Be on the lookout for bad bills
Starting next week, lawmakers in Olympia will begin to make their 2023 legislative priorities clear – which means it’s time to get our heads on a swivel.
As bills are pre-filed starting December 5, it pays to speak out early and often about proposals that miss the mark. In 2021, misguided attempts at police reform gained too much momentum before public pushback began in earnest. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
While details are still murky, here are what issues we can expect to pop up.
Senate Democrats are looking to prioritize affordable housing (and affordability in general), reproductive freedom, voting access, climate, and public safety – including gun safety, according to Communications Director Aaron Wasser. Efforts to expand or codify reproductive rights could range from pushing for a constitutional amendment to guaranteeing access to contraceptives. Wasser said it was unclear whether amending previously passed bills, like the controversial law limiting police pursuits, would be on the agenda.
A spokesperson for House Democrats said in an email this week that leaders plan to announce their legislative priorities in late December or early January.
This legislative session is also a budget year, which is where the minority party will focus much of its energy. Republicans were critical of Democrats in 2022 for failing to provide meaningful tax relief to struggling families and will surely try again to push for a reduction in the state sales tax rate. Meanwhile, the GOP will look to get more funds dedicated to public safety, including additional investments for the state’s beleaguered police departments.
One of the most underappreciated aspects of each legislative session in Olympia, is just how many proposals are passed on a bipartisan basis. The overwhelming majority of bills signed into law arrive at the governor’s desk without much dissent. It’s the controversial ones that grab our attention.
Now, let me be clear. Republicans are certainly capable of proposing bad bills, but when you’re in the minority your bad ideas don’t have enough votes to get off the ground. Democrats are a different story (again, look no further than police reforms passed in 2021). Once ideas start bouncing around in the Olympia echo chamber, they can be hard to silence. That’s why it’s important to get out in front of them.
In December of 2021, an eagle-eyed [un]Divided subscriber alerted me to a bill that was pre-filed just before Christmas. House Bill 1692 would have lessened the punishment for drive-by shooters who kill someone.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton) would have removed drive-by shooting from a list of aggravating factors that result in an automatic life sentence – an odd, if not downright dangerous bill to propose at a time of record murders.
In justifying the bill, Rep. Simmons pointed to the case of Kimonti Carter, who was serving life without parole for a fatal drive-by shooting on Tacoma’s Hilltop in 1997. Carter fired at least 19 rounds from a MAK-90 assault rifle into a car full of innocent college kids that he mistook for rival gang members.
One of the bullets struck and killed 19-year-old Corey Pittman, who was home on summer break from Alabama State University.
It was Rep. Simmons’ viewpoint that Carter had turned his life around in prison and should not die behind bars for something he did at such a young age.
After getting wind of the pre-filed bill, I contacted Corey Pittman’s brother, who still lived in the Tacoma area. He was horrified to find out about the proposal.
From that moment until the start of the 2022 legislative session, we did not relent. Damian Pittman started reaching out to news outlets to ensure his family’s side of the story was heard. He also contacted elected leaders to ask for meetings.
On the podcast, I hammered the bill every week. In a January 31st episode, titled “What about Corey?” Damian Pittman offered an emotional account of what it was like to lose his brother. In an effort to reach a broader audience, I also penned an op-ed for The Seattle Times that was published on January 3rd.
The attention prompted South King County mayors to write a letter to their Democratic delegation, condemning the proposal as their communities saw an uptick in gang-related shootings. Republican lawmakers issued statements, calling the bill a “tragedy in the making.”
By the time the session began in earnest, the bill was too hot to touch – even for Democrats.
Later that year, Kimonti Carter would be resentenced anyway – thanks to a State Supreme Court ruling invalidating life without parole sentences for juveniles. But the pushback over the proposal prevented future killers from getting leniency and sent a message that Washington takes such crimes seriously.
It’s critical to voice your concerns about bills early and forcefully – the failure of House Bill 1692 is a prime example. If you would like to track bills as they are pre-filed ahead of the 2023 legislative session, you can do so here.
Brandi Kruse is a Future 42 Ambassador and host of the [un]Divided Podcast.