The following newsletter was sent to subscribers to Sen. Padden’s newsletter, Feb. 21, 2019. To subscribe to Sen. Padden’s newsletters, click here.
Listening an essential part of a lawmaker’s job
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This last weekend I had the opportunity to return to the 4th Legislative District, to meet with constituents for one of my periodic coffee gatherings. For those of you who have never been to one of these events, we hold these meetings at local coffee shops and restaurants and set appointments with people interested in discussing the issues before us in Olympia. This one was held at The Well Coffeehouse and Pub in Liberty Lake.
It certainly is refreshing to hear about the issues that concern the people of our district, rather than the issues the Legislature finds important. We heard about school safety, our attorney general’s partisan lawsuits and even studded tires. There should be no mystery about that last one, given the kind of weather we’ve been having in the 4th District.
Listening to the people back home is an important part of every legislator’s job – really an essential part of our representative democracy. When people engage with their elected representatives in this way, it is an indication of the vitality of our governmental institutions. Even if you haven’t been able to attend one of these coffee gatherings, we hope to hear from you. If you have a concern about state government or a problem with a state agency, we hope you will contact our office. That’s why we’re here – to serve you.
Senator Mike Padden
Taking aim against human trafficking
One of the most cherished principles of American law is the right to face your accuser. In nearly all cases, we expect testimony to be given in court or a formal deposition, so that there is an opportunity for cross-examination. We generally don’t allow statements to be offered as evidence that were made outside legal proceedings – that’s hearsay.
But in this state, in certain cases, the hearsay rule doesn’t apply to children under ten, particularly in cases of sexual abuse. I have sponsored Senate Bill 5885, which would extend the same exemption to children under sixteen in human-trafficking cases. The justification in these cases is every bit as strong.
In testimony before the Senate Law and Justice Committee this week, we were told of the unbelievable trauma these children have gone through, from abduction, rape and physical abuse. Often these youths are homeless, and when hearings are scheduled, they are difficult to track down. Sometimes they have faced abuse from their own family members, and have even been sold into servitude.
This bill got an endorsement from former U.S. Rep. Linda Smith, now president of Shared Hope International, an organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking worldwide. Smith told the committee, “When you think about these children sitting and facing their abusers, it is like another form of abuse.” You can read more about Shared Hope’s position here.
Also endorsing the bill is the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. This exemption might not be utilized very often, but in those cases where it is appropriate, it would provide an important tool for the prosecution of this most reprehensible crime.
How much does it cost to tighten our DUI laws?
We have gotten some interesting statistics that make a compelling case for tightening our DUI laws. I have introduced Senate Bill 5299, which would increase the “look-back” in DUI cases, allowing courts to consider convictions within the last 25 years when delivering sentences. At present, courts only are allowed to consider convictions in the last 10 years. This bill would make it easier to try repeat offenders for felonies on their fourth offense.
Numbers presented to the Senate Ways and Means Committee this week give us a good way to analyze the economics of the situation.The state estimates 46 more offenders would be sentenced to prison terms during the first year, and that the state’s prison population would increase by 174 the following year. Cost would be $4.2 million. In the next two-year budget period, that would rise to 264, for a cost of about $12 million.
This is a drop in the bucket against the societal cost of DUI crashes. In 2017, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports there were 271 DUI fatalities in this state, with an economic cost of $417 million and a total cost (including lost life) of $2.7 billion. Serious injury adds to this total – and this represents just a single year’s cost.
Amy Friedheim, who prosecutes felony DUI and vehicular homicide cases for the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said the measure would give authorities “enormous tools to use in prosecution.” By sending more repeat offenders to prison for longer terms, the state would save lives. Reducing this issue to dollars and cents ignores the human cost, yet we can see that preventing even a handful of these deaths more than outweighs the societal cost. It’s not really a question of whether we can afford it, but rather how can we not?
Bills worth watching as deadline approaches
We are approaching the first important deadline of our legislative session in Olympia – what we call the “policy cutoff.” Legislative policy committees have until this Friday to pass bills, though budget-related committees get a few extra days. The bills that don’t pass by the deadline are considered dead (though under the Legislature’s rules, there are many ways to revive them).
Here are a couple of measures worth watching:
Senate Bill 5288 – Ending life-without-parole. This bill would reconstitute the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board as the “Post-Conviction Review Board,” and require it to review every case in which a prisoner has served more than 15 consecutive years. The idea is that inmates with good behavior might be released early. Advocates say this bill would relieve prison overcrowding, and insist violent crime is no longer a top-priority public concern. Yet this measure represents a challenge to life-without-parole, which we utilize for repeat violent offenders, and which is being touted as an alternative to the death penalty. The bill is opposed by law enforcement. It also flouts the will of the people, as expressed in their approval of the “Three-Strikes-You’re-Out” initiative in 1993. This bill is due for a vote in the Senate Law and Justice Committee today.
Senate Bill 5743 – Dedicating motor vehicle sales taxes to highway purposes. This bill, and a related constitutional amendment, would shift vehicle sales taxes from the general fund to the state motor vehicle fund, which can only be used for transportation purposes. This proposal, from Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, would guarantee a source of funding for road maintenance and repair. Currently gas taxes serve that purpose, but tax collections are expected to decline as more electric vehicles are sold. This intriguing idea might be seen as an alternative to the vehicle-miles-traveled taxes the state is currently considering. At this point it is not clear whether this bill will advance this year – the measure has not yet been scheduled for a vote.
Senate passes coroner-investigation bill
County coroners provide an important service, conducting death-scene investigations and inquests when circumstances are suspicious or unknown. Yet under Washington law, they can be denied access to records vital to their inquiries. The Senate Wednesday unanimously passed a bill I have sponsored, SB 5300, which allows coroners to issue subpoenas during death investigations, and gives them greater authority to do their jobs.
In committee testimony, we heard from county coroners who have been frustrated by a lack of cooperation during investigations. This forces them to take matters to the inquest level, where they have the ability to demand records. Unfortunately, this process is costly and time-consuming. For instance, we heard about a case in which an electronic bank-deposit record might have helped establish a man’s time of death, but the bank refused to produce it. Mental-health counselors routinely refuse to produce records that would aid in the investigation of possible suicides. This modest revision to our laws would speed the disposition of these cases, and make it possible for grieving families to obtain insurance settlements and Social Security survivors’ benefits. The bill now moves to the House.
We’re in Olympia for the duration. If you have a question or concern about state government, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We are here to serve you!
Phone: (360) 786-7606
Street address: 106 Irv Newhouse Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia, WA 98504
Postal address: PO Box 40404, Olympia, WA 98504
Email address: Mike.Padden@leg.wa.gov