No House committee hearing scheduled for police pursuit reform legislation

Gov. Jay Inslee has indicated he’s open to a police pursuit reform bill coming across his desk.
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Gov. Jay Inslee has indicated he’s open to a police pursuit reform bill coming across his desk

Brett Davis 
The Center Square Washington

On Tuesday (March 22) morning, Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, couldn’t help but notice police pursuit reform legislation that passed out of the Senate earlier this month has not been scheduled for a committee hearing in the House of Representatives.

“In the House, we have yet to see a hearing scheduled for the pursuit bill,” the House Republican leader said at a media availability event to discuss the legislative session. “I’ve heard on some interviews recently that it’s a difficult topic for the House Democrats.”

Engrossed Senate Bill 5352, which passed on a 26-23 vote on March 8, would let police pursue if they have reasonable suspicion that a person in the fleeing vehicle has committed or is committing a violent crime, a sex offense, a vehicular assault, domestic violence, an escape, or driving under the influence. Amendments to the bill call for extra training and communication with local law enforcement during chases to protect bystanders.

A similar bill, Substitute House Bill 1363, had been making its way through the House but did not receive a floor vote count before the cut-off deadline to get a bill out of its chamber of origin. 

The passage of ESB 5352 out of the Senate caught many by surprise because Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, offered up the amended bill after having previously stated she would not hear the bill in her committee.

“So I would urge the House Democrats to not only take up the Senate bill but strongly consider the efforts that we’re all going to be making to make that a stronger bill, not simply a watered down piece of legislation that will get the public off our backs for a while,” Wilcox continued. “This should be real progress, and we should end this experiment in deciding not to enforce laws.”

In 2021, House Bill 1054 was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. The law upped the threshold for police to engage in vehicle chases to probable cause from reasonable suspicion. Since HB 1054 went into effect nearly two years ago, there has been a marked increase in auto thefts and drivers refusing to stop for police.

The Center Square reached out to Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and the Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, chair of the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee that would hear ESB 5352, asking if the bill would get a hearing, but did not receive an answer.

Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk did reply to a question asking if the governor’s office is putting pressure on Democratic House leadership to hear the bill. Inslee has indicated he’s open to a police pursuit reform bill coming across his desk.

“The governor is confident that the vehicular pursuit bill will get passed out of the House,” Faulk said in an email. “There’s still time for the bill to be heard and approved before cutoff.”

Wilcox said Republicans in the House would do their best to make that happen.

“You know, I guess what I feel like when it comes to forcing a vote is I want every single opportunity for that bill to pass in regular order,” he said. “I don’t want to hear at the end of this, ‘Oh we would have brought this bill up but Republicans wanted to bypass the process.’”

That is not the case, according to Wilcox.

“No,” he said. “I want to allow every bit of process that the Democrats demand for this bill. But if we reach the end of that road and they’ve ignored every single opportunity to bring it up for a floor vote, then darn right we’re going to offer every member of their caucus an opportunity to vote on whether or not we bring it up to the floor – and they deserve that.”

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.

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