By Paul Kiefer
Tuesday marked a crucial deadline for bills in the Washington State legislature: the final opportunity for bills to pass from the house to the senate, or vice versa. The cutoff date thinned the herd of police accountability bills introduced this year, though most key proposals—including bills that would impose stricter guidelines for police use-of-force and lower barriers to de-certifying police officers—are still moving forward.
Proposals that won’t move forward include a bill (HB 1202) sponsored by Rep. My-Linh Thai (D-41, Mercer Island) that would have allowed victims of police misconduct or their families to sue police officers and police departments. The bill would have effectively eliminated the ‘qualified immunity’ protection that prevents individuals from suing government employees unless the plaintiff can prove that the employee violated a person’s “clearly established” rights.
The bill, originally introduced in the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, received support from several statewide and national police accountability groups, including the ACLU of Washington, but faced opposition from both the Washington State Association of Counties and the Association of Washington Cities, which raised concerns that increasing the liabilities of cities and counties—which would bear the costs of civil suits against their police officers—would strain their budgets and limit their insurance options.
Enoka Herat, the Police Practices and Immigration Counsel for the ACLU of Washington, told PubliCola that the cities and counties that opposed the bill have misplaced priorities. “Cities and counties should play a role in reducing misconduct and ensuring that there are good policies in practices in place,” Herat said, “both in order to avoid liability and to do the right thing.” Herat added that the proposal “added teeth” to other police accountability bills that are moving forward in the legislature.
Rep. Jesse Johnson’s (D-30, Federal Way) HB 1203, proposing the creation of “community oversight boards” to investigate police misconduct in jurisdictions across the state, also failed to move forward to the state senate. The bill would have required all existing civilian-led oversight bodies in Washington—including Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability—to civilianize their investigative staff and relocate out of law enforcement agencies. The bill’s prospects dimmed when some police accountability experts raised concerns about the proposal’s impact on existing police oversight bodies, and about the 120-day cap the bill would place on misconduct investigations.
A third bill (SB 5134) that would have drawn a distinction between law enforcement unions and other labor groups, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-32, Shoreline), lost momentum long before the March 9 deadline. The proposal would have prohibited law enforcement unions from using the collective bargaining process to limit police oversight, and it would have effectively eliminated the ability of police officers facing discipline to appeal their case to an arbitrator—a specially licensed attorney who can approve of, reduce, or overturn a department’s disciplinary decision. Continue reading “Police Accountability Agenda in Legislature Narrows as Deadline Passes”