State House OKs bills in response to police killings
With the families of slain police officers looking on, the state House on Wednesday approved a package of new laws provoked by Washington's rash of police killings last year.
Seattle Times staff reporter
OLYMPIA — With the families of slain police officers looking on, the state House on Wednesday approved a package of new laws provoked by Washington's rash of police killings last year.
On overwhelming bipartisan votes, lawmakers agreed to boost benefits for families of slain officers, stiffen penalties for people who help relatives hide from police, and forbid jails from allowing inmates to post bail on weekends without seeing a judge.
The bills were spurred primarily by the killings last year of six police officers, including the four Lakewood officers gunned down in November by Arkansas parolee Maurice Clemmons — the worst attack on police in state history.
"We will never forget them. As they left this Earth to heaven, those very fingers that were used to protect us are the same very fingers that will touch the face of God," said Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, a Seattle police officer.
Although the bills passed Wednesday were touted as responses to the killings in Lakewood, Pierce County, they would not have prevented the crime. Some of the measures had been floating around for years in response to other crimes or controversies.
• House Bill 2625 would end the practice of allowing some prisoners to be released on weekends without going before a judge. Some jails have allowed inmates to post bail on weekends, when judges normally don't work, according to a preset formula based on the charges.
Clemmons used that loophole to get out of Pierce County Jail in May, after he was booked on four felony charges for a violent outburst in which he threw rocks at cars in his neighborhood and assaulted two deputies who responded. He was released on $40,000 bail one day later without seeing a judge.
"We've clearly seen that this practice does not work and we need to end it now," said Rep. Troy Kelley, D-Tacoma.
Still, the change may not have ultimately mattered in Clemmons' case. He was jailed again on child-rape and assault charges last summer but released in November on $190,000 bail approved by two judges.
Six days later he killed the Lakewood officers.
• House Bill 1203 would make it a felony to help relatives run from the law. Now, friends or acquaintances who harbor criminals can be charged with felonies, but close family members face only misdemeanors.
While prompted, in part, by the Lakewood shootings, the bill would not affect the six friends and relatives of Clemmons who already face felony charges of rendering criminal assistance for concealing him after the shootings.
Because the relatives, including an aunt and half-brother, were not closely related to Clemmons, prosecutors were already able to charge them with felonies under the current law.
In fact, the bill, called Randy's Law, was inspired more by the case of Randy Ferguson, a Tacoma man murdered in 2006 by his wife. Angela Ferguson was sentenced to nearly 27 years for the crime. But her adult son and daughter never went to jail even though they stuffed Randy Ferguson's body in a car trunk, poured bleach on the corpse, and pushed the vehicle off an embankment.
• House Bill 2519 would boost the one-time lump-sum payment to families of officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty, to $214,000 from the current $150,000. It also would guarantee their children free state college tuition.
The measure removes a requirement that fallen officers be on the job for at least 10 years before being killed for their families to receive their full pensions.
And surviving spouses could remarry and still receive those pensions.
The bill — the only one of the day to get any 'no' votes' — passed 93-3.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, himself a Benton County Sheriff's deputy, said portions of the bill were "too great of a burden," given the state's budget problems.
For example, he noted the bill's tuition guarantee is vague, and children could demand a free doctorate.
Rep. Gary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, and Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, also voted no.
Stan DeLong, the father of Tina Griswold, one of the four slain Lakewood officers, said he appreciated the Legislature's actions.
"There were mistakes all over," DeLong said of the events leading up to the killings. "I don't want to see any more families go through what we've gone through."
The House also passed two public-safety bills unrelated to the police shootings.
House Bill 2422 would give more notice to victims and local police when criminally insane patients escape from state institutions.
House Bill 1679 would guarantee health benefits for firefighters and police unable to work after catastrophic injuries — a measure called the "Jason McKissack Act" after a Seattle police officer who has been unable to work since a severe beating in 2008.
The bills now move to the Senate, where they also are expected to get wide support.
Lawmakers soon plan to vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail to criminal defendants viewed as a threat to public safety.
Jim Brunner: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org