absolute power available to him under a state of emergency. Combine that with Inslee’s zeal about climate change, and the idea of a “climate emergency” doesn’t seem far-fetched. That’s worrisome!
“Government cannot save you unless it defeats climate change… that is our only salvation,” the governor told reporters, after announcing the drought emergency. Asked if he would take additional climate-related actions unilaterally, using his emergency powers, Inslee said he is “digging deep to see whatever tools we can use.” Imagine what THAT could mean for the people of our state!
Comparing the pandemic to the Super Bowl?
It was good that the governor stayed true to his word about what he called the June 30 “reopening” of Washington’s economy. Too bad he didn’t also call an end to the state of emergency declared more than 500 days ago. If it was possible to announce the reopening date six weeks in advance, why can’t he also announce a date for the emergency to be lifted, and stick to that? Instead, the governor has effectively extended the state of emergency until the end of September, by making a new emergency proclamation about evictions and rental assistance.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying the pandemic itself is over, just that the emergency should be over. Remaining under a state of emergency keeps the people of our state from returning to a sense of normalcy. No state has been in emergency status due to COVID-19 as long as ours. That’s not a record we should hold. Yet when he was asked point-blank about ending the COVID state of emergency, Governor Inslee replied that it doesn’t make sense to him to change a system that “won the Super Bowl.” After countless lives and livelihoods have been lost in this pandemic – he finds it appropriate to spike the ball?! (I’m not kidding – read about it here.)
I was just elected vice-chair of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, after serving as its secretary for the past couple of years. JLARC is an independent agency within the legislative branch that does a ton of excellent work on performance audits and other assignments (given to it by legislators) regarding government accountability. I was honored to accept the position.
A few weeks ago, I was also unanimously elected as the new co-chair of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations, which was created by legislation in 2017. JCER has a role in being consulted and overseeing how the collective bargaining agreements with unionized state employees are handled. This is no small matter, as salaries and benefits account for around 25% of the state budget.
In addition to staying busy with family business and activities, I’ve been keeping up on economic and other policy issues important to our region and state. As someone who was a “library nerd” in high school, I also appreciated being asked to say a few words at the recent grand opening of the new Ridgefield community library. It was an excellent example of their community involvement. Raise your hand if you remember learning the Dewey Decimal System!
If you have a question or concern, please contact me by email, letter or phone. To make an appointment for a virtual meeting, please send me an e-mail! Stay safe!
Yours in service,
To read this e-newsletter in other languages, click here to visit my Senate news page and find the “Select Language” menu in the upper left corner!