Washington GOP: police pursuit reform bill going nowhere

House Bill 1363 would restore the reasonable suspicion standard for allowing police to pursue drivers they believe committed crimes.

House Bill 1363 would restore the reasonable suspicion standard for allowing police to pursue drivers they believe committed crimes

Brett Davis
The Center Square Washington

Republican lawmakers at a Tuesday morning media availability event expressed pessimism that a police pursuit reform bill will pass the Washington State Legislature this session, despite the fact the legislation has bipartisan support.

House Bill 1363, introduced by Rep. Alicia Rule, D-Blaine, and Rep. Eric Robertson, R-Sumner, would restore the reasonable suspicion standard for allowing police to pursue drivers they believe committed crimes.

HB 1363 was introduced in response to House Bill 1054 – passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021 – which upped the police pursuit threshold 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.

“It’s stuck in the Senate,” explained House Republican Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm regarding HB 1363. “We’ve got the Democratic leadership and a committee chair that is refusing to move it. We have a bill over here in the House that has 20 co-sponsors – 20 Democratic co-sponsors – that could be the tool that loosens all this up.”

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, chair of the Law & Justice Committee and deputy majority leader of the Senate, has indicated she does not plan to give companion legislation in the form of Senate Bill 5352 a hearing, effectively killing HB 1363.

Dhingra says more information is needed before moving forward with legislation restoring the reasonable suspicion bar for allowing police vehicular pursuits.

Rep. Eric Robertson, R-Sumner, referenced the 20 Democrat co-sponsors of HB 1363, but said that doesn’t appear to be enough to advance the legislation out of the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee.

“However, we’re not seeing that commitment from our Democratic colleagues to get this bill out of committee,” he said. “It was scheduled for this Thursday to be voted out of committee and – breaking news – this morning, unfortunately, there’s allegedly not enough support on the Democratic side in the committee to vote that out to send it to the floor for proper debate.”

The math doesn’t add up for Robertson.

“Even if we took the 40 votes that we have and the 20 [Democrats] that were the co-sponsors, that’s 60 votes in the House, so I don’t see where there’s an issue with moving it forward,” he said. “We need to act on this now.”

Robertson said he’s not opposed to further studying police pursuits – a veiled reference to Senate Bill 5533 to have the issue studied by law enforcement and community members with the goal of developing model legislation by October 2024 – but noted time is a factor.

“I think that’s a great idea,” he said. “We can always look at things as we go down the road. However, to fail to act on what is critical and important and a right-now challenge is not in the best interests of the communities.”

Legislative action is needed right now, Robertson stressed.

“And it’s not just police that are crying for the change,” he said. “We’ve got from all of our communities saying the crime wave is too much. We need to act. We need to do something now.”

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, brought up some sobering statistics, claiming the current police pursuit law is emboldening criminals.

“The data couldn’t be more clear,” the Republican Senate leader said. “We have a 150% increase in folks fleeing our law enforcement officers, as reported by the State Patrol. We have a 50% increase in stolen cars.”

The subject of police pursuit reform legislation was brought up at the Democrats’ media availability event later in the day.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, pointed to SB 5533 that creates a model vehicle pursuit policy in addressing the issue.

“Because look, everybody agrees that high-speed chases are dangerous and that we should do them as little as possible,” the Senate Majority Leader said. “And so what’s the best way to achieve that goal? And I think we’re still working through that and I think that’s one option that’s out there that may have the support to move forward.”

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.

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