Nancy Churchill believes that while this compromise bill was not everything that conservatives hoped to achieve, it was a small step in the right direction
Washington’s legislators were back in Olympia for a short, hours-long special session on May 16. They were called back by the governor to develop a fix for the 2021 Supreme Court Blake Decision after the House failed to pass a proposed policy on the last day of the regular session. House Majority Leader Laurie Jinkins failed to convince enough of her caucus members that the proposal favored by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Governor Inslee would actually solve the problems created when the Supreme Court essentially decriminalized the use of hard drugs in Washington State.
In the 2021 State vs. Blake decision, the court ruled the section of Washington’s strict liability drug possession statute, which made possession of a controlled substance a felony, violated the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions. Because of this failing, that section of the law was voided by the court. All that was missing was the word “knowingly.” The Legislature passed a stopgap measure shortly after the ruling, but it was due to expire on July 1, 2023.
At the beginning of the 2023 session, Rep. Jacqueline Maycumber, R-Republic, introduced House Bill 1415, which would have made “…the knowing possession of a controlled substance a gross misdemeanor offense under criminal violations of Title 69 RCW.” Democrats didn’t even schedule this bill for a committee hearing. The bill the Democrats favored was Senate Bill 5536, but it was blocked on the last day of the session by a bipartisan group of House legislators because it did NOT make the possession of hard drugs a felony or a misdemeanor offense. Washington residents can clearly see the results of decriminalizing hard drugs in their homes, communities, and streets. Addiction to heroin, cocaine and fentanyl are tearing families apart and destroying lives. Crime has skyrocketed because of addicts trying to score enough money to get their next fix.
Homelessness has exploded in our parks, sidewalks and other public spaces as we have to helplessly watch people in active addiction consume their drug of choice. It’s inhumane to leave addicts on the street because it’s “their choice” to live that way. Addicts need compassionate treatment, and often the best place to start treatment is in a jail cell where they can safely detox and start the long and difficult journey to sobriety and healing.
Before the special session started, the House and Senate leadership negotiated a compromise to fix SB 5536 which created a definition of “knowingly possess” and “knowingly uses in a public space” as qualifiers for a gross misdemeanor drug crime, which will result in jail time and possible treatment. This change will save lives and help more people into treatment.
Under the new law, the first infraction will lead to 150 days behind bars, the second infraction 364 days. In both cases, treatment options will be offered. Local communities will also have the power to manage safe usage sites and therapeutic courts. These changes will allow law enforcement to clean up our streets and help those that are suffering from drug addiction.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can listen to the “House Republican Speeches on debate on SB 5536 (Blake Fix)”, which includes arguments both for and against the compromise solution.
In the future, Republicans in both chambers of the Washington Legislature hope to continue this progress by working to persuade the majority party members to invest in drug courts, rehab centers and other treatment options. While this compromise bill was not everything that conservatives hoped to achieve, it was a small step in the right direction. Doing something was better than doing nothing and allowing the complete decriminalization of drugs on July 1st.
To accomplish more, people who prefer common sense solutions must work hard to find and elect people with common sense to the legislature, on both sides of the political aisle. Our next opportunity will be the 2024 election cycle. It’s not too early to start planning to help common sense candidates run for the Legislature.
If you support common-sense solutions and restoring the rule of law to Washington state, find a way to get involved in politics in any way that you can—as a volunteer, by serving on a local board or committee or even running for office yourself. Washington state needs people with common sense to show up and work for a better future for Washington.
Nancy Churchill is the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.
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