Tag: My-Linh Thai

Qualified Immunity Bill Passes Key Hurdle as Other Criminal Justice Reforms Stall Out

By Andrew Engelson

Several criminal justice reform measures moved past last Friday’s deadline for bills to pass out of their committees of origin, including a bill sponsored by Rep. My-Linh Thai (D–41, Bellevue) that would give victims of unlawful police actions the right to sue for damages.

In Washington, and nearly every other state, “qualified immunity” is a doctrine established by the US Supreme Court that protects law enforcement officers from most civil misconduct lawsuits unless a person can prove that a previous case with very similar circumstances resulted in an officer or agency being held accountable. (Qualified immunity does not apply to use of excessive force.) In the past two legislative sessions, Rep. Thai introduced similar bills that would eliminate qualified immunity, but both failed to pass. 

This time around, Thai’s bill no longer includes provisions giving the state attorney general’s office power to investigate and bring cases against police officers or law enforcement agencies for violating a person’s constitutional rights. As a result, it might have a better chance passing the House. (A separate bill, also sponsored by Thai, would give the attorney general the authority to investigate and sue law enforcement and corrections agencies.)

Thai’s bill could face a tougher road in the Senate, where police unions, local law enforcement agencies and the Association of Washington Cities have wielded considerable clout opposing similar bills in the past. Thirty-five states have tried and failed to eliminate qualified immunity since the protests over the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and only Colorado succeeded passing a law in 2020 that allows victims of misconduct to sue law enforcement agencies.

“Without accountability, there cannot be true justice,” Thai said in a press release. “This bill provides avenues to justice for victims of police misconduct. By holding municipalities accountable when their employees violate a resident’s state constitutional rights, I hope we can encourage them to properly train, support, and discipline their police forces.”

Candice Bock, a spokesperson for the Association of Washington cities, said the organization still opposed to Rep. Thai’s bill. “Our concern is that it’s not going to really lead to greater accountability – which I know is what the proponents hoped for,” Bock said. “It’s going to result in an increase in claims and litigation costs, and cities settling those claims because the litigation costs are too expensive.”

Two other bills to reform the state’s juvenile justice system made it out of their committees last week. One bill, sponsored by Sen. Yasmin Trudeau (D-27, Tacoma), would raise the minimum age for a child to be prosecuted in juvenile court from 8 years old to 13. The other, sponsored by Rep. David Hackney (D-11, Tukwila), would reform the state’s criminal sentencing system so that juvenile convictions no longer lead to longer sentences for crimes people commit as adults.

Bills that failed to make the deadline included one that would have prevented evidence gathered during police misconduct from being admissible in court, another that would have limited the use of solitary confinement, and one that would have allowed judges to consider releasing people who are serving long sentences for crimes they committed before the age of 25. 

Democrats in Olympia Pass Progressive Tax Credit for Low-Income Residents

Rep. My-Linh Thai (D-41, Bellevue), sponsor of Working Families Tax Exemption bill. Image via House Democrats.

by Leo Brine

Democrats continue to advance a slew of progressive bills this legislative session aimed, they say, at making Washington more equitable. While last week’s headlines dramatized the news that Senate Democrats passed a capital gains tax, a longstanding progressive agenda item,  House Democrats were busy ushering through a major lefty item as well, the Working Families Tax Exemption bill (WFTE). Like the capital gains tax, the WFTE legislation would alleviate the pressure the state’s regressive tax system puts on low-income Washingtonians. In this instance: by giving roughly 500,000 of Washington’s lowest-income residents a tax rebate ranging from $500 to $950.

Both bills are longstanding items on the progressive wish list. The WFTE has existed as a state-level benefit program since 2008, but it was never funded because of the recession that hit late that year. The successful House vote this past Tuesday, March 9,  backed the bill for the first time with dollars from the general fund. That money will be allocated when the house rolls out its budget later this month. The Department of Revenue estimates the program will cost roughly $18 million to administer during the 2021-2023 biennium and pay out $250 million to about 420,000 residents, according to a fiscal note from the Department of Revenue.

“There’s been a large effort from the community to show lawmakers how regressive our tax system is,” said Andy Nicholas, senior fellow at the Washington State Budget and Policy Center. Nicholas says awareness of how regressive Washington’s tax system is has grown over time and now politicians understand the effects of regressive taxes on many of Washington’s underserved communities.

Thai was elected to represent the 41 district in 2018 and became the first refugee in Washington’s history to serve in the house of representatives.

Rep. My-Linh Thai (D-41, Bellevue), the sponsor of the WFTE legislation, represents a former Republican stronghold that gradually shifted to swing turf in the 2000s, before eventually turning blue in the late 2010s.

Bellevue’s population continues to grow more diverse. According to the 2000 U.S. census, Bellevue was a largely white community: 74 percent of the city’s residents were white, with Asian Americans, the second-largest group, making up 17 percent of the population. As of 2018, however, Bellevue is 35 percent Asian Americans and white residents make up 49 percent of the population. Bellevue also has a large immigrant population, with 38 percent of the city’s residents being foreign-born.

Continue reading “Democrats in Olympia Pass Progressive Tax Credit for Low-Income Residents”

Police Accountability Agenda in Legislature Narrows as Deadline Passes

State Rep. Jesse Salomon (D-32)

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.

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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”