Democrats have the votes to fix our pursuit law – but do they have the political will?
Democrats in Olympia will have a final chance on Thursday to show they are willing to prioritize public safety over political party.
Senate Bill 5352 and House Bill 1363 represent a bipartisan effort to give officers more leeway to pursue dangerous criminals who flee from law enforcement. There is a hearing tomorrow, February 16, at 8:00am on the House version of the bill, which will determine whether it can pass out of committee.
I am not holding my breath.
Democrats have known for weeks that there are enough votes in both the House and Senate for the pursuit fix to become law. Not only are 100% of Republican lawmakers in support of it, but there are also enough Democrats to pass it with a comfortable majority (caucus leaders and bill sponsors have been carefully counting votes behind the scenes to make sure of it).
So why have the bills seemingly stalled?
A lack of political will is the only reasonable conclusion.
In fact, two Democratic senators all but admitted as much to me.
In an interview earlier this month, Senator Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) said while he cosponsored SB 5352 , he would not work with Republicans to pull it to the floor for a vote – a maneuver that would help save the bill from dying in committee. Senator Manka Dhingra, chair of the Law & Justice Committee, refused to give the bill a hearing and repeatedly cited debunked data to prop up her case.
“I think what you’re asking is whether I would vote against my party on a procedural vote, that’s a very difficult thing to do,” Senator Salomon told me. “The Democrat caucus needs to come to an agreement as opposed to giving control to Republicans on the floor to pull a bill out (of committee).”
I pressed him further.
“Why is it so hard to vote against your party?” I asked.
“There are policy votes and then there’s control of the floor votes. The ethic is that you are free to vote your conscience on bills, but the purpose of having a majority is to control the floor. Going against that is tough to do.”
So tough, apparently, that he and other Democrats are willing to let public safety suffer.
Even Senator John Lovick (D-Mill Creek), a former law enforcement officer and lead sponsor on the pursuit fix, waffled when I asked whether he believed in his own bill enough to work with Republicans to pass it.
“I can’t go into all the details, but you have to maintain a certain decorum in the process down here,” he said. “The worst thing to do is to step away from the decorum of what we do. It just doesn’t help any of us. There will be other things that we’re going to be working on. There will be other things that we’re going to need support from whomever is the chair of that committee, and you have to be careful of that.”
So perhaps it’s not a lack of political will after all. Perhaps it is a fear of retribution? Or maybe those are the same thing.
At least Senators Salomon and Lovick were willing to be honest about what was preventing them from getting a pursuit fix across the finish line.
Others, not so much.
Senator Emily Randall (D-Bremerton) promised during a heated campaign that she would work to fix the pursuit law if reelected. Is Randall listed on the pursuit fix as a cosponsor? Of course not. Did she propose a solution of her own? Nope. Has she spoken out about the need to get a fix passed this year? No, no, and no.
That’s the difference between public service and lip service.
Having given up hope on Senate Democrats to save the pursuit fix (or at least let the Democratic process play out) those hoping for a change in the law turned to House Democrats and Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee Chairman Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland).
Unlike Dhingra, Goodman has at least been willing to hear the House bill in his committee. In fact, ahead of a critical vote in that committee tomorrow, Goodman offered a substitute bill late Wednesday that could foreshadow progress.
The proposed substitute to HB 1363 waters down the existing proposal but would still return a bit more power to police to pursue suspects.
Rather than allowing officers to pursue any person suspected of committing a crime, the substitute bill would limit vehicular pursuits to cases where an officer has reasonable suspicion that a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense, a sex offense, vehicular assault, domestic violence assault, an escape, or is driving under the influence.
The substitute bill also states that a pursuit cannot be initiated unless the suspect “poses a serious risk of harm to others.”
Importantly, the substitute proposal includes an emergency clause, which would allow the new law to go into effect immediately after the governor signs it.
Is the substitute bill as strong as the original bipartisan proposal? No. But it could be the last hope of improving law and order on our roadways.
Either way, tomorrow is decision day. Democrats can choose to side with the anti-police, pro-criminal wing of their party, or they can side with those desperate for public safety.
For the sake of our state, I hope they choose wisely.
Brandi Kruse is a Future 42 Ambassador and host of the [un]Divided Podcast.